In what could be called a classic case of “idealists versus realists,” two of the nation’s leading gun-rights organizations are at odds with each other over how best to safeguard Americans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Symptomatic of the division is the stunning division between the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America over U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah. The NRA regards Hatch as one of the true congressional heroes for his past efforts on behalf of Second Amendment issues, while rival GOA regards Hatch as a “compromiser” — and is even talking about trying to unseat him in his upcoming re-election bid.
Hatch is the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where many gun bills must first receive a hearing. GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt told WorldNetDaily that Hatch has voted in favor of many gun control laws while claiming to be a supporter of gun rights. In fact, Pratt recently sent a letter to Utah members of GOA with the hope that they would put pressure on Hatch to “bring him into line,” said Pratt.
|U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch spoke to over 500 gun-rights activists in response to recent attacks calling him the “western Ted Kennedy.”|
Pratt is not shy about comparing Hatch to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D.-Mass., known for his staunch support of gun control.
“We have been mailing intensively to Republican voters and people who have been delegates to past state conventions of the Republican Party about the anti-gun record of the pro-gun sounding Sen. Orrin Hatch,” explained Pratt, who says his organization would like to replace Hatch, or at the very least scare him into a better voting record on gun issues.
Utah nominates candidates for office through a convention system, which will first select delegates in neighborhood caucus meetings on March 27. Delegates then will go to the state convention on May 6 to select candidates for the November general election. Pratt thinks it is possible that enough angry delegates could prevent Hatch from being on the ballot in November.
“It’s a very opportune time to try to get his attention, and make him come to grips with the fact that folks in Utah are not like the folks in Massachusetts where literally his good friend Ted Kennedy lives,” said Pratt.
Gun Owners of America got Hatch’s attention. He responded to the letter by holding a town meeting sponsored by the NRA, hosted by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
“We would not be where we are today in terms of our firearms freedoms if it were not for Sen. Hatch,” LaPierre told the audience of more than 500 people. Praising Hatch as one of the three best supporters of gun rights in the entire Senate and House of Representatives combined, LaPierre thanked Hatch for over 20 years of hard work in defending the Second Amendment and the U.S. Constitution.
Hatch has opposed gun show bans, has supported the right to carry, opposed bans on imports, and much more to support the right to keep and bear arms, he said.
“He’s opposed to the campaign finance that’s been batted around Washington that will take our organization, the National Rifle Association, off the playing field 60 days prior to the election. He supported us on the civilian marksmanship program. He’s fought the ammo ban. He’s fought Sen. Moynihan’s attempt to put a 1,000 percent tax on ammunition. He’s fought the waiting period bill. He’s fought the plastic gun ban,” said LaPierre.
“In a real sense, he authored the McClure-Volkmer bill, passed in the mid-’80s. If that bill had not passed, I’d hate to think of where we’d be today,” said LaPierre.
It was called the 1985 Firearm Owners Protection Act, and it revised the Gun Control Act of 1968. The revisions provided an exemption for many gun collectors from licensing requirements for the sale of firearms, removed the ban on interstate sales of guns, and required the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to give advance notice to dealers before conducting inspections. In addition, the bill established a minimum mandatory five-year sentence for anyone convicted of using a firearm in a violent federal crime.
“In my studies as an attorney and as a United States senator, I have constantly been amazed by the indifference or even hostility shown the Second Amendment by courts, legislatures, and commentators,” said Hatch in a report used by the Senate Judiciary Committee during debates of the Firearms Owners Protection Act.
“When our ancestors forged a land ‘conceived in liberty,’ they did so with musket and rifle. When they reacted to attempts to dissolve their free institutions, and established their identity as a free nation, they did so as a nation of armed freemen. When they sought to record forever a guarantee of their rights, they devoted one full amendment out of ten to nothing but the protection of their right to keep and bear arms against government interference,” stated Hatch in the preface to the report.
During the Senate floor debate of the Firearms Protection Act, Hatch spoke of the abuses suffered by gun owners. Many innocent gun owners met with legal problems simply because they did not understand the “intricate, detailed, and complex technicalities” of the 1968 law, he said.
“It has not been used as a tool for prosecuting violent criminals, but rather as a tool for making cases against law-abiding citizens ignorant of the complexities of the law,” said Hatch during the debate on July 9, 1985.
