We're winning! I love seeing the anti- organizations writhing in the pain of irrelevance!
Gun Control and the Death of a Thousand Cuts
You have heard the expression “death of a thousand cuts” before, and you probably know that it refers to a slow and agonizing series of minor injuries. China appears to have invented this form of execution, also known as ling-chi,1 with the criminal tied hand and foot to a post. “There stands in front of him the executioner with a pliant sword, and with dexterous hands he flicks from the living body fragments of flesh, thus prolonging the agony. It is called the death of a thousand cuts, because the executioner, if very skilful, may inflict a thousand separate agonies on his victim before he dies.”2 If you saw the movie, The Sand Pebbles, you may recall what happens to Po-Han at the riverbank.
If I had been writing this article in 1990, gun rights would have been suffering the death of a thousand cuts. Today it is gun control that is suffering this lingering death. We are winning the battle not just in the courts, but in the hearts and minds of the American people as well.
My last column mentioned the work that the Calguns Foundation is doing to force California’s sheriffs and police chiefs to conform to the Second Amendment in the issuance of concealed weapon permits. One of those actions was a lawsuit against the sheriffs of Sacramento and Yolo Counties. The lawsuit sought to force the courts to order the sheriffs of these two counties to adopt “shall issue” policies. Shortly after my article went to press, Sacramento County’s sheriff settled the suit by agreeing that in the future, it would issue to any person who met California’s legal requirements for a concealed weapon permit,3 and gave one of two possible reasons for issuance: “I wish to carry a firearm for self defense and the defense of my family” or “I wish to carry a firearm for self defense.”4 Yolo County remains stubborn, and Calguns Foundation’s suit against Yolo continues to move forward.5
Some of these thousand cuts might not seem like particularly overwhelming victories for our side—but consider how much worse the results would have been twenty or even ten years ago. For example, the Ohio Court of Appeals recently decided State v. Rogers (2010), one of those cases where the defendant’s actions were both unlawful and stupid—but the Court of Appeals decided that the punishment was a bit excessive.
David N. Rogers was convicted of using a firearm while intoxicated. It appears that Rogers’ “Jack Russell terrier, Sherman” had died. Rogers drowned his grief in wine with a friend, buried the dog, and apparently engaged in a somewhat abbreviated 21-gun salute for Sherman, firing into the hillside.
The real dispute here was not about Rogers’ conviction for use of a firearm while intoxicated. The legal question was whether the trial judge applied an excessive penalty for that crime. The judge prohibited Rogers from possessing a firearm for five years, and confiscated Rogers’ gun. The Court of Appeals concluded that Rogers’ crime endangered no one, and thus this punishment was “unreasonable, overbroad, and an unwarranted implication of his Second Amendment rights.” Instead, they held that a six-month ban on firearms possession was more appropriate—and overturned the forfeiture of Rogers’ gun.6
As previous columns have observed, both D.C. v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) caused a burst of decisions by both federal and state courts recognizing that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental right. For this reason, laws that deprive a person of a firearm are subject to at least intermediate scrutiny, and sometimes, strict scrutiny. Both intermediate scrutiny and strict scrutiny raise the bar very high for what the government must prove to justify a gun control law.
Another interesting aspect of this death by a thousand cuts is that the gun control movement seems to have lost heart. The news media are still reprinting gun control group press releases without too many questions, but the days when the gun control movement enjoyed a large body of financial backers seem to be past. Snowflakes in [auto-filtered] is a gun rights blog that has spent a bit of time over the last few years keeping track of the falling level of support that gun control organizations enjoy.7 As an example, Americans United for Safe Streets has received $503,935 in contributions since its formation in October of 2008. That sounds pretty impressive—until you look at where those contributions have come from, and in what amounts. One person, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gave $500,000—or 99.2% of the total contributions. Only contributions exceeding $200 had to be individually identified—and besides Bloomberg, there were only sixteen identified contributors. (All the smaller contributions combined only came to $300.) Eight of those sixteen contributors are, like Mayor Bloomberg, residents of New York City.8
Some state level gun control organizations, such as CeaseFire New Jersey, seem to have ceased operating, or to be operating at such a low level as to be non-players in local politics. CeaseFire New Jersey stopped filing reporting forms in 2000, indicating that their total income was below the $25,000 threshold.9 The American Hunters and Shooters Association (a gun control group pretending to be “sensible” gun owners) appears to have closed up shop as well. At least, they stopped paying their web hosting bill, and their website went away.10 The Second Amendment Resource Center—a Joyce Foundation funded project to give a patina of scholarly respectability to the collective rights theory of the Second Amendment—ceased operation in 2008.11
The flagship gun control organization—the Brady Campaign—saw more than a 30% drop in income from 2004 to 2008.12 Ordinarily, advocacy groups enjoy an increase in donations as they lose a political fight, because their donors care about the cause. My guess is that the Brady Campaign’s decline may reflect that an increasing number of the young adults of the 1960s who were the bulk of the gun control donor base are retiring (and thus have less money to contribute), or are dying as they now reach their 60s and 70s.
In some cases, existing gun control organizations have merged, claiming that they did so to “strengthen” their ability to work for gun control13—but the evidence more suggests that it was because of a shortage of donations. The Joyce Foundation and Mayor Michael Bloomberg continue to fund gun control efforts—but they seem to be almost alone.
Public opinion surveys show that gun control is rapidly losing support among Americans. From 2001 to 2007, there was a gradual decline in support for stricter gun control laws: from 54% support in 2001, to 50% in 2007. Yet to the obvious surprise of CNN, a survey in March of 2009, after several highly publicized mass murder incidents, showed a dramatic reduction in support—down to 39%.14 Gallup has been asking Americans if they support a ban on private ownership of handguns since 1959. Oddly enough, the highest level of support for such a ban was 1959—when 60% of Americans supported it. In 2009, this was down to 29%--the lowest percentage in the entire fifty years that Gallup has been asking the question.15
Can you imagine anything more discouraging to gun control advocates than this? They have been banging the drum for restrictive gun control laws for decades now—and not only has the judiciary turned against them, but also public opinion—in spite of decades of nearly unanimous mainstream news and entertainment media support for more restrictions. Death of a thousand cuts, indeed!