All posts by Jeff Knox

Armed Leftists March Against Trump

By Jeff Knox

(March 28, 2017) Eight years ago, shortly after Barack Obama was elected, a group of citizens protesting his policies gathered outside a Phoenix venue where the new president was giving a speech.  Several of the protesters were openly carrying sidearms, and one had an AR-15 slung over his shoulder. The armed protesters raised eyebrows and attracted national news media attention. MSNBC in particular hinted that the armed protesters were racially motivated showing closeups of the rifle-toter’s back, with the “evil black rifle” silhouetted against his white dress shirt.  The photos they showed were cropped in such a way that only the rifle and the shirt were visible, though the uncropped photos clearly showed the back of the African-American man’s head, the side of his face, and his hands. MSNBC later offered up a “clarification,” to correct their “mistake,” but the narrative that violent racists were carrying guns as a threat against America’s first black president persisted.

Fast-forward 8 years, and the scene in Phoenix was more threatening, and received much less coverage.  A couple of hundred supporters of President Donald Trump showed up for a Make America Great Again march from a nearby park to the Arizona State Capitol.  In response a couple of dozen counter-protesters showed up with rifles and shotguns strapped to the plate carriers on their chests, and red bandannas tied around their necks.  Many also had scarves covering their faces. The protesters marched in a 2×2, paramilitary formation past the capital in a grim show of resistance and intolerance.

A reporter from the very liberal alternative weekly New Times, fell in with the anti-Trump marchers, videoing them and trying to ask questions about their objectives.  Rather than explaining their positions or stating their goals, the marchers responded with physical intimidation and not-too-veiled threats.

The incident generated little coverage outside of the reporter’s Facebook Live, which has gone viral among pro-gun social media.  The lack of attention is not just because Americans have been desensitized to seeing armed protesters at various open carry events around the country.  It’s also because the media prefers to focus on radical right-wing extremists and militia members. People wearing body armor and openly carrying rifles and handguns have become routine for Black Lives Matter protests and anti-Trump events, but we rarely see them on the evening news.  Instead we see the “extremists” among Trump supporters, yelling obscenities and falling for the bait being offered by the anti-Trump crowd. While journalists still like to make an issue about armed protesters, they much prefer to limit their coverage of such things to the right-wing.

The groups on display at the recent Phoenix Trump rally were an interesting mix of communists, anarchists, Chicano nationalists, and confused libertarian populists.  The counter-protest was apparently organized by the local chapter of a group called Redneck Revolt, which paints itself as a populist movement of poor whites who blame all of the world’s problems on rich white men and the capitalist system.  The local group calls itself the Phoenix John Brown Gun Club, in honor of the infamous, radical abolitionist. They were joined by members of Antifascist Action Phoenix, and members of the Brown Berets, a Chicano nationalist group. All of the groups have similar rhetoric decrying fascism, capitalism, and rich, white people, and advocating for the poor and working class of all races, religions, ethnicities, and sexual denominations.  None of them seem to have any suggestions for better systems, just rejection and destruction of the current ones. All espouse revolutionary philosophies that sound very much like communism, but few will come right out and admit to being communist.

There are many unanswered questions regarding where these groups get their funding.  The Brown Berets, as part of the Chicano/Aztlan/Reconquista movement, have long had ties to communist groups and funding, but the newer “anarchist” groups that have popped up primarily since last November’s election, don’t have the historical connections, but seem to have no trouble coming up with thousands of dollars to provide signs, buses, and travel expenses to get their troops on the ground in various places around the country.

Most of the core activists in these Antifa groups are the same black-masked vandals we’ve seen turning peaceful demonstrations violent in big cities around the country for years.  Many were also involved in the Occupy protests. Now they are energized by a common enemy – Donald Trump – and anyone who supports him or anything he does. They are actively recruiting disgruntled young millennials at a startling rate.  Their core message sounds good, if you don’t think too hard about it, and their philosophy embraces the idea of violent rebellion in a way that has not been seen in this country since the days of the Weather Underground with Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.  Then, as now, the agenda was the destruction of the American capitalist structure. The only difference in the propaganda of today from that of the Weather Underground in the ’60s, is that Dohrn and Ayers openly advocated a classless, communist society as the ultimate goal.  Today’s radicals just refer to the goal as a classless society, minus the reference to communism.

As Bob Dylan said in the song that gave the Weather Underground its name, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”  Better batten down the hatches.

No Free Speech for You!

By Jeff Knox

(March 15, 2017) The state of Maryland has prosecuted, convicted, fined, and sanctioned a pair of political activists for producing and delivering an automated phone message thanking a candidate for taking a particular position on a controversial issue.  Everything said in the message was true and accurate, but the ad hoc organization the two men created to carry their message was ruled to be invalid, so the disclaimer at the end of the message declaring the group responsible for the message, was ruled to be inadequate to meet Maryland’s campaign laws.  The men, Dennis Fusaro and Stephen Waters, were sentenced to 30 days in jail, 3 years of probation, and fines of about $1000 each, but they are appealing the conviction based on rights to free speech under the First Amendment and a corollary recognized by Maryland’s constitution. The cost and inconvenience of the appeal will far exceed the sentence, but Fusaro and Waters say that their prosecution and convictions raise serious constitutional questions and should not be allowed to stand.