LaPierre said the report handed out by Hatch was “the finest report ever written on the Second Amendment.”
Pratt disagrees with LaPierre’s assessment of Hatch.
“He’s voted for banning semi-automatic firearms. He’s voted for keeping guns out for 1,000 feet around a school — making them criminal safe zones. He’s voted for requiring you to have something to lock up your gun. You can imagine the criminal will come into your house with a trigger lock on his gun, and then may the best man get his gun unlocked first. I don’t think so. This is the kind of thing, and there’s many other things Sen. Hatch has been doing. He has a lot to answer for,” Pratt told WorldNetDaily.
Pratt called Hatch a “western Ted Kennedy” in his letter.
“I understand that there are differences of opinion on the best way to fight this ongoing battle,” Hatch commented. “I confess I was a little hurt, but I understood, when our friends at the Gun Owners of America got carried away and compared me with Ted Kennedy.”
There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about his record, said Hatch, who said he wants to do a better job of communicating what is happening in Washington, and a better job of listening to his constituents.
However, Pratt says Hatch knows what he is doing and is very manipulative of his constituents.
“I think the senator’s entirely too brilliant to think that what he’s doing is consistent with the Second Amendment as the founders wrote it,” said Pratt. “He’s bought into the inside-the-beltway thinking that the Constitution means whatever the folks in power want it to mean. As far as I can tell, the senator is saying, ‘I haven’t done a good enough job snowing you.’”
|Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America has charged Hatch with giving in to gun-control advocates.|
Hatch said the GOA letter from Pratt was nothing more than a way to create emotion so people will donate funds to GOA. He added that gun rights advocates should unite their efforts to defeat a common enemy, rather than try to “prey on conservative suspicions.”
Pratt responded by saying, “The next thing we’ll hear from the senator is that this is not gun control. This is gun safety. He’ll start using the language of the gun control crowd to nibble away at the Second Amendment until there’s nothing left.”
“It’s easy to sit back and criticize after the battle’s been fought and blood has been spilt,” said Hatch. “I’ll continue to fight for the rights of gun owners, but to mention that if you do not agree with one activist on strategy that you are anti-Second Amendment is a way of starting to hurt our cause.”
Hatch invited the GOA and Pratt to stop the attack and work with him, complaining that Pratt has never come to his office, and inviting him to do so. Pratt told WorldNetDaily he would accept the invitation and expressed a desire to work with Hatch if his office asks him to come.
In response to Pratt’s complaints, Hatch admits he voted for the final 1993 Crime Bill package with the semi-automatic ban contained in it. However, he explained that this was done for strategic reasons in an effort ultimately to defeat it.
“Let’s understand something. We pass it in the Senate. They pass it in the House, and then there’s a conference where you strip out the bad stuff if you have the power to do it. If you haven’t voted for the bill you won’t get the chance to strip it out. That’s the difference,” explained Hatch.
“My choice was to vote no, and let no one represent the interests of gun owners, or vote yes and live to fight on,” he said.
Hatch admitted his efforts in the conference committee failed because the Democrats were in the majority at the time. But he did lead the fight to defeat passage of the final version before it was voted on in the Senate. He also met with then-House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich to try to obtain defeat in the House. When that failed, he began a filibuster in the Senate, which was eventually overcome and the bill passed.
“How can the senator turn around and campaign against Democrats who have voted for gun control when he has voted with them in this silly quest to be on a conference committee when by his own admission in 1993 it wouldn’t have done him any good to be on the conference committee anyway? The fact of the matter is, you don’t show yourself being in favor of the Second Amendment by voting against it,” said Pratt of Hatch’s explanation of his strategy.
Pratt was also critical of Hatch’s Anti-Gang Bill, S. 10, because it “treated gun owners like organized crime figures by increasing penalties for technical violations of the law.”
“When it was pointed out to me that a creative, out-of-control prosecutor could use this provision to harass gun dealers for technical violations of federal gun laws, we changed the language,” explained Hatch, adding that the newest version of S. 10 is now S. 254, the Youth Violence Act, which “has the corrected language in the bill.” That bill has been passed in the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.
The Youth Violence Bill contains amendments that are objectionable to gun-rights organizations. Using the same strategy he employed with the semi-automatic ban, Hatch voted for the final version of that bill, even though he says he objects to the amendments. Once again, Pratt and the GOA says his approach is wrong, while the NRA agrees with Hatch’s strategy.
