July 14, 2004

Et tu Hugh?

I had Hugh Hewitt on today. It’s not that unusual as I listen to him whenever I drive. I don't always agree with him but I do find him entertaining.

Hugh mentioned he had been on the G. Gordon Liddy show today to talk about his (Hewitt's) new book, If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It.

It was discussing his appearance on Mr. Liddy's show that brings me here.

I looked around for a bit trying to find a link to Mr. Hewitt's show, or Mr. Liddy's, but I was unsuccessful. I'll try to repeat Mr. Hewitt’s words as exactly as possible, but please keep in mind this is all from memory. The basic point will be the same as I believe Mr. Hewitt intended, but the quote should be considered paraphrased.

Mr. Hewitt was discussing his appearance on Mr. Liddy's show & seemed surprised (or perhaps disappointed) that Mr. Liddy took issue with a statement Mr. Hewitt made. It was in a chapter called (& this isn't exact) "Abortion, guns &..."(sorry, couldn't recall the last subject). Mr. Hewitt made it clear that Mr. Liddy's disagreement centered around one paragraph in the entire book. that paragraph said something to the effect of "...the 'assault weapons' ban is not the first step down the slippery slope towards total confiscation & gun owners should not see a renewed ‘assault weapons’ ban (as will happen in September) as a reason to not vote republican..."

I came damned close to pulling over, finding a phone & calling him. Hell, I came damned close to canceling my obligations & driving out there so I could chat with him about this over a drink or twelve.

Now last year I took issue with Annika's support of Schwarzenegger over McClintock in the California gubernatorial election. Ms. Annika's position seemed to closely parallel Mr. Hewitt's views on things.

What struck me was that Mr. Hewitt was not a conservative. Well not predominantly. Mr. Hewitt was & is a Republican. He likes conservative ideas but he just won't push them if he feels it will endanger the party. Last week at some point Mr. Hewitt was urging people to vote for Sen. Specter (R-Pa). He summed up Sen. Specter's transgressions as a case of him sometimes voting "against us" & quickly moved on to the point that an "R" beside the name is more important overall than disagreement over a few issues. More or less he wanted to say it so he could acknowledge that he said it but speed past it as quickly as possible.

This typifies a Republican rather than a conservative mindset: the good of the party is more important than the good of the individual. Mr. Hewitt has argued before & will probably argue again that even if a candidate votes badly according to your views you should vote for him to keep the "R" party as dominant in government.

But the focus of my desire to write about this isn't the partisan nature of Mr. Hewitt’s ideology: it's his missing the importance of the "assault weapons" ban on both sides.

I will grant that Mr. Hewitt was technically correct when he said that the AWB was not the first step down the slippery slope. It wasn't. The first step (as far as federal law is concerned) was taken in 1934 with the passage of the National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. Chapter 53). The law was challenged in court & after initially being held unconstitutional by the trial court, SCOTUS remanded it back for retrial claiming the NFA was in fact constitutional as far as they knew.

That was the first step (again as far as federal laws are concerned). The AWB is not the first step, but it is a step & a very important one. It builds on a law known as the Hughes' amendment to the Firearms Owner Protection Act. For some background on what the Hughes amendment did I'll refer you to this post (scroll down a little for the relevant passages). To sum it up it prohibited the new manufacture of a type of firearm with a certain function: namely it banned the making of new machine guns.

So the AWB is not the first law to go after a specific category of weapons. What's interesting about the AWB is that it is the first law that prohibits firearms based on appearance as opposed to function.

The AWB (18 U.S.C. 921 (a) 30 (B) ) prohibits the manufacture of semi-automatic rifles after September 13th, 1994 that use a detachable magazine & two of the five features:

"...a folding or telescoping stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and a grenade launcher..."

None of the features listed alter the basic way the weapon functions. At most a few of the features affect the comfort of the person shooting. A telescoping stock can be used to adjust the length of pull (distance from the butt of the rifle to the trigger) for shooters who don't feel a non-telescoping stock is the correct length for them. A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously is useful in keeping one's strong hand from fatiguing over long courses of fire. A flash suppressor merely makes shooting at night a little easier for the shooter as it diverts some of the flash form the top of the barrel & thus preserves to some degree the person’s night vision.