The right to free speech is sacrosanct to Americans, except, it seems, political speech of a flavor disagreeable to the bureaucrats in charge.  Back in the early days of the Republic our founding fathers valued political speech above all else – even above religious speech – and they routinely exercised that right anonymously.  But today in America, campaign contributions, political advertisements, and producing electioneering materials are tightly regulated, and unlike voting, they require identification. Of course anonymous political speech hasn’t gone away completely.  We still have some semblance of anonymity on the internet, even though though true anonymity online is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The rich and powerful can still hide behind front-groups and layers of PACs and bundlers to conceal their involvement, but for Joe Average American, anonymous political speech is difficult and can be, as Fusaro and Waters found out, a criminal offense.

The gatekeepers of free speech in Maryland disapproved of what Fusaro and Waters chose to say during a County Council race in 2014.  The duo did not advocate for or against any candidate, but they wanted to highlight one of the candidates’ position on certain issues, and they wanted to do it anonymously.  The method of political speech they chose was an automated phone message, so-called Robocalls, and the way they cloaked their involvement was by forming an ad hoc association to take credit for the calls.  They wrote a script, pooled their money, and paid for the calls to be recorded and delivered to a select group of people in the county. To meet identification requirements and disavow any connection to any other candidate, committee, or party, they included an obligatory statement at the end declaring that the ad was paid for and authorized by their ad hoc organization.

If Mike Bloomberg wants to impact a local political race, as he frequently does, he doesn’t buy a billboard or send out postcards with the message “I’m Mike Bloomberg and I paid for this political hit-piece.”  Instead, one of his minions finds a few local people – or just moves to town and declares herself a local – and creates a front-group with a name like “Nevadans for Gun Safety.” Then Bloomberg gives money to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America or Everytown for Gun Safety – or one of their subsidiary or related organizations – which passes the money on to the astroturf “local group” to buy ads saying what Bloomberg wants said.  That is considered perfectly acceptable by the political speech police in Maryland and elsewhere.

What Fusaro and Waters did was no different.  They formed an organization – which legally requires nothing more than agreeing to form it – contributed some money to that organization, and as principals in the organization, arranged to have their message delivered to local residents.  The judge in the case noted that the two took pains to meet the requirements of Maryland election law, but he painted those efforts as attempts to skirt the intent of those laws because they did not identify themselves directly. The penalty he meted out to the two activists was even harsher than the prosecution had requested, because he said a message needed to be sent to future scofflaws who might want to express a political belief without clearly identifying themselves.

Legal observers say the case is unusual in several respects, and that it appears that Maryland is intentionally using the case to establish some legal precedents to make it easier to control political speech in the future.  There is no shortage of case-law already on the books regarding free speech issues, but those precedents can be confusing and in some cases are contradictory.

Fusaro and Waters’ case has attracted some attention and assistance from a few civil rights groups, but none of the heavy hitters like the ACLU have waded into the case, probably due to the fact that Waters and Fusaro tend to advocate for “conservative” and libertarian positions that are not looked upon favorably by “liberal,” legal assistance groups.

The message itself, and Fusaro and Waters’ objectives in delivering it, should have no bearing on the legal case.  There is no argument that the message was true and accurate. The only real bone of contention is attribution of the call to an informal organization that couldn’t be easily tracked down and its members identified.

Appealing this case is going to cost thousands of dollars, and your help is needed to fund the case.  Losing the appeal – or not appealing at all – leaves a very dangerous precedent on the books, cutting deeper into your right to express yourself on political matters.

If you’d like to assist in this case, you can make a tax-deductible donation through www.RightsWatch.org.  Every little bit matters – whether it’s a little bit of money to help with this case, or a little more encroachment on rights by politicians looking to protect their seats.  Please donate if you can.

The Crime of Self-Defense

By Jeff Knox

(March 1, 2017) A video journalist in Oregon is facing hard time for brandishing a gun to defend himself from an angry mob.  The journalist, Michael Strickland, was covering a Black Lives Matter protest march in Portland on July 7, 2016 – the same day that a BLM supporter in Dallas murdered 5 police officers and injured 9 others, along with 2 civilians during a BLM march in that city.  Strickland is a fixture at left-wing events, and is well-known among organizers and participants for his mocking YouTube channel called Laughing at Liberals.  His activities are not popular with the groups, and at some recent events, protesters have violently confronted him.  He has been physically assaulted, sustaining a broken arm, and has camera equipment stolen.

During the Portland protest, a mob spotted Strickland, pushed him around, and ordered him to leave. An attempt was made to take his camera away, but Strickland extricated himself and moved down the street.  A few minutes later, the “free speech” activists again confronted Strickland. This time a large, obviously angry man was the central figure bearing down on and confronting him. Several other reporters in the area tried to calm the advancing protesters, as Strickland again attempted to retreat, but as he moved away, the tall, muscular man shrugged off his backpack and moved aggressively toward Strickland.  At the same time, an obese man wearing a black skull mask who had been among the group that had initially assaulted Strickland, rushed forward on Strickland’s left flank.

At this point, Strickland took a few quick steps backwards, yelling “Back off!” and drawing a Glock 9mm, which he first pointed in the general direction of the obese man, then swung back toward the tall muscular fellow.  As soon as the rush subsided, Strickland re-holstered the handgun while continuing to back away. A reporter said something to him, and Strickland stopped retreating long enough to express to the reporter that he thought the protesters were about to attack him, mentioning that some were brandishing heavy poles with black flags on them.

As Strickland moved on up the street, the protesters continued to follow him.  A reporter encouraged him to go on while he and others tried to keep everyone back, but Strickland expressed concern that if he turned his back, someone might try to jump him.  After getting about a half-block away from most of the protesters, he stopped to answer questions from another reporter. That was a mistake, as the angry mob again began closing in.  Finally a bystander convinced Strickland to keep moving, and he got around the corner, where a group of Portland Police took him to the ground and arrested him.

