Last weekend The Liberty First Foundation published a letter that we sent to Jefferson Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. Our letter implored Mr. Sessions to defend the Second Amendment of the Constitution by initiating civil lawsuits, alleging violations of Title 42 USC Section 1983, against States and municipalities in which local laws have been enacted banning or severely restricting the possession of commonly owned semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols. Section 1983 makes it unlawful for any person to deprive another of their Constitutional rights under the color of law. This is the same statute that Dick Anthony Heller used successfully to sue the District of Columbia when they refused to issue him a permit to keep a handgun in his home. For further information on the letter and our justification for writing it, please see last week’s article entitled, “Please Keep Your Oath Mr. Sessions”.
We also engaged our readers to join us by writing their own letters to Mr. Sessions and their federally elected officials. While most of our readers thought this was a good idea, there were some who disagreed and compared the letter writing campaign to begging for something that we should already have, without asking for it, but never will!
Thankfully, this defeatist, contrarian attitude was displayed by a very small minority, but it highlighted the need for unity among our members and supporters. The importance of letter writing cannot be overestimated, in that it lets our politicians know what issues are significant to his or her constituents and it puts them on notice that an organized, coordinated group is united behind their activism.
This is especially true in an election year like 2018 when candidates are more sensitive and responsive to the needs of voters. A case in point can be seen in the exchange of letters Mr. Cameron Hinckley of Maine and Senator Angus King. For the record, King was elected as an Independent, but caucuses consistently with the Democrats.
Mr. Hinkley sent a letter to King expressing his concern that any new federal firearms legislation would unduly impact the ability of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, infringe on his right to due process and that there was a huge need for more federal action with the identification and treatment of those in need of mental health services.
With the permission of Mr. Hinkley, Senator King’s letter is reproduced below. It clearly and succinctly outlines the threadworm Democrat gun-control talking points that would do little, if nothing, to improve public safety while burdening law abiding citizens with senseless and needless regulations. The importance of King’s letter is found in its candor, which would enable any voter, who is a Second Amendment defender, to easily determine that Senator King is not worthy their vote.
Who among you has written a letter to either their Senator of the Attorney General? If you have not yet written one, please do so soon. Time is running out and your letter is almost as important as your vote this November!
SENATOR ANGUS KING’S RESPONSE TO MY LETTER:
I am horrified and heartbroken that yet another community has been robbed of lives and its sense of security by a reckless act of violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As we as a country mourn with them, I believe legislative action should be taken, at both the state and federal level, to address mass shootings and gun violence that have become all-too-common. While I do not believe we can fully legislate our way out of all gun violence, there are steps that can be taken to curb it while respecting the Second Amendment rights and the rights of law-abiding gun owners. I am encouraged by the level of national dialogue and bipartisan voices that have been raised to address this issue.
In order to effectively address gun violence, the first step is to improve and expand the background check system and crack down on gun trafficking. This places no serious burden on law-abiding gun owners, but will go a long way towards keeping guns out of the wrong hands. I have continually supported efforts to create a true universal background check and close loopholes that currently allow people to purchase guns without first passing such a check. We also must strengthen the national background check system by making sure that all domestic abusers are prohibited from purchasing guns, and require that states submit all relevant records to the federal database. I have cosponsored the bi-partisan Fix NICS Act, S. 2135, which incentivizes states and requires federal agencies to annually report their compliance in submitting all information to the background check system. If we’re going to have a background check system that works, we need to ensure that all relevant information is there in the first place. I have also been supportive of efforts to make gun trafficking a federal crime and increase penalties around straw purchases, as many of these firearms end up on the black market where they often fall into the hands of criminals. Sensible reforms such as these can help keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.
It is also imperative that we have a serious discussion about mental illness—both in regard to how we treat it, as well as how we report mental health records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The difficulty lies in identifying individuals with mental illness who are potentially violent without discouraging people from seeking treatment and stigmatizing mental illness. I believe we need active engagement from mental health professionals and state administrators who are dealing with this on the front lines. Only with input from these experts can we fully understand the medical and administrative challenges involved.
I do not consider keeping guns out of hands of convicted felons or individuals with certain mental illnesses to be in any way inconsistent with the provisions of the Second Amendment, but I know that no system will ever be perfect. A person with mental illness, who has not shown previous evidence of violence, may still be able to purchase a gun and become a shooter, but this is not a good reason to abandon safety efforts altogether, especially since the burden of the background check on the law-abiding citizens is relatively light. Such a system is nowhere close to trying to keep everyone from buying a gun, as its opponents sometimes state.