They in no way affect the cycling of the action or the function of the trigger. Aside from minor comfort issues most noticeable to competitive shooters the AWB simply effects how a rifle looks.

& just to be thorough, the bayonet lug does affect the functioning of the rifle if one intended to use a bayonet. The grenade launcher does affect the ability to use the rifle to launch grenades. But since grenades are regulated under the NFA (They're defined as destructive devices in 26 U.S.C. 53 (A) 1 (f) & mentioned here & here on the Federal gun Gestapo's ATF's website) and & there has been nary a case of rifle grenades or bayonets used in any crime that I'm aware of, I'll stick with the conclusion that the AWB merely went after cosmetic features as opposed to functional ones.

The AWB does include a prohibition on the new manufacture of magazines holding more than ten rounds, as well as restrictions on shotguns & handguns that fit their definition of "assault weapon". But to make things simple I'll stick to the rifle aspects of the ban.

What does this mean? Let’s look at it from two different perspectives. First, the anti-gun view in their own words (courtesy of gunscholar.com):

"In fact, the assault weapons ban will have no significant effect either on the crime rate or on personal security. Nonetheless, it is a good idea . . . . Its only real justification is not to reduce crime but to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons in preparation for their ultimate confiscation." - Charles Krauthammer (columnist), Disarm the Citizenry. But Not Yet, Washington Post, Apr. 5, 1996

"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. . . . [W]e'll have to start working again to strengthen that law, and then again to strengthen the next law, and maybe again and again. Right now, though, we'd be satisfied not with half a loaf but with a slice. Our ultimate goal -- total control of handguns in the United States -- is going to take time. . . . The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition-except for the military, police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors-totally illegal." - Richard Harris, A Reporter at Large: Handguns, New Yorker, July 26, 1976, at 53, 58 (quoting Pete Shields, founder of Handgun Control, Inc.)

Although the quote above speaks of handguns you should still be able to recognize the over-all strategy & how it pertains to the AWB.

"[Peter] Jennings: And the effect of the assault rifle ban in Stockton? The price went up, gun stores sold out and police say that fewer than 20 were turned in. Still, some people in Stockton argue you cannot measure the effect that way. They believe there's value in making a statement that the implements of violence are unacceptable in our culture.

[Stockton, California] Mayor [Barbara] Fass: I think you have to do it a step at a time and I think that is what the NRA is most concerned about, is that it will happen one very small step at a time, so that by the time people have 'woken up' -- quote -- to what's happened, it's gone farther than what they feel the consensus of American citizens would be. But it does have to go one step at a time and the beginning of the banning of semi-assault military weapons, that are military weapons, not 'household' weapons, is the first step." - ABC News Special, Peter Jennings Reporting: Guns, April 11, 1991, available on LEXIS, NEWS database, SCRIPT file.

I think it's safe to say that the anti-gunners see the AWB as an important step in a much broader journey: prohibiting all civilian possession of firearms. It's not the first step down a slippery slope & if we allow the ban to continue it will not be the last. Right now they're concentrating on a simple renewal of the ban, but a strengthened version has already been discussed & at one point had 100 co-sponsors in the House.

They see it as having a very large part of the camel's nose in the tent & they will fight like hell to keep it from being pushed out, not because it does anything materially, but because it's a big step in getting the rest of their damned camel inside.

Now how do I look at the AWB?

It doesn't really touch me personally. At least in terms of my firearms I don't particularly want an "assault weapon" as defined by the AWB. A few more 11 round magazines would be nice but I'm more than happy with the Garand for my purposes.

However it does affect my choices. If I were to desire an AR-15 it'd either be a post-ban weapon w/o certain features or it'd be a pre-ban rifle that, through yet another federal distortion in our pseudo-free market, would cost considerably more than a post ban rifle would. This limits my options to an extent & while I don't want or need an "assault rifle" currently I'm pretty pissed off at anyone determining my needs & desires through legislation.