Police asked members of the crowd whether they had witnessed the events.  Then they asked if anyone present had felt directly threatened by the man with the gun.  The first person to step up to declare himself a victim was the same obese man who had been helping to instigate the confrontation.  He was later a star witness for the prosecution.

Strickland was cited on two misdemeanor counts of Menacing and Disorderly Conduct, and released on his own recognizance that night.  The next day the charges were upped to include two felony counts of Misuse of a Weapon. Bail was set at $250,000 based on claims that Strickland was some sort of white supremacist.

When prosecutors and city officials – many of whom had been “victims” of Strickland’s biting videos at Laughing at Liberals – realized who Strickland was, the charges began stacking up.  He was eventually indicted, tried, and convicted of 10 felony counts of Unlawful Use of a Weapon, 10 counts of Menacing, and one count of Disorderly Conduct.  He will be sentenced in May, and faces in excess of 50 years in prison. None of the people who attacked him have been charged.

All of the altercation was captured on video from multiple angles, but few of those videos have surfaced.  Strickland’s own video of the events was seized by the police and has not been released. Part of it was shown in court, but it has not been made available to the public.  What is available is cluttered and confusing – as, no doubt, was the actual event. The videos clearly show several people crowding and menacing over Strickland, then aggressively moving toward him until the gun appears and they back off.

Strickland’s lawyers, convinced that a fair trial could not be had in extremely “liberal” Multnoma County, asked for a change of venue, but that was denied.  When the jury pool proved to be exactly as expected, the lawyers advised waiving the jury trial and taking the case directly to the judge. Hindsight suggests that was a mistake, as the judge declared that Strickland was not being threatened and was not justified in deploying his handgun.  One of the organizers of the protest admitted during the trial that a group of enforcers had been tasked with keeping Strickland away from the protest – by force if necessary.

As someone knowledgeable about firearms and self-defense, I think Mr. Strickland made some questionable decisions that day, but I believe the videos clearly show a man in fear of imminent, grave bodily harm taking action to prevent that harm.  Much of this case is reminiscent of prosecutors blaming a rape victim for dressing provocatively and walking in a seedy neighborhood after dark. The conclusion seems to be that Mr. Strickland brought this all upon himself by posting controversial videos, carrying a gun, and going where he knew people hated him.  His greatest offense appears to have been that of being an outspoken conservative in a liberal community.

In Portland, conservative lives don’t matter.

 

Did Bloomberg Buy the New Mexico Legislature?

By Jeff Knox

(February 23, 2017) Mike Bloomberg and his various front groups spent over $250,000 on New Mexico legislative campaigns last November – more than any other special interest group. In comparison, the National Rifle Association spent about $10,000 in New Mexico. With Bloomberg’s help, Democrats increased their majority in the State Senate and took control of the State House. This prompted the Bloomberg subsidiary, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, to brag that a gun control majority would control the legislature this year, and they’re calling in their marker with their flagship legislation, a so-called “universal background check” bill.

As we have seen in several other states in recent years, the Bloomberg conglomerate, and their friends in the media, claims the bill closes a “dangerous loophole” in the state’s gun laws. With baited breath, gun control proponents decry the ability of convicted felons and other prohibited persons to “buy a gun, no questions asked” from “private dealers” at gun shows and over the internet. They also doggedly repeat the bogus claim that some 90% of citizens support these types of laws.

All of these claims are pure hogwash. Selling or transferring personal property without government interference is not a “loophole,” it is a basic right, and it is important to note that the bill being considered by the New Mexico legislature is not just about sales, not just about gun shows, and not about imaginary “internet gun sales.” The bill would require a licensed gun dealer to participate in every transfer of a firearm – even those that are temporary, and those between close friends and family members. Loaning a gun to a friend for a training class, a competition, or a hunting trip would require going to a dealer, paying a fee, filling out paperwork – which would be required to be maintained for decades – and submitting to a background check. This same, costly process would have to be repeated when a loaned gun, or one stored for a friend, is transferred back to its rightful owner.

Criminals rarely purchase guns through legal channels – either from a gun dealer or a private seller at a gun show or through a classified ad. Criminals virtually always acquire their guns via illegal means, either stealing them, buying them from someone else who stole or otherwise acquired them illegally, or having someone with a clean record buy them. This has been demonstrated with crime-gun traces, and polling of convicted criminals in prison. One of the primary reasons criminals don’t buy their guns from legal sellers, is that legal gun owners are overwhelmingly responsible, law-abiding citizens who would refuse to sell a gun to anyone they weren’t comfortable with, and usually require that a buyer at least provide their drivers license prior to agreeing to a sale. There is no such thing as an “internet gun sale.” All guns sales are required by federal law to be face-to-face transactions. The only way the internet might be involved is as an advertising venue, like classified ads in the newspaper.

As to the repeated claims that some 90% of citizens support the legislation, that’s demonstrably false. Similar legislation has been brought to voters in three states in recent years. In each case, proponents of the initiative outspent opponents by wide margins, flooding airwaves and mailboxes with misleading ads urging voters to approve the initiative. In spite of the disparity in spending – exceeding 8 to 1 in Washington State – the initiatives passed by narrow margins in two states, and failed in the other. Washington voters approved the measure by a margin of about 2%. Nevada passed it by less than one half of one percent, only acquiring a majority in one county. And Maine voters rejected the measure by a narrow margin. A lot of people support the idea of expanding background checks, but a very high percentage of those people don’t support the details of the Bloomberg-sponsored bills and initiatives. As with all legislation, the devil is in the details, and the details of Bloomberg’s proposal are a devilish mess. If 90% of the public supported the actual proposals – as opposed to the general concept of the proposals – they would win overwhelmingly in every state where they are introduced. The fact that they have not, proves that the 90% support statistic is a total fiction, based on manipulated polls.