Since 1996, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been limited by an appropriations rider—known as the Dickey Amendment—prohibiting the agency from researching data on gun violence. Even the author of this amendment now believes it should be repealed, and so do I. I have always been a proponent of rational, evidence-based policy decision-making and believe public policy should embody the best information available. To me, it does not make sense to limit our ability to collect and analyze data on any issue of broad public concern. This is not about Second Amendment rights but about having sufficient information to make good policy.
As part of the recent national dialogue to address gun violence, there have been increasing calls to bolster school security and make these spaces more secure for students and teachers. I agree, students and teachers should feel safe in their school. The federal government should support schools that are looking to make infrastructure changes with regard to security and implementing school resource officer programs. That is why I have recently cosponsored the Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing Violence (STOP) Act of 2018, a bipartisan bill which reauthorizes a grant program to states for training, equipment and technical assistance to stop school violence. I believe that decisions about gun-free zones and allowing teachers to carry firearms while on school grounds—which I personally believe is the wrong direction to take—are best left to individual states and localities to decide, and not the federal government.
I recently met with the mother of a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. She showed me a picture that her daughter had taken while she was in a classroom under fire which showed the body of one of her classmates who had been killed in the attack. The stark image of the boy’s body is something that will stay with those students—and myself—forever. In the past, I have been skeptical of attempts to ban so-called assault weapons because such proposals focused on the cosmetic appearance of the firearm, rather than its functionality. Appearances could be easily altered to escape such a ban. For this reason, I have been talking with several of my colleagues about possible legislation to place restrictions on these weapons which would be based upon their functionality rather than their cosmetic appearance. Around the country I have also been encouraged to see states and private businesses undertaking efforts to raise the age limits on purchases of these military-style firearms.
After talking with gun owners and hunters in Maine, I have reached the conclusion that limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds would not overly restrict the lawful use of firearms for hunting, target shooting, or self-defense and could substantially help in an active shooter situation. In fact, Maine already limits magazine capacity to 5 rounds during hunting season. I believe that banning high-capacity magazines could save lives in a mass-shooting and I recently cosponsored the Keeping Americans Safe Act, S. 1945, which would limit magazines to 10 rounds and creates a buy-back program for high capacity magazines that are already in use.
Finally, bump stocks played an integral part in the Las Vegas tragedy, allowing the shooter to fire 540 rounds per minute, a rate of fire nearly indistinguishable from a fully automatic weapon. If we can’t buy a fully automatic weapon without a special license, it seems sensible to me that a device modifying a semi-automatic to a similar end should be restricted as well. As you may be aware, there is legislation that would ban the sale and possession of bump stocks, trigger cranks, and other accessories designed to accelerate the rate of fire of semiautomatic weapons. While I remain concerned about how to properly address those attachments already in circulation, I am supportive of the legislation’s intent and was also pleased to hear the President indicate his willingness to address this issue as well at the executive level.
Without getting into a long discussion about constitutional interpretation, the view that the Second Amendment is absolute and unlimited and prevents the passage of any kind of restriction on the sale of firearms is not supported by Supreme Court opinion or the general history of the constitutional provision. The Supreme Court has consistently interpreted the Second Amendment to allow the regulation of certain kinds of guns and gun commerce; for example, fully automatic (Tommy) guns and sawed-off shotguns have been heavily regulated for 80 years. This governmental power was reconfirmed as recently as 2008 in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller which declared the District’s heavy restrictions on handguns unconstitutional. Following the heart of the opinion, which struck down the District’s law, the late Justice Antonin Scalia—arguably the most conservative member of the court at the time—made this point very clearly:
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Often, in my work, I have to try to find the right balance on issues such as this. One of the basic purposes of the Constitution, as stated in the Preamble, is “to insure domestic tranquility” and I believe that background checks and the other provisions mentioned above, help us to do so without violating the letter or the spirit of the Second Amendment.
I appreciate your message and know how strongly you feel about this issue. All I can do is work to find solutions that address, at least in part, the problem of 35,000 gun related deaths a year with the least burden on law-abiding and responsible gun owners, and I believe the pragmatic proposals I have discussed in this letter meet this test.
ANGUS S. KING, JR.
United States Senator