By Bruce A.
Mr. Wallace, I think you are obligated to back up serious statements like
this with a lot of facts.
Saying this goes much to your credit, and distinguishes you and your form
of journalism from both the mainstream media and, more importantly, from
the statements and articles published by others in the gun control
movement. It displays a level of integrity that those with whom you seem
to agree on the gun control issue (especially those journals and
journalists who substitute opinion and propaganda for news) do not seem to
because of where it spends its money and the laws that
it supports. So I was ready to jump on that bandwagon, when I
realized that those bashing the NRA for the "jackbooted thugs" quote
were laboring under an immense double standard.
In a recent article, I called the CIA a "serial killer in the
basement of government". There is no moral difference between this
statement and the NRA's "jackbooted thugs". The only argument that I
can think of, that I am not knowingly addressing an audience of gun
owners and the NRA is, won't wash. The minute we start trying to
differentiate identical speech based on the audience it is addressed
to, we are in a world of double standards. I believe in the
elimination of double standards, not their promotion.
This attitude on the part of others is clearly demonstrated with this
single incident. George Bush, who likely only joined the
NRA to get its endorsement in
the 1988 election, resigned over the NRA's "jack-booted thugs" statement,
and it was big news all over the country. However, when the late NRA president
Tom Washington made
a very reasoned and factual reply, it was ignored, and the organization
had to spend a fortune publishing it in ads in leading newspapers.
The media were not honest enough to present both sides of the issue.
Unfortunately for the people of this country, this method of journalism
and news reporting is not the exception, but the norm. In another piece,
I already mentioned how the
Larry King Live show preferred to have someone
on favor of gun control on the show, with no one to present another side
of the issue. There are many more examples. These are the kinds of
things appearing in the media and in politics this Spring, only a year
after these same people were excoriating the NRA for its own rhetoric:
Why all of this noise? A recent column by Charles Krauthammer might
provide some insight into the perspective of a member of the press on the
gun control issue. He admitted that any notion the Clinton gun and
magazine ban would reduce crime was "laughable," but Krauthammer praised
the gun ban anyway. In his opinion, the assault weapons ban is a symbolic
first step. "Its only real justification," Krauthammer wrote, "is not to
reduce crime, but to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons
in preparation for their ultimate confiscation."
- In the April 3-9 edition of Michigan's MetroTimes, Jack Lessenberry called
any lawmaker who supported the effort to repeal the assault weapons ban
"stupid," and then referred to the NRA's leadership as "cunning murderers."
- A month ago, at the time of the House's vote to repeal the assault
weapons ban, Democratic politicians and their friends in the media were
imploring the NRA to go back to teaching
firearms safety and marksmanship. One of the ways the NRA has done
this is with the
Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) program, which hosts marksmanship
competitions, and allows competitive shooters to purchase surplus World War Two
rifles. It is a program that Harry Truman called "splendid" and "good for a free America."
The NRA has worked for these very goals through this program for years.
But on the NBC Nightly News (5/16/96), the network presented a segment called "The
Fleecing of America." In this highly inaccurate report, NBC described
Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety
(which has replaced the DCM) as a multi-million dollar give-away to
benefit the NRA. The facts are, however, that nothing at all is given
away, and that the NRA spends lots of its members' money holding these
competitions; it doesn't financially profit from them at all. But the
lack of facts to support its reportage does not seem to bother NBC.
- On May 1, President Clinton vetoed a product liability bill Congress had
passed. Whatever the merits of that bill (or lack thereof), he evidently
figured that the veto would be unpopular with a lot of people. Who did he
have standing beside him at the ceremony? Sarah Brady, Chairwoman of
Handgun Control, Inc. What did this bill have to do with guns?
Absolutely nothing. But it would seem that Clinton would like to hoodwink
the public into thinking it did, by having her there, and thereby gain
some support from those who favor gun control, while losing it elsewhere.
How honest is this?
- In the 4/14/96 NY Times, there was an article about the newly elected
president of the NRA, Marion Hammer. While fairer than most articles one
sees, the writer still repeatedly tried to link the NRA to the Oklahoma
City bombing in the mind of the reader, when there is not the remotest
connection. Further, in describing the NRA, he used loaded words like
- Two days later, on the front page, the paper headlined a story about how an
NRA-related fund had contributed money to the fund to defend Bernard Goetz,
as if the paper had discovered something covert that the organization was
doing. The fact is, that while Goetz is not Mr. Nice Guy in all regards,
defending him for defending himself was the right thing to do, especially
since the criminal trial jury had found him not guilty. Moreover, where
is the hue and cry about the composition of the jury in Goetz' civil trial
that there was about the Simi Valley jury that aquitted the cops who beat
- Bob Kerr of The Providence Journal-Bulletin described one lawmaker who
supported assault weapon ban repeal as "A sad old hack" and "a
blubbering fool from the backwoods". But Kerr took time out to heap
praise on Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who warned any Congressmen daring
to vote for repeal that if they "play[ed] with the devil," they would "die
with the devil." If this isn't demonizing, what is?