The people of New Mexico have time to stop Bloomberg’s hostile takeover of their rights, but they must act fast. They must flood legislators’ offices with calls and emails urging them to reject the Bloomberg background check bill. At this point, the easy argument is that the bill goes too far. The Governor also needs to hear from constituents, calling on her to veto the bill if it makes it through the legislature. Again, the argument is that this is not the simple gun show bill she said she would sign last year. This bill is much more complex and far-reaching. She must not allow Mike Bloomberg to roll in from new York with his wads of cash and purchase rights from unsuspecting New Mexicans.

Mike Bloomberg believes he purchased the New Mexico State Legislature for the paltry sum of a quarter of a million dollars, but it is the people, not Bloomberg, to whom the politicians must answer, and it is the people who must rise up and demand that their rights be protected from the megalomaniacal, hoplophobic, New York billionaire.

Don’t nuke the Senate!

By Jeff Knox

(February 16, 2017) The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court has triggered the expected ranting and railing from Senate Democrats, and the left in general.  In response, many conservatives are calling for Senate Republicans to give Democrats a taste of their own medicine by pulling the trigger on the so-called “Nuclear Option” – majority vote to change Senate rules, revoking the right to filibuster Supreme Court nominees.

That would be a strategic mistake.

Senate Democrats invoked the “Nuclear Option” a couple of years ago when Republicans were actively using the filibuster rules to block Obama’s judge appointments, but they stopped short of making the new rule apply to Supreme Court nominees.  Had they held the majority in Obama’s last year, there can be little doubt that they would have extended the filibuster ban to SCOTUS picks in order to overcome Republican objections, but Republicans should not resort to the same tactics.

Not only would invoking the “Nuclear Option” set a precedent that would surely come back to haunt them in the future – just ask Democrats how they like not being able to effectively block Trump’s lower court judicial appointments – but it would also jeopardize the filibuster in general, removing one of the few tools the minority has for forcing compromise.  Which again is fine when your party is in the majority, but not so good when you find yourself in the minority.

There are ways for Republicans to win confirmation of Judge Gorsuch without resorting to the “Nuclear Option.”  Some of the experts at the Heritage Foundation wrote a paper on the subject before Gorsuch was even nominated. Their suggestion of using what is called Rule XIX to limit debate, thus limiting the duration of a filibuster, is pretty straightforward, but even that is not likely to be necessary.

The purpose of the filibuster is not to block an action in the Senate, but rather to delay action to give time to whip votes and bring pressure to bear.  In the current situation, the delay and attention works to the advantage of Republicans, not Democrats. Gorsuch is clearly qualified and widely respected, and he has a reputation for standing up to executive and bureaucratic overreach.  He is actually more likely to rule against Trump if he tries to accomplish too much with a pen and a phone.

By delaying, Democrats give more opportunity for the public to realize that they are simply being petulant.  Public pressure will weigh on Democrat senators who will be facing reelection next year – particularly those from states that supported Trump, some by a wide margin – convincing them to cross the aisle and support Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Democrat leaders are making a big mistake going all out to block Gorsuch’s confirmation.  There might already be enough votes to overcome a filibuster, and if not, those votes will come soon enough.  Republicans just need to move forward with confirmation hearings and a vote. If they really feel they don’t have enough votes to overcome a filibuster, they can invoke Rule XIX and let the Democrats talk themselves out.  But just moving forward will probably be enough.

Naturally, Democrats are pointing to Republicans’ refusal to hold hearings on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy left after the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and they have a point, but only to a point.  Republicans foolishly rushed to declare that they would reject any candidate Obama chose after Scalia’s death, just as Democrats were foolish to reject Trump’s appointment sight unseen. But unlike Republicans, who treated Garland respectfully, even while they refused to hold hearings on his confirmation, Democrats have launched scurrilous and baseless attacks on Gorsuch.  These tactics are not painting Democrats in a favorable light.

Court watchers know that Gorsuch’s appointment does little to shift the balance of the Court the way Merrick Garland’s would have.  In fact, while Gorsuch is considered a judicial conservative, in some areas, like 4th amendment, he can be expected to side more with the “liberal” wing of the Court.  Blocking a confirmation vote, and saying nasty, patently untrue things about the nominee, just makes the Democrats look petty and vindictive.  That won’t play well with the public at large, and is peel off enough Democrat senators to break from their leadership and vote to bring the nomination to the floor.

Minority Leader Schumer has to oppose Gorsuch’s confirmation, because he is accountable to the radical Democrat base.  Individual senators – especially those from “conservative”-leaning states – have no such mandate. Their first obligation is to their home-state voters, and for many senators, those voters are tired of petty, partisan politics.

If Republicans push forward with confirmation hearings for Gorsuch, they will force the Democrats’ hand, and should win a surprisingly easy victory.  All of the Democrats can vote against Gorsuch in the final vote if they want to, because all it takes for Republicans to prevail is a simple majority.  Getting to that vote is the challenge, as it requires 60 votes for “cloture,” that is, to shut down a filibuster. Democrat senators can vote to end the filibuster, then vote against Gorsuch’s confirmation.  That would allow them to pick which vote to focus on, depending on the audience they’re addressing. That is a very easy out for politicians facing a potentially tough reelection campaign.

