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Armed for change
By: Geoff Metcalf
Tuesday, January 11, 2000

I usually try to separate my California efforts from what I contribute to WorldNetDaily, but occasionally there is a confluence, and this is one of those cases. Sunday's Washington Post noted, "Picking up where they left off last year, California's lawmakers are charging back to work vowing to pass another batch of tough gun control laws. But this time, as a high-stakes election season begins to unfold, it seems they have lost their most important ally, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis."

The bill mill in Sacramento, Calif., is drunk with power and pushing abuse of power to new extremes. Even liberal journalists acknowledge that the synthesized make-up of the California legislature is far more liberal than the consensus of those who elected them to office. Last year they successfully pushed several draconian anti-gun bills through the process and compelled the governor to sign them. Davis, who is struggling to maintain the fiction of being a moderate, sees the dangers of excess, but he has apparently been unsuccessful in convincing a legislature rabid with the taste of blood in their mouths.

"The budding conflict on gun control here in the nation's most populous and often most influential state is hardly just another routine squabble in party politics," wrote the Washington Post. "California has emerged as a national leader in restricting the sale and use of firearms, with its trend-setting legislature firmly controlled by Democrats and showing more willingness than Congress to tackle the issue. The state's pivotal primary for presidential candidates also is only two months away, and gun control figures to be at the forefront of voter concerns."

One of the more egregious bills signed into law last year was Senate Bill 23. It is an enhancement to previous "Assault Weapons" bans. However, it was so badly and broadly written as to make virtually every center-fire gun which will accept a magazine an assault weapon. I had personally led the unsuccessful effort to collect signatures for a referendum to put the question of SB 23 to the California voters. We needed over 430,000 signatures and came about 100,000 short. Our effort was totally grassroots with no support (and occasional opposition) from the two big mainstream gun-rights organizations.

Rather than pack up and go away, we have accepted our loss as a learning experience and have now filed a proposal to amend the California Constitution so as to include language (currently absent) on the right to keep and bear arms.

Last Friday I finally received the last procedural necessity to completing our petitions (Title and Summary from the state attorney general). Inclusive in the package was a letter from a Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which presented their analysis of our initiative. It is interesting that our proposal is only 142 words in length, yet the Title and Summary from the AG is 159 words.

Despite the protracted delays, we have frankly been remarkably lucky. There are several significant benefits we have achieved somewhat by accident as an unintended consequence of the extended delays.

All our claims and charges regarding SB 23 are finally being confirmed. SB 23 was, and is, a bad law. Because it was so broadly written -- redefining as an "assault weapon" virtually any center-fire rifle that accepts a magazine -- two large California gun retailers have stopped selling products which (according to the letter of the law) have been re-classified as assault weapons.

In the Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis of our amendment, which was sent to Attorney General Bill Lockyer, there are several significant surprises included -- which are huge. Please note (I have added my emphasis at various points):

The committee wrote, "The U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to keep and bear arms and has been subject to significant court review for years. Currently, the State Constitution has no equivalent provision. While the Second Amendment confers specific rights regarding the right to bear arms, the courts have allowed federal, state and local governments to establish prohibitions and restrictions on firearm ownership."

The committee letter states, "This measure adds a new section to the State Constitution that defines the existing right to defend life and liberty to include the right of each person to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family and home. The measure states that this right shall not be infringed.

"While individuals may possess and carry firearms, many of the state's existing systems for background checks, weapons permits, and law enforcement investigations of individuals with weapons would likely not change."

Many of the critics of the language we propose complain it is too weak. It is significant that the committee recognizes it may be too strong (for their purposes). They noted, "However, local jurisdictions would not be able to limit who obtains concealed weapons permits unless the applicant does not meet federal or state criteria. In addition, individuals could no longer be arrested and tried for simple possession of a weapon, unless other circumstances existed. Currently, these types of arrests are misdemeanor offenses where the individual is generally cited and released."

In fact, the committee acknowledges, "The experience of other states enacting similar measures has been an initial increase in requests for concealed weapon permits, resulting in an increase in the number of background checks."

This next part is extremely important; read this quote at least twice: "The measure also amends the State Constitution to require the application of a "strict scrutiny" test in judicial review of state actions that restrict individual rights to acquire and possess firearms. The strict scrutiny test presumes the challenged regulatory action to be invalid and the burden of proof is on the state and local governments to show that the law serves a compelling public interest.

"Under existing law, state and local government actions regulating firearms have generally been tested under the 'rational relationship' test. This test presumes the legislation to be valid if it is rationally related to a legitimate government purpose. The burden of proof is on the challenging party to show the law is unconstitutional.

"Finally, this measure stipulates that all local government action on this subject is preempted by state law and the amendment."

The committee's analysis of Fiscal Effects is equally revealing. They note under Direct Effects, "The strict scrutiny test could remove perceived barriers to challenging firearm laws in the courts, resulting in increased legal expenses to the state for defending firearm laws, as well as additional court costs.

"The remaining provisions of the measure will probably not result in any direct net cost to state government because it does not specifically change existing statutes. Rather, it establishes constitutional guidelines, which apparently are not in conflict with existing state laws and systems for their implementation. In addition, while there is a potential for an increase in the number of background checks (primarily concealed weapons permits) processed by the Department of Justice, this department is statutorily authorized to recover such costs through fees."

The committee analysis admits, "The net fiscal impact is unknown. Specifically, while the request for concealed weapons permits could increase, resulting in additional processing costs, the number of concealed weapons violations would likely decrease, resulting in savings to local law enforcement. This measure could also increase legal expenses to local governments, resulting from an increase in the number of challenges to local firearm ordinances."

However without doubt the most remarkable admission was included under Indirect Effects, when the committee analysis included, "Research in other states has shown that similar measures can result in indirect savings and costs, however, much of this research is inconclusive regarding the net effect of such changes. Savings could result from the potential reduction in crime resulting from a larger number of citizens possessing firearms for self-defense." This is an incredible admission made by a liberal-controlled, left-leaning joint committee. More armed citizens result in a reduction in crime. Those are not my words, not the words of any vast right-wing conspiracy. Those are the words of a primarily liberal state legislative analysis.

We have a unique opportunity to stop the epidemic of anti-gun, anti-freedom, anti-liberty socialist Handgun Control minions. Now is the time to do something other than bitch and moan. Now is the time for concentrated dedicated, committed action.

I recently wrote someone who wanted more than we propose. I told him this amendment has been vetted, re-vetted, amended, massaged and stroked. Everybody "kinda" likes it but everyone has a better version. This is it! This is what we are peddling (because it CAN WIN). More stringent, more in-your-face language flat out ain't gonna fly.

Some of the grassroots don't think this amendment is strong enough -- however, the bill mill is fearful it is too strong because it opens the door on concealed weapons permits and flips the responsibility for denying firearms to the government instead of the citizen.

We have routinely and consistently seen our rights, freedom and liberty eroded by a campaign of incrementalism. This is our camel's nose in the tent, to reverse the war of incrementalism we have been losing, and we need every warm body we can muster to support and peddle it. We need each and every Californian to commit to getting ten people to get ten people to get ten people to sign this petition.

Meanwhile for those of you outside the People's Republic of Kalifornia, remember that California (for good or ill) is a bellwether state, and that too often "As goes California, goes the country."

Reprinted with Permission of Geoff Metcalf

Mr. Metcalf is Chairman and Co-Founder of the Veto The Governor initiative to get The Right to Keep and Bear Arms amended into the California Constitution.  

Hire Geoff Metcalf to speak at your organization, event, or group. For further information click here.

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