Our letter to Leahy and Welch

Senator Leahy,

We, the undersigned people of Vermont strongly object to the anti-gun legislation and other measures currently being proposed in Washington DC. It is disturbing and very disappointing to see that our leaders and representatives would use the actions of a few murderous criminals as a justification for infringing on the civil liberties of millions of law abiding Americans. This is especially true given the fact that you and your colleagues have sworn an oath to preserve, protect and defend The U.S. Constitution. In the free society that our founders attempted to establish, there will always be depraved individuals who will abuse their freedom to cause great harm. The protections afforded to accused criminals in our legal system frequently allow the perpetrators of heinous acts to escape punishment. These injustices are not an excuse to deprive people of their due process protections as guaranteed by The Constitution. The same should be true when considering the actions of these depraved killers, along with terrorist attacks and other acts of mass murder. These crimes generate sensational headlines, and in the age of mass media generate an outcry for some sort of change. Those changes however must not include the surrendering of our fundamental freedoms.

Ben Franklin warned his fellow citizens and future generations to beware the tradeoffs between liberty and safety. We are at such a moment where we would do well to remember his wisdom. The mission of government is to protect our liberties, not to guarantee our “safety”. The nation could be made “safe” by stripping the entire citizenry of ALL civil liberties. We could be “safe” under a system of ubiquitous surveillance, random search and seizure, armed soldiers constantly patrolling the streets, internal police checkpoints, restricted freedom of movement, and violent crackdowns on political dissent, arbitrary detention and execution. We could live in a society where the unarmed population is muted by fear of government reprisal, where the people spoke only in hushed whispers and were afraid of the slightest transgression. This is the regulatory equivalent of a padded cell and the sacrifice of all liberty for the guarantee of safety. We find this world to be abhorrent to our sensibilities.

Criminal actions are unacceptable and there must be deterrent and punishment for the perpetrators. In high profile mass killings, the criminals often escape our legal system by suicide, which leaves us feeling empty, unavenged, and seeking an outlet for the administration of justice, or just to do “something” so that the victims do not go unremembered. Attacking the right to keep and bear arms or other civil liberties is not an outlet for “justice” it is simply attempting to impose another injustice. Steps may be taken to help prevent and mitigate the damage inflicted on us by criminals, but those steps must not be to sacrifice our liberties for some scant possibility of safety.

We are constantly assured that the government is only attempting to ban “certain” firearms and has no intent of establishing future bans. These assurances are ridiculously hollow as anti-gun groups and politicians have been rather open in expressing their ultimate goal of reducing or eliminating private firearms ownership in this country. If we allow the recent high profile crimes to be used as an excuse to ban “certain” firearms it obviously will not prevent firearms-related crimes. Whether it is months or years in the future, some depraved individual intent on murder will use a deer rifle, semi-automatic handgun with 10 round magazine or other “legal” firearm to kill. At that time, we will inevitably hear the call for more legislation to restrict private firearms ownership. We must not allow sensationalized criminal activities as a justification for firearms bans, either now, or in the future, as the end result is obvious.

Government policy should take into account trends and information at the macro level. A few anecdotal cases, regardless of how tragic, should not be used as data for the formulation of good public policy. If government is serious about taking steps for reducing firearms-related violence, re-examining the failed “war on drugs” is the most obvious starting point. The Sandy Hook murders are a sensational incident, but the bulk of firearms-related murders occur in large urban population centers and involve gangs fighting over the lucrative trade in illegal drugs. We observed the same phenomenon during our nation’s failed experiment with alcohol prohibition. We also observe the same sorts of prolific violence with rival drug cartels in Mexico. Remove the vast financial incentives presented by the illegal drug trade and the incentive for committing violence for a share of that trade is also reduced.

The “war on drugs” is also instructive in another sense. Despite decades of prohibition, massive expenditures in terms of law enforcement, prosecution and investigation, hundreds of tons of illegal drugs still make it into the country. Attempting to pursue a parallel “war on guns” will be no more successful. Only the law abiding American will comply with such rules while the criminals will have access to a steady supply. Rivalry for a share of this new and lucrative black market will stimulate further violence.

Prior to the federal Gun Control Act of 1934, it was legal to own full automatic weapons such as the Thompson sub-machine gun and the Browning automatic rifle. Prior to the federal firearms act of 1968, firearms could be obtained with no background check via mail order and delivered to a private residence. If the availability and easy access to firearms was the driving factor in firearms related violence, mass murders would have been much more common in the early 1900s and more common in the 1950s and 1960s. Furthermore, in the past 25 years, the number of states which have legal concealed carry has grown from 15 to 41. The number of firearms owners and the number of concealed carry permit holders are at all time highs. The Clinton gun ban expired in 2004, thus the firearms our politicians seem most anxious to ban have been ‘legal’ for 8 years. The previously banned firearms have been selling in record numbers, particularly since 2008. According to the anti-gun theorists, the proliferation of these sorts of weapons should be causing a severe spike in violent crime. Instead, what we observe is a rate of violent crime at 40 year lows.

Several conclusions are abundantly clear. There is zero or possibly inverse correlation between the availability and number of semi-automatic firearms and 10+ round magazines in private hands and the overall rate of violent crime in the USA. As with illegal drugs, those willing to violate the law will be able to obtain illegal firearms regardless of what legislative barriers politicians attempt to establish. New anti-gun laws are an affront to the civil liberties of millions of law abiding Americans. We urge you to vigorously oppose any and all anti-gun legislation being considered now or in the future.

Moe Kinney, Milton, Vt.

The Gun Owners of Vermont

The Appleseed Project

Vermont Traditions Coalition

Vermonters for Liberty