by Dave Workman
The year 2000 began with tongue-in-cheek hysteria about the breakdown of society, and ended with fewer laughs and what came close to a breakdown of the electoral process.
In between, there was considerable news affecting gunowners from one end of the country to the other, from the S&W deal with the Clinton White House in March to the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the US Senate in New York state in November.
President Clinton escaped conviction in the Senate following his impeachment by the House of Representatives, after which Vice President Al Gore, a master of hyperbole, declared Clinton would be remembered as the greatest president this country ever had.
Events that opened the year actually began in December 1999, when judges dismissed municipal lawsuits against the gun industry in Bridgeport, CT, and Miami-Dade, FL. That gave gunowners something to truly celebrate as the new millennium arrived.
Celebrate, that is, everywhere but in Seattle, WA, where New Years Eve partying around that citys Space Needle was cancelled by Mayor Paul Schell after the chance arrest of a suspected terrorist with a carload of explosives at a ferry terminal in Port Townsend. Months later, authorities revealed that the suspected terrorist plot was genuine, and apparently linked with the bombing of the USS Cole in Bahrain.
When big old, scary Y2K became little more than a big party, followed by a bigger collective yawn, politicians went back on the campaign trail. Conservatives, including Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, Pat Buchanan, Orrin Hatch and George W. Bush, made pronouncements of varying degrees that if they were elected president, they would defend the Second Amendment.
At the other end of the philosophical spectrum, perennial anti-gun Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced his campaign to require background checks on private gun sales. Schumer, author of the 1993 Brady Law while serving in the House of Representatives, had earlier released a study his office conducted that asserted some 140 gun stores in the country supplied firearms used in nearly 20% of all crimes.
Schumers questionable study got more air time than a more plausible studythis one done by the Media Research Center (MRC)that offered hard evidence of a media anti-gun bias. MRC had studied two years worth of television news stories on gun control to gather data. When MRC Chairman Brent Bozell released his findings during a presentation at the National Press Club on Jan. 5, gunowners around the country nodded in agreement.
Not unexpectedly, the mainstream media largely ignored the MRC study.
I think the medias reaction to these two studies is a textbook example that proves what MRC was saying, recalled Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Schumers claims got coverage, but MRCs report didnt, and thats bias at work.
About that time, President Clinton announced he would ask Congress for a $10 million appropriation to fund development of so-called smart-gun technology.
After pulling out of New Orleans in protest of that citys gun industry lawsuit and re-locating to Las Vegas, the 2000 SHOT Show was a huge success. It saw the debut of several new rifles, including the SSi-One from Mossberg, Remingtons Etron-X rifle with electronic ignition, and the rifle which caught shooters by storm: The new .450 Marlin, is built on the Model 1895M Guide Gun frame with a new cartridge that packs a wallop on both ends.
On Jan. 11, the California Assemblys Public Safety Committee passed a measure that would require all handgun owners in the state to register their firearms and get renewable licenses to use them.
In the Northeast, a report swept the gun industry that an investment group formed by Zilkha & Co. of New York had signed a letter of intent to purchase Heckler & Koch. Many erroneously believed that the deal involved Colts Manufacturing Co., in which Zilkha and its investment associates own a controlling interest.
And good news for readers of Sports Afield came early in the year when it was announced that Robert E. Petersenfounder and former chairman of Petersen Publishing Companypurchased that magazine and began steering it back toward its traditional audience of hard core hunters and anglers, and away from the green audience its most recent owners had been courting.
January also saw the hosts of two gun showsin South Bend, IN, and Houston, TXwin federal lawsuits against those respective cities. Northern Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows Inc. was awarded $300,000, while the High Caliber Gun and Knife Shows Inc. won a $383,000 judgement in the Houston case.
On the same day, Washington, DC, joined the list of cities suing the firearms industry.
In his final State of the Union address on Jan. 27, Clinton asked Congress for legislation requiring a national ID card for handgun buyers, a proposal that became part of Gores campaign rhetoric.
And, in a preview of things to come, Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses, and Republican also-rans Hatch and Steve Forbes pulled out of the race in early February.
Politics and Fireworks
February also saw more political action on the firearms front. Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel (D-PA) proposed legislation that would put black powder guns under current federal gun regulations.
The US Senate rejected an amendment that would have prohibited gun manufacturers from seeking bankruptcy protection if a court found them liable in any of the nearly 30 municipal lawsuits.