- The Fresno Bee labeled lawmakers who opposed restrictions on law-abiding
citizens "ill-mannered dolts."
Mr. Wallace, you seem to have honesty and ethics, but the people with whom
you agree on the issue of gun control seem to have neither.
While what you say is certainly true, your article would have been much
stronger if you had investigated a little more, to determine whether what
the NRA was saying had a real, strong basis in fact, and was not just
rhetoric, protected by the First Amendment. NRA President Washington's
open letter to George Bush briefly describes incidents of the BATF using
gangster tactics, and he mentions additional cases, without giving
descriptions. I'll add a few abbreviated descriptions here and refer you
to a site on the WWW that describes
abuses by the BATF.
Did I make a mistake with my "serial killer" rhetoric? I don't
believe so. I think the statement is well within the borders of
normal, lively expression of strongly held beliefs. So is
No-one bashed me for my "serial killer" remark, and those
criticizing NRA conveniently forget that BATF, the target of the
"thugs" remark, was badly out of control in both the Branch Davidian
and Weaver incidents.
The list goes on and on. Does it still sound like just NRA rhetoric?
- Early on May 25, 1994, 15 to 20 armed men and women burst into the home
Harry and Theresa Lumplugh in rural Pennsylvania. When he asked if
they had a search warrant, he had a machine gun stuck in his face and was
told "shut the f*** up mother f***er; do you want more trouble than you
Lumplugh was just wearing pajama bottoms, and his wife was was not dressed,
either; they were not allowed to dress all day. Although Lumplugh fully
cooperated with them, the agents, from the BATF and IRS, proceeded to
trash the house. Furniture was smashed or overturned and their papers
were scattered. The agents seized marriage and birth certificates, school
records, insurance information, vehicle registrations and titles,
financial and business records, mailing lists, the names of contacts with
newspapers, friends and family. They also took firearms and ammunition,
nothing illegal, because Lumplugh owned nothing illegal.
Harry Lumplugh had cancer, and was under medication from his doctor. The
agents dumped out all of his prescription medicines and scattered them on
the floor. Afterward, two of his cats got into the medicine and died
At lunch time, the agents knocked off their "work" and brought in pizza,
which they ate in front of the Lumplughs, and after their pizza party was
over, they discarded the remains, half-eaten pizza, boxes and partially
empty soda pop cans, all over the Lumplugh's floor. In mid-afternoon,
the agents concluded their destruction and left. On the way off the
property, agent Donna Slusser stomped to death the Lumplugh's Manx kitten
and kicked the body under a tree.
Their attorney told them that the warrant under which the agents stormed
the Lumplugh's house did not name a single specific item for which they
were searching. Neither did it reference any crime by any person. So why
were they there? Harry Lumplugh was in the business of promoting gun
collecting shows in the northeastern US. It's common knowledge that the
BATF sends agents to those shows, but I guess there are very small gains
for the agency in that activity, because the gun shows are overwhelmingly
honest and legal. If they want to interfere with such shows, they seem to
have decided that the only way they can succeed is by intimidating the
Since the raid, the Lumplughs have been receiving threatening telephone
calls in the middle of the night, informing them that they would be dead
if they don't "button their lip." Also, local journalists and television
hosts have been threatened, to intimidate them from openly covering
the Lumplugh's ordeal. The warrant remained sealed so that it could
not be further investigated.
Johnnie Lawmaster, of Tulsa, OK, came home to find that his home had
been invaded by some 60 BATF agents and local police officers. They had
smashed through his doors and destroyed the locks on his gun safe and
his storage shed. When they were done looking around, the agents pushed
closed his doors (they couldn't be locked, because the locks were ruined)
and went away, leaving behind them a hand-written note that said
"Nothing found -- ATF."
When Lawmaster, who had lived in Tulsa his whole life and had had no
brushes with the law more serious than traffic tickets, got into the
house, he found that the agents had scattered his papers all over the
place, spilled boxes of ammunition onto the floor, broke into a small box
which had contained a small coin collection and stood on a table to look
through the tiles on the ceiling, breaking the table while doing it.
His house was left open and, but for the active concern of his neighbors,
some of whom were grilled by the agents, anyone could have come into his
home and taken what they pleased. Worse, neighborhood children could have
come in and injured themselves or others with the unsecured firearms that
the agents left behind them. That danger was made worse because Lawmaster
discovered that gun magazines that he always kept empty had been loaded
with ammunition, making it easier for guns to be fired.
