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News & Editorials

The Cure is Liberty

by Ari Armstrong


*Based on a speech given October 18, 2000 at the St. Andrews United Methodist Church for a "conversations on the issues" event concerning Amendment 22.*

We all want to be safe. We all want our children to grow up in innocence, without the trauma of being victimized. We all want safety for our wives or husbands, safety for the rest of our families, and safety for our neighborhoods.

Many of us also want liberty. We want to live free. Thomas Jefferson said, "The God who gave us Life, gave us Liberty at the same time."

So there are two values which we cherish: safety and liberty. But are these two values in conflict, as the anti-gun lobby would have us believe?

The anti-gun lobby tells us our rights are not absolute. We must sacrifice some of our liberties in order to achieve safety, they say.

Thus, when the Colorado Constitution says, "The right of NO PERSON to keep and bear arms... shall be called in question," the anti-gun lobby wants to read, "The right of SOME PERSONS to keep and bear arms shall be called in question."

But don't we also limit our First Amendment rights? After all, we can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. Obviously, inherently criminal activity which hurts other people or their property is never acceptable. We believe in the right of free speech, but there is no right to use speech to directly harm another person. Similarly, we believe in the right to own firearms for self-defense and for sport, but, except for self-defense, there is no right to use a gun to injure or kill others.

What we want is to treat the First Amendment and the Second Amendment the same.

I do not believe we must sacrifice liberty in order to obtain safety. In fact, I believe liberty is the necessary prerequisite of safety. By giving up liberty, we inevitably surrender safety as well.

I believe that's what Benjamin Franklin had in mind when he said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary SAFEty deserve neither liberty nor safety."

The issue of gun ownership is a good example of this principle, and the issue that brings us here tonight. Unfortunately, most gun laws do little if anything to stop criminals, but they significantly limit law-abiding citizens' ability to defend themselves.

Even by conservative estimates, armed citizens defend themselves against criminals half a million times each year. More reasonable estimates show 2.5 million instances of defensive gun uses every year.

More importantly, the mere potential that a criminal might attack someone who is armed prevents many crimes. Criminals are afraid to attack armed citizens. Yale scholar John Lott found that liberalized concealed carry laws substantially and significantly reduce every category of violent crime. In addition, every one percent increase in a state's gun-ownership rate reduces violent crime by 4 percent, accounting for other factors.

When my father was in school, he and his friends would take rifles and shotguns to school and keep them in their lockers or desks. Even in New York City until recent decades, students would strap on a rifle and hop on the subway. This was not an era marked by school shootings.

The string of school shootings did not occur until AFTER passage of the 1995 "gun-free school zones act," which prevented responsible adults from defending the students in their care. Apparently, the murderers forgot to read the laws.

There is only one gun law proven to reduce crime, and that's liberal concealed carry. Ironically, that's the single gun law opposed by the anti-gun lobby Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease.

Concealed carry laws significantly reduce mass public shootings. If only 4 or 5 percent of the population is armed, that's enough to stop most mass incidents of violence. If only 10 anonymous faculty members at Columbine had concealed handguns, it's unlikely the killers would even have attempted their crime.

In fact, two of the recent school shootings were stopped when armed citizens intervened. In Pearl, Mississippi, Assistant Principle Joel Myrick stopped the killing spree with the gun he kept in his car in violation of the "gun-free school zones act." He stopped the crime 4.5 minutes before the police showed up. Yet allowing school staff members to carry concealed handguns -- the only provision proven to save lives -- is unthinkable to those who put political correctness above public safety.

The gun control initiative is another example of how restricting liberty also reduces safety.

Two independent studies show the national background check system has failed to reduce crime. John Lott's study finds background checks are associated with a 3.6 percent increase in rape.

How could that be? Background checks don't stop criminals, who already get their guns illegally. Sheriff Bill Masters of San Miguel County said background checks will only give citizens a "false sense of security" that criminals won't have guns.

However, background checks routinely wrongly deny law-abiding citizens their right to purchase a firearm for self-defense.

In fact, in the vast majority of denials through background checks, there's no evidence of any previous criminal activity. That's why I've even spoken with a police officer who was wrongly denied because of flawed records.

Background checks victimize three main groups of people. Women, because they are on average physically smaller than their attackers. Minorities, who because of racial profiling are more likely to have a bogus arrest record. And poor people, who are less able to jump the legal hurdles if wrongly denied.

One of the main ways to reduce crime is to get violent criminals off the streets. But instead we're wasting our police resources harassing law-abiding citizens with these ineffectual background checks.

Is it possible that background checks have stopped even one criminal? Of course. But it's certain that background checks have victimized thousands of law-abiding citizens, some of whom are placed in mortal danger because they are less able to defend themselves. If it would endanger just ONE life, isn't it worth opposing?

By discarding our liberty to purchase firearms at a gunshow without the government's permission, we would thereby also be putting some people at greater risk of criminal victimization.