Republicans can win this fight without deploying the “Nuclear Option.”  Using that option would be the height of hypocrisy, and would diminish Republican support.  They need to stick to the high ground, push forward with confirmation hearings, and bring public pressure to bear against the Democrats’ weaker links.

A Good Guy with a Gun

By Jeff Knox

Needed it.  Had it.  Used it well.

(February 2, 2017) In the early morning hours of January 12 an Arizona State Trooper, a convicted felon, and an illegal immigrant known to be a methamphetamine user, met on a lonely stretch of highway 40 miles west of Phoenix. A young woman was already dead, and the toll was about to climb.  All three men had guns. Only one would walk away.

Trooper Edward Andersson, a 27-year veteran of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and a popular high school volleyball coach in the little town of Tonopah, a farming community near Interstate 10, just a few miles from my Arizona home.

Leonard Penuelas-Escobar was 37-years old, and a former Mexican National Police officer.  He was in the United States illegally, but had no criminal record here. He and his 23-year old girlfriend were both known to use methamphetamine.

Thomas Yoxall was a 43-year old maintenance worker and convicted criminal, covered in tattoos, with large drooping earlobes, stretched by “gauges.”  His possession of a firearm would have been illegal, but for an Arizona judge who reduced his conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor, and restored Yoxall’s right to arms – something that gun control advocates vehemently oppose.

Penuelas-Escobar had been driving from Phoenix to a house near Tonopah when he lost control of the speeding car, causing a violent rollover.  His girlfriend was ejected from the vehicle and killed. A variety of confusing reports were received by 911 operators, and Trooper Andersson, who was nearby, made his way to the scene.

Upon arriving, Andersson saw Penuelas-Escobar cradling his girlfriend on the side of the road.  The car was off the highway in a crumpled pile in the desert. Andersson engaged his emergency lights and quickly put out flares to slow traffic on the 75 mph highway, then approached the crash victims to assess the situation.  Yoxall was still a couple of miles away, just beginning to see the flickering lights ahead.

As Andersson approached, Penuelas-Escobar suddenly became irate, yelling something in Spanish, and firing a 9mm handgun at Andersson.  A bullet struck the trooper in the right shoulder, doing significant damage to bone and muscle, and disabling his right arm. Penuelas-Escobar then tackled the trooper, and began violently pounding his face and head, while straddling his chest.

That’s when Yoxall arrived.  He saw the two men wrestling on the ground, and rather than driving on, Yoxall stopped the car, grabbed his gun, and ordered Penuelas-Escobar to stop.  Only getting violent cursing in response, Yoxall gave a final warning, then fired two shots, both striking Penuelas-Escobar in the upper body. Yoxall and another Good Samaritan who had just arrived began rendering first aid to the wounded trooper.  But Penuelas-Escobar wasn’t finished. He got up and advanced on the trooper and his rescuers, at which point Yoxall fired another shot, killing the man.

Proponents of gun control might try to claim that this tragedy could have been averted if not for Arizona’s “lax” gun laws.  Perhaps Penuelas-Escobar might not have been able to acquire the gun he used to shoot Trooper Andersson, and the Trooper might have been able to fend off the attack.  But the fact is, Penuelas-Escobar was violating multiple state and federal laws by possessing a gun. As a person illegally in this country, and as a user of illegal drugs, it was a felony for him to touch a firearm.  Had he been unable to acquire a gun, he would have almost certainly had a knife or some other type of weapon. And while there is no end to the what-ifs and maybes, the reality is that the only person involved in this incident who would have been disarmed by any gun control law, is Thomas Yoxall.

Yoxall might have been able to use his hands, feet, or some sort of improvised weapon, but that would have taken time, and would be very risky.  Perhaps if Yoxall were a trained cage fighter in top form, he might have had the confidence and skill to pull it off, but not knowing what weapons or skills Penuelas-Escobar might have, trying to take him on hand-to-hand would have been very dangerous.

Had this event happened just 75 miles to the west, Yoxall would have had fewer options.  He would have been required to have his gun unloaded and locked in the trunk. Just driving on by would have been the safe bet in a place where gun laws are only obeyed by the law-abiding, like Yoxall.

Thomas Yoxall insists that he is not a hero, but rather “just a regular guy” who did what he had to do in a terrible situation.  He struggles with the burden of taking a human life, but is consoled in the knowledge that doing so probably saved the life of Trooper Andersson, and possibly others.

Yoxall is not a stereotypical “gun guy.”  His tattoos, ear gauges, and past mistakes, set him apart from the Elmer Fudd image so many people have of gun owners.  Thank goodness there are people like him, who are willing to step up when needed, and thank goodness a judge was rational enough to see that Mr. Yoxall’s past mistakes should not bar him from possessing firearms.

Our thanks and our prayers go out to Thomas Yoxall for taking action and doing what was right.

Yoxall at the range
Thomas Yoxall at the range long before his shooting skills saved a State Trooper’s life

Vote NO on NRA Bylaw Changes

by Jeff Knox

(January 24, 2017) I usually try to avoid using this venue as a stump for talking about the politics inside the NRA. I generally write an annual article offering my suggestions for Board of director candidates and leave it at that, but this year, the NRA Board of Directors has introduced some sweeping bylaw amendments that every NRA member should be concerned about.