Because it doesn't affect me I could very well take the tactic of the Fuddites. But I fear the regrets they face will be almost unbearable.

So it's not that the AWB keeps me from having anything I want right now; it's that in principle it limits my choices, & more importantly it could be used as a springboard to actually affect my choices. No, I don't wish to own any "assault weapons" right now, but the anti's will strengthen the AWB as soon as they can if it's allowed to stand & that could mean they'll be coming for my Garand, or my 10/22 or some other weapon that I own.

& that I fear is Mr. Hewitt's problem: he cannot get past pragmatism in order to see, let alone stand, for the principle involved.

I do not think he means anything harmful by it, but his downplaying of the importance of the AWB to both sides is not that different from a ruler out of touch with her people advising that they should eat cake if they were hungry. Mr. Hewitt is simply out of touch with the republican base that sees the AWB as a gross infringement of the 2nd amendment as well as a banana peel on the slippery slope of prohibition.

The truth is I don't think he's capable of seeing the AWB for what it is. Oh, it's not that he's not intelligent or that he lacks imagination. It's that the conclusion which I would convince him of would pit opposing a very harmful & unconstitutional law against doing whatever's best for the Party.

I feel he is simply incapable of voicing an opinion that might hurt any republican's chances of getting elected (or re-elected). It would take something on the level of finding a republican in bed with an under aged child of the same sex before a denunciation would occur. & even then if it was too late to find another candidate I feel he'd tell you to hold your nose & vote for the republican in question anyway so the party can remain strong.

Getting back to what he said, Mr. Hewitt stated something along the lines of "well if you think voting for a republican that wants the AWB renewed is bad, what will you do when the democrats take away the 2nd amendment?" (Again, I loosely paraphrase so please excuse any discrepancies).

I won't argue that most democrats would take a more direct path towards confiscation than most republicans would. But I will argue that the slow slide we're on is worse than a quick slide. See what Mayor Fass had to say a few paragraphs above.

I won't use the frog analogy because while pretty accurate it's just been done to death. Instead I'll use something of a more modern nature:

Imagine you're a lady at a bar. A guy walks up to you & offers to buy you a beer. You sit & talk with him & over the course of 7 or 8 beers you realize he's taking you back to his place even though you thought he was unattractive during the first beer.

Now imagine you're that same lady but instead of buying you a beer, the guy tells the bartender to set up 7 shots of whiskey & tells you to down them one after the other.

The gradual approach is much more dangerous because it's gradual & you may not realize where it's leading until it's too late. The quicker approach is just as dangerous if you go along with it, but it's much easier to recognize the danger & avoid it.

Republicans who want some form of gun control are the first guy, while the Democrats who want some form of gun control are the second. Both will lead to the same place (i.e. confiscation) but at least with the Dems you'll see it coming while there's time to do something about it.

Now I'm not saying run out & vote for a Dem. what I am saying is that if you feel strongly about the Right to Arms you shouldn't vote for a Repub or a Dem who disrespects your Rights. Third party is a valid option simply because it may be able to affect a major party's tolerance for gun control. If Bush loses by a margin less than the percentage of people who voted Libertarian, the Republican Party will get a strong message. I doubt seriously that any sentient Republican would think that shifting more to the left would woo back the Libertarian votes. So if Bush does sign the AWB or any politician votes for it then you should cross as many party lines as is necessary to vote for a candidate that represents your views. Yes, 4 years of Kerry will be bad - in the short term. But if it jerks the repubs back in line then in the long term we'll all be better off.

The thing that scares me most is not an edict demanding a complete confiscation of arms. While that would be terrible there's another thought that petrifies me: what if, because we keep voting for the lesser of two evils & rewarding bad behavior on the part of the repubs, that the order for confiscation comes down not now (which is unlikely) or ten years from now (not as unlikely, but still not probable) but when your grandkid turns 17?

Think about that. Would you rather fight the soft war now when it's as easy as being an informed & independent voter, or would you rather have your grandkids fight a hard war with little training & equipment so you could have it easy for a while longer?