“That is so I could serve as the lead negotiator with the House of Representatives. Had I not voted for the final bill, I would not be in the position that I’m in now, which is chairman of the conference of the Youth Violence Bill,” explained Hatch.
He added that the bill has not yet been enacted into law, and “it won’t be as long as I run the conference,” said Hatch.
“We ought to work together instead of fighting all the time. If we have a difference with our team, then let’s talk about it. Let’s try and see if we can iron it out. Maybe we can come up with a better way of fighting these bills. Let’s not start attacking the guys that are carrying the ball for you,” said Hatch.
During the meeting, the crowd became restless and at times hostile. When hecklers challenged Hatch’s stands on issues, LaPierre tried to bring unity to the meeting by speaking of threats to the Second Amendment from liberal law-makers and from the Clinton administration.
LaPierre told the audience he is concerned that there is an organized, open effort to destroy the U.S. Constitution, quoting from an October 1999 Harper’s Magazine article entitled “The Constitution is Killing Us.”
|NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre defended Hatch against attacks from Gun Owners of America.|
“Why must we subordinate ourselves to a 208-year-old law that, if the latest scholarship is correct, is contrary to what we want?” said LaPierre, quoting from the article. “Then they go on to explain how to attack the Constitution. That’s what this fight’s about,” he said.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Clinton announced plans to require a special photo ID license and mandatory gun course for the purchase of handguns. Shortly after that announcement, Clinton said he wants Congress to fund a plan to conduct intensive BATF investigations of the most active firearms dealers. Clinton noted that he is happy many dealers have been put out of business, and he expects his actions to put more of them out of action. Clinton also wants gun dealers to be held responsible for illegal acts committed with guns they have sold.
“I’ll tell you, there is only one reason why the federal government would want a big federal data base on every one of us in this room tonight, and every American in this country who owns a firearm, and that’s for the second step — the moment of truth when they decide they’re going to sweep every firearm from every American house. That’s what that’s about. There’s no doubt about it, and everybody knows it,” said LaPierre.
“The idea that the federal government is going to parcel out our freedoms in the Bill of Rights to whoever it deems appropriate is a chilling prospect. Can you imagine a federal license before you can go to church or before you can speak out?” he added.
The NRA plans to spend $80 million between now and Election Day in an effort to maintain a majority of gun rights supporters in Congress. He told the crowd at the meeting that the NRA is counting on Hatch to remain in the Senate and continue to chair the Judiciary Committee. He said the NRA hopes to gain an additional 700,000 new members during the same period, bringing their ranks to an all-time high of 4 million.
“There’s a creeping contagion in this world that’s gone from England, to Australia, to Canada, to take away freedom from people that own firearms. They want to redefine freedom and restructure our rights. That’s what this whole fight’s about,” explained LaPierre.
“When you think about it, this country that we live in — it’s a horrible thing — is the last country in the world where free people have the right to own firearms. That’s what we’re defending. That’s what we’re about,” he added.
Hatch said the judges appointed by Clinton have shown a “voracious hostility for much of the Constitution” and the “Second Amendment in particular.” But Pratt pointed out that Hatch has the ability to stop many of those Clinton appointments because his Judiciary Committee must approve them before the Senate votes on Clinton’s nominees.
If Republicans do not maintain a majority in the House and Senate, said Hatch, gun control advocates would quickly pass major gun control laws, virtually destroying the Second Amendment.
And, added Hatch, if Democrats regain a majority in the Senate, a liberal gun control advocate will become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in his place, who will be “rubber-stamping the gun control crew’s agenda. No question.”
Hatch told WorldNetDaily he is opposed to the current rash of civil suits being filed against gun manufacturers.
“I will introduce legislation in the coming weeks to prohibit any civil liability actions from being brought or continued against manufacturers, distributors, and dealers, or importers of firearms or ammunition for damages resulting from use of their products by others,” announced Hatch.
“What are we going to do if we have a war and they’re all bankrupt and out of business? It’s just so stupid I can hardly believe it,” he added.
Hatch says he expects the next president to be a Republican, and he is supporting Gov. George W. Bush.
“I’m going to ask the next president, because we’re not going to make any headway with this one, to issue an executive order prohibiting the attorney general, or any other agency, from participating in these anti-gun suits,” he said.