Every year at this time, a third of the NRA’s 76-member Board comes up for election. This year, a slate of fifteen bylaw changes is being proposed by “unanimous recommendation” of the Board of Directors. These bylaw changes, presented without debate and no dissenting opinions, are claimed to continue the spirit of the “Cincinnati reforms,” and according to press releases put out under NRA President Alan Cors’ name, to give more power to the members.

Quite to the contrary, the proposed bylaw changes destroy the last vestiges of the reforms enacted during the Cincinnati member revolt of 1977. They remove power from the members, further consolidating control over the Association within the Board’s inner circle and staff.

For most of the past century through 1977, the NRA ballot typically contained 25 names for 25 Board vacancies, unless someone died in office in which case the ballot carried 26 names for 26 vacancies. The names on the ballot were chosen by the Nominating Committee, which was tightly controlled by an inner circle of the Board and staff. No petition process existed. In short, the process was as insular closed as the Russian Politburo of the Cold War.

This slate of bylaw changes puts the NRA firmly on the road back to the “Russian ballot” of days gone by, and locks the Association on that course.

In 1977 a group of members and renegade Board members, upset by the NRA’s reluctance to fulfill its duties in the political arena, and the closed electoral system that made change all but impossible, staged a member revolt at the Annual Meeting of Members in Cincinnati. Operating under the bylaws and not-for-profit law, an insurgent team of members and rebel Board members including Neal Knox and Harlon Carter, moved a slate of bylaw changes that reorganized the organization’s structure and imposed a petition process to get access to the ballot. The members, already angry at a proposal being floated by the NRA brass to move the headquarters out of Washington, were primed to join the rebellion. The meeting lasted from 10:00 in the morning Saturday to 4:00 Sunday morning.

In subsequent years, those member-empowering bylaw amendments have been chipped away. Each strike of the chisel was made with assurances that the latest change would “protect the Cincinnati reforms.” The current proposal paves the way to wipe away the last vestiges.

The proposed bylaw amendments would soon put the petition process out of reach of most members, returning to a closed system that virtually guarantees control of the Board by staff and incumbents.

When Dad wrote the current standard, he set the threshold at 250 voting members. That number was deemed achievable an average member who wanted to take a hand in NRA affairs as a Board member. In this internet age, gathering 250 qualified signatures has become somewhat easier, but setting the bar at anything higher than about 500 would take the process out of reach of most members.

The Board proposes setting a threshold at 0.5% of the voters in the past year’s election. The new threshold will be around that acceptable 500 number, but that’s only true as long as less than 6% of eligible members cast ballots. If turnout were to go up to just 8%, the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot would go up to close to 900 – beyond the reach of an average member.

As an Endowment Life Member of the NRA who has been very active in NRA politics for almost four decades, I’m very troubled by the key provisions of this bylaw change proposal, and I am urging all voting members to Vote “No” on this proposal. While some of the proposed changes are mostly cosmetic, and others seem logical, the overall effect of the proposed changes is to take power away from the members, and this is an all-or-nothing proposition. You can’t get the good without also accepting the bad – and that’s unacceptable.

If you are an NRA member, I urge you to take a look in your February 2017 issue of your NRA magazine to see if there is a voting package bound into the middle of it. If there is, go to the back of the package where you will find 2 ballots and an envelope. One ballot is for voting on the Board of Directors, the other is for voting on the proposed bylaw amendments.

Whether you vote in the Director election or not, be sure to completely fill in the circle next to the word “No” on the bylaw ballot, put it in the envelope, sign it, and drop it in the mail.

“As the NRA goes, so go our gun rights.” My dad first penned those words more than thirty years ago when the NRA was embroiled in another of its internal struggles. The NRA management likes to think that a placid, compliant NRA is good for gun rights. That is not true. The organization was born out of strife and is at its best when there is tension. For its leaders to relax into complacent incumbency will not yield an NRA that is willing to press the strategic advantage we have now, nor dig in and fight the hard battles that will come when the political pendulum moves the other way.

* * *

For the Board of Directors election, I am recommending just 3 candidates, and no others. They are Sean Maloney, Adam Kraut, and Graham Hill. There are others on the ballot who are also good, but they don’t need my help.

Watts deserves Darwin Award

By Jeff Knox

The Third Rail still appears to be hot!

(January 19, 2017) Back in November, 2015, when there were still four Democrats contending for the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton took a potshot at Bernie Sanders, for having received favorable ratings from the National Rifle Association in years past.  With that, the candidates entered into an argument over which of them had, or deserved, the worst ranking from the shooting organization. This argument prompted Shannon Watts, the professional PR flak who heads Mike Bloomberg’s astroturf, anti-gun group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, to declare in a fundraising email;

“This year, the myth of gun violence as a political third rail was put to rest in the Democratic presidential debate, where candidates fought over who has the lowest grade from the NRA.”

 

Watts made a similar comment a month or two prior to this one, saying that the way the candidates were talking about gun control was an unprecedented “sea change” because “It (gun control) was the third-rail of politics.”  At the time, I noted that Ms. Watts’ use of the past tense was just a tad premature, and welcomed the new, more honest posturing of these politicians.  The “myth of the third rail” meme, is one that anti-rights advocates have been pitching for years. They claim that “the gun lobby” is a paper tiger, all bluster, and no bite, and they’ve spent years trying to convince politicians that speaking out in favor of “gun violence prevention” – which of course is a euphemism for gun control – won’t jeopardize their political careers.  They have also gone to great lengths to develop alternate explanations for crushing defeats like the Republican tsunami of 1994 which rolled in the wake of the passage of the Clinton “Assault Weapons” Ban, and Al Gore’s dashed presidential hopes. Gore failed to carry his home state of Tennessee. Had he won Tennessee, the controversy in Florida would have been moot. There may have been other factors in his loss, but his shift to support of gun control was clearly a factor.