Mr. Hewitt referred to Mr. Liddy as an absolutist on the 2nd amendment. To be honest I know little about Mr. Liddy in general let alone his views on the Right to Arms. If Mr. Hewitt was being accurate then I welcome all the help I can get as Right to Arms absolutist is a lonely camp to be in.

I have many friends I've made through this blog & I value & respect them & their opinions. However with a few exceptions I doubt any of them are true absolutists. That's if we define an absolutist as someone who is opposed to any prior restraint based gun control laws. It's even been joked about that I'm so pro gun I'm anti-gun. & truth being stranger than comedy I've been in a few places where people assumed my absolutist stance was some sort of anti-gun oriented mockery of what they considered to be pro-gun beliefs.

So again if Mr. Hewitt was being accurate I'll gladly welcome the company (& I do recall a reader saying that Mr. Liddy mentioned something I wrote once - though the details escape me) but I assume he simply meant that Mr. Liddy was far more pro-gun than he thought to be typical.

Which brings up a more general point about Mr. Hewitt: while being very knowledgeable about certain subjects he does seem to be limited at times by his own experiences. For example there'll be an occasional song played going into or out of his breaks that he doesn't recognize. He'll then ask his producer (Duane) who recorded the song & upon hearing the explanation he'll dismiss it with "never heard of 'em". I bring this up to support my theory that Mr. Hewitt places too much value on either A: having experienced a piece of knowledge for himself or B: a person he deems to be an "expert" advising him on something he isn't totally up to speed on.

Now we all have preferences for certain types of music & generally we'll be most knowledgeable about music being played in our teens & early 20's. But most people who pay attention will notice the more popular songs of any generation, if nothing else because of sever annoyance at hearing it repeated constantly while it's "hot". If for some reason we hear a song that doesn't sound familiar we'll ask (assuming we want to know more about it) a person whose opinion we trust, say our kids or a friend more knowledgeable about modern music. But Mr. Hewitt's casual dismissal of such information makes me think that he's not only out of touch in this instance, but doesn't care to be in touch as it's simply irrelevant to him.

Is he like that across the board? By all means no. If he were I wouldn't be a listener of his. But it may shed some light into his dismissal of Mr. Gordon's alleged rebuke of his stance on the AWB's significance.

I also have noticed that Mr. Hewitt will exhibit a specific behavior when talking to someone he trusts & a conflict of opinion comes up.

Let's say Mr. Hewitt has on Guest A. Guest A is regarded by Mr. Hewitt as an expert in Subject 1. Now Mr. Hewitt poses a question in which he believes Guest A will state Response X. The question will actually be leading in tat direction, although subtly so. Now if Guest A, whose opinion carries weight with Mr. Hewitt, gives Response Z instead of X, Mr. Hewitt will try to rephrase the question with a (again subtle) note of disappointment in his voice. If Guest A elaborates on why Response Z is more appropriate to Subject 1 Mr. Hewitt will sound slightly dejected as he changes the subject, or more appropriately as he moves away from the line of questioning that brings Response X into question.

Why do I bring this up? Well aside from it being humorous when you hear him do it (& not in a mean sort of way - we all have our quirks) I think it demonstrates that even with people whose opinion he trusts, he'll resist an attempt to alter something he firmly believes.

So the two examples of Mr. Hewitt’s behavior provide at least anecdotal evidence that he :A relies on personal knowledge to a great degree, B: tends to dismiss knowledge coming from outside sources that he has less than full trust in & C: will disbelieve opinions of those he trusts if they conflict with his own preconceived notions.

How does this relate to the subject of the AWB & republican support? Mr. Hewitt simply will not believe anything that makes the case that the AWB is just grounds for voting non-republican. His mind is firmly set in the belief that republicans are our last chance & that anything that contradicts that conclusion must be false. On the subject of firearms & what they mean to the republican base he reaches he's out of touch & I doubt he'll allow any instruction to enter his world that causes a conflict with his main belief: republicans are the best & only choice.