Baltimore, MD, announced it would join a 75-city gun buyback program, while gunowners in Toledo, OH, learned the stark reality of a gun ban that affects 67 different semi-auto models and another 50 revolvers.
Celebrated Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura declared, in a Playboy magazine interview, that gun control advocates are ignorant. Said Ventura: They believe things without researching or understanding.
Also in February, three Vermont state legislators filed suit against state officials in federal court over enforcement of the Brady Act background checks.
A furor erupted in the shooting community when Citibank first announced, then withdrew, a policy that it would not offer accounts to any business engaged in buying and selling firearms. Protests filed by outraged gunowners, many of them Citibank customers, quickly brought the banks anti-gun practice to a halt.
Louisianas law barring cities from suing the gun industry was declared unconstitutional by a Civil District judge that month.
And in Chicago, a Cook County, IL, judge dismissed part of that citys $433 million lawsuit against the firearms industry. February was also the month that Hillary Clinton stiffed a waitress in upstate New York during her early Senate campaign by not leaving a tip, and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) made headlines when he gave away two handguns in a free drawing during a Salt Lake City gun show to push a Second Amendment website.
On March 15, gunowners descended upon the Missouri capitol building in Jefferson City for a day of lobbying, led by Missourians for Personal Safety, the Missouri Sport Shooting Association, Second Amendment Coalition of Missouri and the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance.
Maryland state Delegate Carmen Amedori (R-Carroll County), who had filed a bill for concealed carry reform in her state, was this years winner of the St. Gabriel Possenti Society Inc. Society medallion and certificate for her work for firearms rights.
The horrible schoolhouse shooting of a 6-year-old child by another youngster who brought the gun from the Flint, MI crack house in which he was living provided the launching pad for one of the years most lively debates. Clinton exploited the Kayla Rolland tragedy by immediately declaring on NBCs Today show that, had his mandatory trigger lock legislation been enacted, the first-grader would never have been shot.
Clinton postulated that even a drug addict in a crack house would have used a trigger lock if he knew children were present. He further charged that other countries dont have a gun problem because other countries dont have an NRA.
Reaction was swift and bare-knuckled. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, appearing a few days later on ABCs This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, took the gloves off. He accused Clinton of having a willingness to accept a certain number of gun deaths to further his anti-gun agenda.
For the next three weeks, the red-hot rhetoric flamed across the nations airwaves, pitting LaPierre and NRA President Charlton Heston in a no-holds-barred battle of words with Clinton Administration spokesmen, and other gun control proponents.
NRAs membership skyrocketed in the following weeks, as gunowners flooded NRA switchboards and talk radio telephones with calls of support for LaPierre and Heston.
With opinion polls going sharply in favor of the NRA for having the courage to directly take on Clinton after the Senate failed to convict him in the impeachment trial, gun control largely vanished from the presidential campaign trail.
Gun control did not, however, vanish from the airwaves. Afternoon talk hostess Rosie ODonnell, having earlier ambushed actor Tom Selleck on her program over his appearance in an Im the NRA ad, continued railing against gun rights at every opportunity. Her continued harangues also worked in favor of NRA.
Backlash Against S&W
When Smith & Wesson rocked the gun world by announcing that it had reached an agreement with the Clinton White House on how it would change its products and sales practices, it set off a firestorm. Backlash was immediate and it still continues today.
The agreement was aimed at protecting, and maybe freeing, S&W from a spate of city lawsuits against the gun industry. However, S&W today remains a defendant in several actions, and many consumers refuse to ever again purchase S&W products.
James Jay Baker, chief lobbyist for the NRA, called the deal a futile act of craven self-interest.
Within days, most of the gun industry stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the S&W deal. In an attempt to bolster S&Ws position, the Administration urged states and local law enforcement agencies, and even the US military, to give preferential treatment to S&W when awarding contracts.
Federal legislation was introduced, and passed, to prohibit the military from awarding such contracts, and most local agencies ignored the plea because it would put them in violation of open bidding laws.
S&W was not the only business to suffer the wrath from gunowners. Airborne Express in March stopped permitting its carriers to ship firearms and ammunition.
Perhaps the political environment in Massachusetts made the S&W deal seem like a good idea, for it was there that Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced in April that henceforth, firearms would be subject to consumer product safety laws. It affected all gunmakers doing business in the Bay State.