We all know that Gore came within a few “hanging chads” and the Supreme Court of winning that election, but the debacle in Florida would have been irrelevant had Gore won just one more state.  Even capturing the 4 electoral votes of New Hampshire would have been enough, but Ralph Nader drew almost 4% of the vote there, allowing Bush to eek out a win by barely 1%. Had GunVoters in New Hampshire not strongly supported Bush, that narrow victory would have fallen the other way.  In Gore’s home state of Tennessee, which he, like his father before him, had served in Congress for decades, Nader pulled less than 1% of the vote, and Gore lost by almost 4%, so no one can blame Nader for that one. Who can be blamed is Gore. In 1990, Gore was reelected to the U.S. Senate with 67% of the vote, but in his presidential bid he only managed to draw 47.3%.  In the 10 years between those two elections, Gore had rather dramatically shifted to a position of support for gun control, and a big part of his poor showing in 2000 was directly attributable to that shift, and the resultant heavy turnout of GunVoters opposing Gore and supporting Bush.

As to the Republican Revolution of 1994, one of the most astute political minds of our time,  none other than Bill Clinton himself, attributed the devastation of Democrats to GunVoters responding to passage of the ’94 “assault weapons” ban.  And Clinton wasn’t alone in that conclusion. Many political analysts noted that a number of Republicans who had voted for the Clinton gun ban, also fell by the wayside, taken out in the primaries, often by unknown candidates who campaigned almost exclusively on the gun issue.  Luckily Mrs. Clinton has always thought that her own political acumen was superior to her husband’s, and she bought the “paper tiger” claims of Watts, Bloomberg, and others, hook, line, and sinker.

As for Ms. Watts and her premature pronouncement of the demise of the gun control “third rail,” rights advocates were thrilled to hear it and to see the Democrat candidates lining up to prove that she was right – especially as the Republicans were doing everything possible to court the gun vote.

As with all things in politics – and life – the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and right now, that sour bile flavor Democrats are tasting can be directly attributed to their candidates testing what they were told was a myth.

Since November, Watts and her ilk have been trying hard to spin their devastating losses as something other than a national repudiation of gun control extremism, and they continue to urge politicians to take up their flag and defy the impotent “gun lobby.”  At The Firearms Coalition, we applaud Ms. Watts’ efforts. We hope that every politician who supports her gun control agenda will boldly stand up and loudly proclaim their position. It just makes our work so much easier.

 

 

Repeal Laws Against Quieter

Quieter Shouldn’t be Illegal

By Jeff Knox

(January 12, 2017) Hearing protection for shooters is back in the news and back on the desks of our federal legislators. The Firearms Coalition has been calling for deregulation of firearm suppressors – what the law and non-gunnies call “silencers” – for decades. Contrary to Hollywood portrayals, a suppressor does not make a gun silent. It’s a rather simple gadget attached to the end of a gun’s barrel to reduce excessive noise.

My late father wrote about deregulating suppressors back in 1989. I wrote about the inanity of suppressor laws in this column in 2011, and again when Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ) finally introduced a bill to relieve the situation back in 2015. Salmon has retired, but Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC) introduced an almost identical bill, H.R. 367, the Hearing Protection Act of 2017, in the opening days of the 115th Congress, and Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) followed up with S. 59 in the Senate a few days later. While neither bill goes as far toward deregulating suppressors as hardcore rights advocates would prefer, they are both a huge step in the right direction.

Currently, silencers are restricted under the provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934, or NFA. The NFA was passed as a way to limit Americans’ access to machine guns and heavy weapons. It was billed as a response to “motor bandits” and mobsters like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Al Capone, who had become household names thanks to sensational press reports, radio programs, and action movies. But what really had the politicians worried were the masses of frustrated veterans who had come home from a brutal war to poverty, unemployment, and empty promises of a reward in the too-distant future.

In 1932, some 40,000 of these desperate veterans and their supporters, known as the “Bonus Army,” marched on Washington, and demanded payment of the IOU’s the government had given them in return for their service. Congress refused to accede to the marchers’ demands, and President Hoover eventually resorted to using cavalry, tanks, and teargas to drive the protesters off. Marchers returned in 1933 to challenge the new president, Franklin Roosevelt, but again they were denied.

Some thought the veterans were bent on overthrowing the U.S. government, and official Washington was worried. Politicians of the day – unlike many of the current crop – understood that they could not simply ignore the constitutional prohibition on infringing on the right of the people to keep and bear arms, but Roosevelt’s Attorney General, Homer Cummings convinced Congress to do an end-run on the Constitution by claiming they weren’t regulating firearms, but rather just taxing certain “dangerous” goods.

The NFA instituted an onerously high tax on the transfer of items included under its purview, and required registration of those items to verify the taxes paid. It also required that people seeking to own these items undergo an extensive background investigation, and get permission from their local Sheriff or Chief of Police before they could take possession.

Somehow silencers were included under this law, and from that day to this, any device that is designed or used to reduce the sound of a firearm, has been treated the same as a machine gun. Actually, in many ways the restrictions on “silencers” are even more draconian than the restrictions on machine guns, because any part or piece of a silencer is considered to be a silencer itself, where only a few key components of machine guns are restricted.