But that's not the only problem with the gun control initiative. It's bad law with vague definitions that will be used to harass peaceable citizens.

When a person is wrongly denied, it is then up to him or her to prove innocence to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, a process that can take weeks or months and involve high costs. In fact, most people who could seek reversals, don't even bother. I do not believe the presumption of guilt is appropriate in America.

The gun control initiative defines a gun show as one person with 25 firearms or three persons with any number of firearms, who "exhibit, sell, offer for sale, transfer, or exchange firearms."

For example, if grandmother's husband dies, and she has 25 firearms, and invites one of the grandchildren over to pick out one of the guns for a Christmas gift, that's a gunshow and grandma is a criminal.

If I stand in a room with my father and grandmother, and we swap firearms in a circle and go home, we are all criminals according to the gun control initiative.

George Washington, our first President, would be a walking gun show, since he collected over 50 firearms.

The initiative also covers cases where "any part of a firearm transaction takes place at a gun show." In other words, if you meet a friend at a gun show, then later meet to swap rifles, you're a criminal.

The definition of a "police state" is where everyone is technically a criminal, and so it lies solely with the discretion of the authorities to decide which person they want to harass or imprison. The gun control initiative is another small step down that road, since nobody will even know what a "gun show" is under this law.

No, I do not predict serious abuses of the law within the next few years. But mark my words: if the gun control initiative passes, it is only a matter of time before we suffer tragedies similar to that of Ismael Mena1,2.

Background checks deny people their right to purchase a gun based merely on a restraining order, which many judges hand out like candy and which do not indicate any violent behavior. It's frightening that Coloradans can be denied their Constitutional rights when they've never done anything wrong. In fact, there is a case in Boulder where a man got a restraining order against his ex-wife specifically so she couldn't buy a gun. The man then proceeded to assault and rape her.

So if anything the gun control initiative will serve only to increase violent crime, and it will make criminals out of peaceable citizens.

The initiative is also another step toward the total registration of gun owners, with the accompanying threat of gun confiscation.

Make no mistake: background checks register gun owners. CBI contacts the FBI, which is keeping records of gun owners illegally. The FBI has been sued over just this matter. In addition, when a gun store goes out of business, it must turn over all background check records to the ATF. In case there is any doubt, the gun control initiative states, "A licensed gun dealer who conducts a background check.. shall record the transfer."

The gun control initiative is also another incremental step toward even more legislation. Arnie Grossman, co-founder of SAFE, said this initiative is only the "first step" toward new laws. If private sales at gun shows are somehow "loopholes," then next classified sales will be called "loopholes," and then all private sales. That's the way it is in California today. Does anybody here really believe California is safer than Colorado?

The national anti-gun lobby, which has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into SAFE's bank account, wants to use Colorado as a test-state to pass more national gun control.

Am I paranoid? Judge for yourself, based on the following comments:

Sarah Brady of Handgun Control, Inc., the organization which has spent over a $100 thousand in favor of the background check initiative, said, "Our main agenda is to have all guns banned."

Pete Shields, as Chairman emeritus of Handgun Control, Inc., said on 60 Minutes, "Yes, I'm for an outright ban (on handguns)."

Back in 1976, Shields said in The New Yorker (July 26, p. 53f): "We're going to have to take one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily -- given the political realities -- going to be very modest... So we'll have to start working again to strengthen that law, and then again to strengthen the next law, and maybe again and again... The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition.. totally illegal."

Jerome P. Kassirer said on October 7, 1993, in the anti-gun NEJM: "Despite the limitations of the Brady bill, it is a reasonable beginning. Might passage of this bill be the beginning of a series of more restrictive statutes? Yes, it could be and should be... Gun-control advocates should not be unrealistic, however. Rather than set their sights next on a total ban on gun possession, they might try first to craft proposals that would receive wide public support." (

The initiative on the ballot in Colorado is not about some little "loophole" in the law. It is about the eventual registration of gun owners, and the eventual confiscation of guns, as has already happened in Australia, Britain, and other areas.

What we're seeing is the "boiled frog" syndrome. When the anti-gun lobby piles one law on top of another, year after year, decade after decade, the ultimate end is the confiscation of guns and the imprisonment of peaceable gun owners. As David Hume warned, "It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once."

I do not believe we must sacrifice liberty in order to achieve safety. I believe it is only by safeguarding liberty that we will ultimately achieve safety. In Alexander Berkman's words: "Be it never forgotten that the cure for evil and disorder is more liberty."

What I call for today is the enforcement of reasonable, common-sense gun laws.

From the Colorado Constitution, Article 2, Section 3: "All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness."

Article 2, Section 13: "The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question..."

From the Second Article of the US Constitution's Bill of Rights: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Ari Armstrong is our Liberty Ally and editor of the Colorado Freedom Report, seen at  This article is reprinted here with permission. We urge you to get on Mr. Armstrong's email list to receive direct updates whenever he puts out new information.


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The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. JUSTICE LOUIS BRANDEIS (1928)

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