April also saw Philadelphia defy Pennsylvania state law and sue gun firms, while the House of Representatives okayed a measure to fund Project Exile, also known as the Safe Streets and Neighborhoods Act of 2000.
Gunmakers struck back against municipalities on April 26 when the National Shooting Sports Foundation and seven handgun manufacturers filed a federal lawsuit against Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the mayors and other officials from 14 cities, charging them with conspiracy in restraint of trade, and violations of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.
This action is separate from an earlier lawsuit filed against the US Conference of Mayors and individual mayors of several cities by the Second Amendment Foundation.
How Many Moms?
On Mothers Day, the much-ballyhooed Million Mom March descended on Washington, with spirited opposition from the Second Amendment Sisters and Women Against Gun Control. (See Peggy Tartaros report on the Sisters vs. the Moms - click to read now.)
The MMM was not the only event that made gunowners suspicious. A May 11 NICS computer software problem halted background checks, blocking retail store and gun show sales for nearly three days. Subsequent malfunctions caused veteran gun rights activist Neal Knox to suggest that the Clinton Administration had found a way to suspend the Second Amendment: just shut down the NICS computer.
All of this, plus the looming election may have been responsible for the largest-ever turnout of NRA members to the annual meetings in Charlotte, NC. The three-day event drew over 52,000 members and their guests. Five thousand attended the annual members meeting to hear NRA President Charlton Heston declare, with caplock rifle held above his head, From my cold, dead hands! at the conclusion of his rousing speech.
Notable in the convention center was ABC News anchor Peter Jennings with a film crew. He was in gathering footage, comments and information for an Oct. 9 news special on the NRA. However, what had been eager anticipation among some NRA officers and staff for a reasonable and balanced report on the Association became a hit piece that spent most of the programs air time discussing NRA disputes with a lobbyist and a congressman
Giuliani Bows Out
With New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani bowing out early from the New York Senate race against Hillary Clinton, Rep. Rick Lazio jumped in. No friend of gunowners, Lazio ran a campaign that was alternately described as bullying and lackluster, and in the end was overwhelmed by Clintons campaign, which had the support of Hollywoods elite, the Oval Office and a largely sympathetic media.
Republican Colorado Gov. Bill Owens signed four new gun control bills, while Alabamas Democrat Gov. Don Siegelman inked legislation ending that states two-day waiting period on firearms purchases and preventing cities from filing lawsuits against the gun industry.
Down in the Lone Star State, they celebrated five full years of concealed carry under the Bush governorship.
A report from the Justice Department asserted that the states nix more gun sales than the federal NICS system.
Philadelphia, playing along with the Clinton/Gore Administration, dropped S&W from its municipal anti-gun lawsuit, joining 17 other cities that had done so because of the S&W-HUD agreement.
In June, an attorney with the Clinton/Reno Justice Department dropped a political bombshell on the firearms front. In arguments before a Fifth US District Court three-judge panel, hearing the governments appeal of federal Circuit Court Judge Sam Cummings decision in US v Emerson, DOJ attorney William B. Mateja disclosed the Clinton Administrations official position that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to bear arms.
The statement, widely repeated on the Internet, in the pages of Gun Week, and on the talk show circuit, was initially reported by radio personality Tom Gresham, host of the weekly Gun Talk show, who was in the courtroom at the time, taking notes.
Mateja was responding to a question from the panel when he made the statement. Emerson is a case in which Cummings had ruled that the Lautenberg provisions of federal lawwhich prohibit persons under restraining orders from owning or possessing firearmsare an unconstitutional violation of an individuals Second Amendment rights.
CCRKBAs Gottlieb noted, Any doubts about the Clinton/Gore Administrations position on gun ownership disappeared immediately after the Emerson appeal. I think that single statement, by a federal attorney, galvanized gunowners. If they had any question before, they certainly didnt after. This Administration does not believe you have a right to own a gun, and anything Al Gore said during the campaign about not wanting to impact sporting guns was just lip service.
While controversy over the Mateja statement ensued, New Yorks Legislature passed a modified version of a gun control package put forth by Republican Gov. George Pataki.
In late June, New York City joined the legal circus by filing its own lawsuit against the gun industry. Defendants included S&W.
In July, the National Education Association adopted a resolution that launched a nationwide petition drive supporting tougher new gun control efforts.
Coincidentally, Fort Worth, TX, began holding public debates on whether gun shows should continue in city-owned facilities.