This expansive definition is even more problematic considering how remarkably simple a silencer is. It works exactly like a car muffler, providing an enclosed space to momentarily capture and slow the release of the hot gasses that propel the bullet down the barrel. Slowing the release of the gasses reduces the noise generated by a shot. Taping a 2-liter, plastic soda bottle over the muzzle of a gun will attenuate its noise output. But doing that is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Under the new proposals, silencers would be treated like rifles and shotguns, rather than like machine guns, which is still overkill. Why should a muffler be restricted or controlled at all? In many European countries, the only regulations regarding suppressors are those requiring them. Their use is considered good manners and common courtesy, like mufflers on motorcycles.

Suppressors are also in the news recently because the Marine Corps is considering installing them on all of the guns in an entire infantry battalion. The general promoting the idea points to improved communications among soldiers, safer range conditions, and reductions in hearing damage claims – the exact same benefits that would be realized by civilian shooters and hunters.

While suppressors don’t completely eliminate the need for ear protection while shooting most guns, they do reduce noise enough to make shooting safer and more pleasant for participants and nearby neighbors.

The House version of the Hearing Protection Act launched with 43 cosponsors, and should be able to be passed relatively easily – if Republican leadership allows it hearings and votes. In the Senate, where Republicans and rights supporters enjoy a narrower majority, a more difficult fight is expected. The Firearms Coalition is focusing our attention on that tougher fight first. If we can get the bill passed out of the Senate, passage in the House should be a slam-dunk. This approach avoids the possibility of expending time and energy to get it through the House, only to have it die in the Senate.

Readers are encouraged to contact senators and urge passage of this important legislation.

Social Insecurity — Obama’s Parting Shot at the Second Amendment

 

By Jeff Knox

(December 29, 2016) In the final days of the Obama administration, several agencies have finalized new rules and regulations that Mr. Obama had been pushing for. Among those, the Social Security Administration, or SSA, has announced that they have finalized rules under which they will be reporting – possibly many thousands of – Social Security benefit recipients to the FBI’s National Instant Check System as “prohibited persons” for firearm possession purposes. Inclusion in NICS means complete loss of all Second Amendment rights, and makes it a felony for the person to possess or have access to any firearm or ammunition – ever. It also makes a felon of anyone who provides a “prohibited person” with access to firearms or ammunition. So parents of developmentally disabled children who receive SSI, and have used shooting and hunting as a family bonding activity, can continue doing that until the child turns 18, at which time, they would be committing a felony if they allowed their ward to touch a gun or ammunition.

The basis of this “final rule” is a bureaucratic finding that the person is “unable to manage their own affairs.” Just as we’ve seen from the Veterans Administration since the mid-1990s, the SSA is going to submit to NICS the name and identifying information of anyone whom they say is “adjudicated mentally defective” under the wording of the 1968 Gun Control Act. The primary criteria for that determination is that they be an adult who, rather than handling SSA benefits themselves, has a “designated payee” who acts as a fiduciary to manage the person’s benefits. For instance, a person might have sustained a head injury and, as a result, has trouble dealing with numbers, so they have a parent or spouse named as their “designated payee.” Under the new SSA rules, that person would be labeled as “adjudicated mentally defective” and would be barred from ever holding a gun or ammunition for the rest of their life. It doesn’t matter to the SSA if the person is fully functional in every other way, if they “can’t manage their own affairs” with SSA, they are considered a “mental defective,” and their name is submitted to NICS.

In some cases, someone who requested a “designated payee” as a matter of convenience, might be able to appeal the NICS submission, but they can only appeal after the submission has been made, and they could be looking at significant time and legal expense. They would also have to remove their guns and ammunition from their home until the matter was resolved. That could be a problem in states like Washington, where any firearm transfer, even just temporarily while sorting out a SSA mistake, must be processed through a licensed dealer, with a per-gun fee, and a required background check. Assuming the person won their appeal, legally transferring the guns back to their possession would require processing again, including the per-gun fee, and a background check on the person getting his guns back.

The thing that is the most frustrating about this new rule, is that SSA says they are merely obeying a law which received broad bipartisan support, and which was supported by the NRA. The law is called the NICS Improvement Amendment Act of 2007. It was passed in response to the horrible attack at Virginia Tech. One of the provisions of the act requires that government agencies share with NICS the names of people who are prohibited from firearm possession for mental health reasons. Even more frustrating, the law which forbids possession of firearms by “mental defectives” does not say anything about people who can’t manage their own financial affairs.

What the law says is that “prohibited persons” includes anyone: “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution.” That’s it. Nothing about managing financial affairs, etc. But several years ago, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or BATFE, promulgated regulations for enforcing that line of the law, and in their definition of terms, they stated that “adjudicated as a mental defective” means: “A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:

  1. Is a danger to himself or to others; or
  2. Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.

Out of the blue, the BATFE simply added the part about the “capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.” They also stretched the term “adjudicated” to now include rulings by boards, commissions, and “other lawful authority,” which they say includes the bureaucrats at the VA and the SSA.

Where was Congress when this agency took it upon itself to overreach so dramatically. And where have they been in the subsequent two decades as this unfounded regulation has been used to strip Second Amendment rights from countless, innocent veterans?

Let’s hope that this ruling from the SSA will be the wake-up call Congress needs to finally take action to correct this travesty. Realistically, we are talking about a pretty small minority here. The majority of people whose names will be submitted to NICS as of January 18, probably won’t be too bothered by it. But for those who do care, and are bothered, this is a huge deal, and it is completely unfounded and unfair. There is no public benefit to this policy, and it will hurt real people who deserve to have their rights protected.

Please let your senators and representative know that you want this travesty corrected. The number for the Capitol Switchboard is (202)224-3121, or you can find their local office number online.