He was critical of Clinton and the Justice Department for their failure to prosecute criminals, noting that more than 6,000 students brought guns to school in 1997, but only five were prosecuted.
“They’re screaming and shouting about these school shootings, but they’re doing absolutely nothing about people who’ve been caught bringing guns to schools in violation of federal law,” he said.
Clinton recently announced that 100,000 people have failed the instant check system, said Hatch, a fact that makes him critical of the Clinton administration because Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms figures show that only 200 of those were referred for prosecution.
“This means that tens of thousands of criminals have broken existing federal law in attempting to purchase a firearm. These criminals may still be trying to obtain firearms,” he pointed out.
An opponent in the crowded room shouted, “Repeal the law.”
Hatch said he wished that could be done, but that it wasn’t possible.
“The NICS (National Instant Check) system is what protects you so you can get your gun and they can’t stop you,” he said.
The heckler shouted, “Why should I have to pass a background check to exercise a basic, fundamental right?”
“Because there are so many felons out there who are trying to take away your rights,” Hatch answered.
“The senator has bought into the whole gun control mentality with that answer,” said Pratt regarding that exchange. “What he is saying is, somehow we’re going to come up with a gun control law that’s going to keep criminals from getting guns. Really? We kept people from getting liquor under prohibition? We’ve kept people from getting drugs when many drugs are just flat out, totally prohibited? And he thinks that guns will be kept out of criminal hands by some kind of law? The senator is living in the same fantasy land that Sarah Brady and (Sen.) Charles Schumer live in,” said Pratt.
“He is saying we ought to convert the right to keep and bear arms into a privilege and subject us to getting government permission through the instant registration check before we’re given permission to buy a gun. The senator really doesn’t get it. He’s been in Washington too long,” complained Pratt.
Hatch is out of touch with the Constitution, Pratt insisted, saying Hatch’s efforts with the currently pending Juvenile Crime Bill provide evidence that he is not a friend to the rights of gun owners. The federal government should not be involved in local issues, he said.
“It shows he hasn’t read Article 1, Section 8 (of the Constitution) lately, nor has he read the Tenth Amendment lately. The bill is not constitutional. We would not have gotten into the problem had he not provided the Christmas Tree for all the subsequent baubles to be put on, some of which he voted for himself.”
The FBI is making a list of gun owners from those who apply to purchase a new gun, says Pratt, who blames Hatch for the instant check system. Hatch says that is not true, and that the law does not permit them to retain the list of names.
“Once they get those names, they are making a registration list,” countered Pratt, “and gun owners do have a legitimate concern about government registering their guns. Witness what has happened already in New York City and in California. So the government is not protecting people. The instant check does not protect people. It’s the Brady instant registration,” Pratt said.
Pratt says when the National Instant Check System bill came from the Senate, it required the immediate destruction of records after an instant background check. The bill went to conference committee and the word immediate was taken out, to which Hatch agreed, he said.
“The FBI claims they need to keep those names for at least 90 days for law enforcement purposes,” said Pratt. “That’s interesting. They need to keep the names of people who’ve broken no law and were ‘given permission’ to buy a gun? That’s needed for law enforcement purposes? What the FBI is shouting is that the American population that wants a gun is a suspect population.”
Pratt will not let up on his campaign against Hatch, he told WorldNetDaily. He plans to continue to inform potential delegates to the Utah State Republican Convention that Hatch has not been as supportive of the Second Amendment as the senator has led his constituents to believe.
“We’re not sure if we’ve applied enough heat yet to the senator, but it is an election year and politicians are generally more able to hear during an election cycle than during any other time of their career. We’re hoping that as the senator draws closer to his date with destiny with the April convention that he will be somewhat more responsive,” explained Pratt.
The NRA plans to support Hatch in his bid for re-election, and says he is America’s best hope to preserve gun rights.
“I don’t like to get in a tiff with other gun groups, because I don’t think that serves anybody, given who our enemies are,” said LaPierre of Pratt and the Gun Owners of America. “But I will tell you this: The people that are putting out some of this trash on this good guy have not been in any of those back rooms for the last 20 years when I looked around.”
The NRA has given Hatch a rating of A+, while the GOA has rated him as B- with the notation that he is a “a pro-gun compromiser.”