Court Wins, Losses
July saw Californias Supreme Court uphold that states 1989 ban on so-called assault weapons, clearing the way for the attorney general to expand the list of prohibited firearms.
In Ohio, a Court of Common Pleas issued a temporary restraining order in a suit sponsored by the Second Amendment Foundation against enforcement of that states concealed carry law by the Cincinnati police chief and Hamilton County sheriff. The temporary restraining order was lifted by the Ohio appellate court, which allowed the constitutional challenge to the states prohibition on concealed carry to continue.
In Washington, a three-judge federal appeals court panel ruled against the NRA in a case that sought to prohibit the FBI from retaining NICS records. NRA had gone to court over what it still insists is a willful violation of Brady Act provisions that require immediate destruction of NICS transaction information. NRAs position is that retention of these records by the FBI for purposes of auditing the NICS system performance constitutes de-facto gun registration.
And an advisory jury in Texas decided that the government did not use excessive force in its attempt to arrest David Koresh in February 1993, which resulted in a deadly gun battle with ATF agents, a subsequent 51-day standoff and the final FBI siege that engulfed the Branch Davidian compound in flames.
July ended with Bush picking former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as his Republican running mate. Cheney immediately became the favorite target of the anti-gunners because of his pro-Second Amendment votes in Congress.
Settling a lawsuit brought by the NRA and California Rifle & Pistol Association, the Los Angeles Police Department agreed to pay NRA and CRPA the fees they incurred in challenging the LAPDs illegal policies relating to gun seizures and returns.
And South Bend, IN was ordered to pay $108,000 in attorney fees for the Northern Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows, which it illegally banned from its Century Center exhibit facilities.
Howls of anguish from the anti-gun camp resonated across the landscape in August after the Journal of the American Medical Association published results of a study by two anti-gun researchers that showed the Brady Law has had no effect on firearms homicide and suicide rates in states that had no background check or waiting periods before 1994.
Sensing public fatigue over gun control laws without results, the issue was barely on the radar screen during the Democratic National Convention.
Sen. Schumers attempt to slip through an amendment that would have prevented gun companies from declaring bankruptcy, thus offering them no protection from municipal lawsuits, was stopped dead in its tracks, thanks to pressure from gun rights activists.
Gun control advocates took another hit in late August when the Department of Justice reported that crime was rising in the gun-free United Kingdom, while it has been steadily dropping in the US.
Further inflaming firearms civil rights activists was disclosure of a new law in Australia authorizing soldiers to shoot to kill civilians in the event of civil unrest and domestic violence. That law was passed in anticipation of potential problems surrounding the Summer Olympics, held in Sidney.
Anti-gunners got more bad news when the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Bush for president, at about the same time that a Cook County circuit court judge dismissed Chicagos initial lawsuit against the gun industry.
Taking a $380,000 payment from the federal government on Sept. 22 was Kevin Harris, who was wounded by FBI sniper fire during the 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho.
Gun Rights Conference
When the gun control crowd tried to organize anti-gun events nationwide on Oct. 2, to coincide with the opening session of the US Supreme Court, their efforts largely fizzled. Many of the events drew more pro-gunners than gun control advocates, even when panels at some public forums were deliberately stacked against the Second Amendment.
However, that was not the case for the 15th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, held this year in northern Virginia, right across the Potomac from Washington, DC. It was a barn-burner from the opening gavel to closing applause, as a list of speakers that read like a Whos Who in the gun rights movement appeared.
CCRKBAs Gottlieb, one of those speakers, said it was one of the best, if not the best, Gun Rights conferences hes attended.
Everyone was fired up, because they realized the importance of the Nov. 7 elections, Gottlieb said.
Everything on the firearms rights landscape funneled toward the Nov. 7 elections, which turned into one long soap opera in Florida.
While congressional races were decided early on, with Republicans retaining a thin lead in the US House, and the Senate ending up with a 50-50 split, the presidential race was a nail-biter well beyond anyones expectations.
Starting out with an embarrassing election night mistake that first awarded Florida to Gore before polls closed in the states Panhandle counties, followed by a reluctant recantation of that call, networks then gave the state to Bush, and subsequently had to withdraw that announcement, saying the election was too close to call.
Even CBS News anchor Dan Rather had to acknowledge the double snafu early on the morning of Nov. 8, telling the viewing audience: If youre disgusted with us, I dont blame you.
Though still undecided officially, it appears that Bush will be the next White House occupant.
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