Lawmaster called the local BATF agent and asked "Are you going to arrest
me?" The agent said "No." Lawmaster asked "Who is going to repair and
clean up my house?" The agent said "If you want to talk to me, come down
to my office." Lawmaster told the BATF agent that he couldn't come down
then, because he had no way of locking his house. The agent said "If you
want your door to lock and your gun safe to lock, you're gonna' have to
pay for it yourself." Lawmaster said that later he would come down, with
his attorney. The agent said "Well, you bring your attorney, and we
won't talk to you."
Lawmaster was never charged, and the warrant was sealed, so that it could
not be investigated.
- One does not have to be a gun owner to be harassed by the BATF. Bert
Grant and his wife Sherry own Yakima Brewing and Malting. In 1992, they
started putting nutritional information on six-pack cartons of Grant's
Scottish Ale. In January, 1993, the had a visit from agent Dunbar of the
BATF who told them that they were not allowed to inform consumers about
the vitamins and minerals in a bottle of beer. The Grants were surprised
to hear this, because the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, and the
regulations issued to enforce it, say nothing about this. Those
regulations do, however, prohibit false or misleading claims about
"curative or therapeutic effects." The BATF agent told them about a 1954
regulatory interpretation stating that reference to vitamin content would
mislead some people into believing that there would be "curative or
The Grants agreed to stop using those cartons, and dropped plans to
extend adding that information to other beers in their line. Since the
rule seemed silly to them, they issued a press release about the order
from the BATF to some trade journals. The story got some national
attention, which was sympathetic to them.
After that, agent Dunbar started coming back again and again, looking at
their records and grilling employees, and doing so in a confrontational
and intimidating manner. The Grants estimate that in the following year,
they had to spend about 20% of their time dealing with one regulatory
problem after another. Among the "problems" was that they had to get the
label for Grants Celtic Ale reapproved because they had changed the
color, and that the BATF had decided that Grant's Spiced Ale, in
production for eight years, had a "frivolous" name that required a
generic description: "A Fermented Ale with Added Spices and Honey", in
letters as big as the name. (So far, the BATF has not instigated any
similar proceedings against the makers of Blackened Voodoo, Labatt's Blue
or Pete's Wicked Ale, to name a few.)
Also, and this was the worst, the BATF magically transformed Grant's
Cider, in production for nine years, into a wine, and charged them large
amounts of back excise taxes, occupational taxes for wineries, penalties
and interest. The cost looked to be well into six figures, not counting
$100,000 in legal fees, plus lost sales.
- The home of
Louis and Kimberly Katona in Bucyrus, Ohio, was raided by
the BATF in 1992, which seized $100,000 worth of firearms. During the
raid, Kimberly was shoved by a BATF agent, from which she suffered a
miscarriage. Her husband was charged with 19 federal firearms
violations. The federal judge dismissed the charges and ordered the
agency to return the firearms.
I agree and I, too, feel that a thorough investigation would be a good
thing. Some members of Congress tried to do just that. Unfortunately, the
whole process was interfered with, minimized and dismissed as unnecessary
by other Congressmen, chief among them Rep. Charles Schumer, of whom you
elsewhere speak highly.
Most of us would likely welcome an
investigation into the abuses of a law enforcement agency, if we
weren't so fearful that a far right wing agenda was being advanced
in the process. But it is a strange day when the left in America
defends police brutality and the abuse of power.
I don't understand this business of being "fearful that a far right wing
agenda was being advanced." As I have stated before, since when is
defending the Bill of Rights a matter of where one stands on the political
spectrum? Further, I think that if something is wrong, it is wrong,
whether or not it might help someone with whom one politically disagrees.
Do you feel that the ACLU should not have
defended the rights of the Nazis to demonstrate in Skokie, Illinois? That
was certainly advancing a far-right agenda. Then why did the ACLU do it?
Because it was the correct thing to do, of course, and the only way to
prevent the setting of certain precedents that would have had the
effect of weakening the First Amendment. Why do the rules change,
all of a sudden, when the Second Amendment is involved, not the First?
Unlike the NRA, I
believe Randy Weaver was -- is -- a criminal. But he was entitled to
his day in court. The sniper killing of his unarmed wife, with her
baby in her arms, was shocking. The FBI should have to explain it.
If it is not murder, it is at least homicide committed in gross
negligence of human life. To defend the rights only of criminals and
suspects precious to the left, and to allow BATF and the FBI to have
a field day with those of the far right, mires us in an
unconscionable double standard.
If you want to criticize NRA rhetoric, target the words that really
go over the line of fair political discourse, such as the board
member statement envisioning the murder of Mrs. Brady of Handgun
Control. But don't penalize the NRA for the same strongly
opinionated rhetoric you would endorse in support of your own