I am not as degreed as a thermometer, nor do I have any accreditation that Mr. Hewitt would respect. Even if I did one of the main reasons I blog under a pseudonym is so that people will judge my thoughts by their merits instead of some preconceived notion of my level of expertise. But even if I could produce accreditation that would satisfy Mr. Hewitt as to my expertise on the technical & philosophical/moral aspects of firearms & laws that affect them, it would not alter Mr. Hewitt's mind If Prof. Volokh, Prof. Reynolds & myself all ganged up on him (assuming they'd be in agreement with me, which is less than certain) it would not alter his opinion. He simply cannot grasp that republicans do things so terrible as to warrant not voting for them or supporting them. Thus he would reason that the importance of the AWB is overblown & I can almost hear "moonbat" &/or "gunnut" being used to highlight why he disagrees.

Mr. Hewitt is very influential. I have no doubts that if he would have put his radio muscle behind McClintock that McClintock would be California's governor. But, like the NRA, power is useless if you cannot do the right thing with it.

Aside from the possible influence Mr. Hewitt will have in keeping gun owning Repubs from making their feelings known about gun control, there are two things that bother me greatly:

Prof. Hewitt teaches Constitutional Law. I have no idea what his views are in a more detailed sense, but I cannot imagine him dismissing the importance of the AWB while teaching the 2nd is an absolute restriction on federal regulation of firearms. I could be wrong but I'd assume that bad case law plays the most important part of his 2nd Amendment teachings (though I very well could be wrong & would feel a little better if I were).

The second thing is that Mr. Hewitt said as a statement of fact that the AWB will be renewed in September. It's entirely possible that he was simply speaking off the top of his head, or trying to prepare his listeners for the worst case scenario (i.e. the AWB will be renewed but you must vote republican anyway) but my natural inclination towards paranoia (hey, I write about the government doing things it shouldn’t do - of course I'm a bit paranoid) makes me wonder. It could be that either he is privy to some insider information & the AWB renewal is a done deal or he has looked at things & is making an educated conclusion as to the AWB's outcome based on the facts as they are now.

Mr. Hewitt lives in California. To my knowledge he is neither a hunter nor a shooter. It is entirely possible that the gun issue simply isn't a big deal to him (unless it helps the Repubs) because his personal knowledge of firearms is limited. I would be more than happy to provide whatever education I can on the subject to him or at minimum recommend others who could perhaps do a better job than I could. I honestly think Mr. Hewitt is simply out of touch with the gun owning segment of the republican base. Now whether he'd be willing to listen to correction is another matter entirely, but all any of us can do is try.

I'll e-mail Mr. Hewitt to let him know about this post & I'll offer to talk with him about the subject in any forum - mine or his - that's convenient for him. I'd be obliged if you'd do the same.

Mr. Hewitt's e-mail is hhewitt@hughhewitt.com & his show's number is 1-800-520-1234 (Monday through Friday 6p.m to 9p.m. EDT, 3p.m. to 6p.m. PDT)

Call or e-mail him & tell him that the AWB is a big deal to you. It must not be renewed. & feel free to mention my offer for discussion of the issue, but most importantly let him know that you don't want the AWB & you feel strongly enough about it to not vote Republican if it's renewed.

Posted by Publicola at July 14, 2004 03:34 AM

Publicola, thanks for this listing. I bought Mr Hewitt's book today, but had no idea he was so clueless on firearms. Yep, here is his poison quote, on page 191 of his book (which I returned to Barnes & Nobles today because of your alert):

"But the gun absolutists have to realize that the prohibition on individuals owning machine guns and high-powered automatic weapons makes sense to a large majority of Americans. So if the GOP agrees with this consensus, the gun absolutists should sit down and shut up. By demanding a theoretical purity, they endanger a working majority. Control of assault weapons in not the first step down the slippery slope. It isn't even a slope. It's called a broad consensus. Live with it, strenghten your side, and all will be well."

You can pick out the obvious flaws in his arguments. No mention of a done-deal September renewal, however--I think it will pass unrenewed due to one person: Majority Leader Tom DeLay. But if it does, due to the Stupid Party, I'm voting not for the Republicans, but for the Libertarians.

Posted by: Poshboy at July 14, 2004 09:19 PM
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