My 2001 article on John McCain versus Gun Owners – from America’s 1st Freedom
America’s 1st Freedom
“WHAT’S HAPPENED TO JOHN McCAIN?”
by James Bovard
“YOU DIDN’T HAVE a conservative senator from the West leading the charge for gun control before now,” Michael Barnes, the head now, of Handgun Control, bragged to the Los Angeles Times in April. The gun control debate in Washington has hit center stage because Sen. John McCain, R Ariz., has now become one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment.
In early April, the Senate passed McCain’s campaign finance reform bill to severely restrict Americans’ freedom of speech. Now, McCain has joined with Al Gore running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D Conn. a gun ban advocate rated ” F ” by NRA’S Political Victory Fund in championing legislation to close the so called “gun show loophole”. McCain is the poster boy for Americans for Gun Safety (AGS) the newest high profile anti gun group appearing in their television ads calling for new federal restrictions on gun shows. Andrew McKelvey, the billionaire founder of AGS, also bankrolled key television ads supporting McCain’s campaign finance bill.
Muzzling Critics of Politicians and Government
FUTURE BATTLES FIGHTING government gun grabs will become far more difficult if McCain’s campaign finance reform bill becomes law. The McCain Feingold bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 59 4 1, could be altered in the House and moved into a joint House Senate Conference Committee.
If the bill is signed into law, it will severely chill citizens’ right to effectively complain publicly about political and government abuses. As Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) observed, the McCain Feingold bill “imposes a year round prohibition on all communications that are deemed ‘of value’ to a federal candidate. The bill wrongly asserts that issue groups are ‘coordinating’ if they merely discuss elements of the lawmaker’s message with the lawmaker or his or her staff anytime during a two year period”
The bill creates a new category of speech “electioneering communication” which is loaded down with restrictions and criminal penalties. As Cleta Mitchell, a highly respected Washington lawyer, noted in a report on the effect of McCain Feingold on the NRA, “If the ‘electioneering communication’ is deemed a ‘targeted communication’ [one which is broadcast to an audience consisting ‘primarily’ of residents of the state for which the clearly identified candidate is seeking office] then it is prohibited and cannot be made even if paid for by individual contributions only. It appears that this maybe directed at protecting senators specifically because there is no requirement that the ‘candidate’ must actually be on the ballot during that 30¬or 6o day period preceding the election, which would protect senators from being referenced even in years when they are not up for reelection.”
The new law would count as a campaign contribution “any coordinated expenditure or other disbursement made by any person in connection with a candidates election or made in coordination with a national, state or other political party committee, regardless of whether the expenditure or disbursement is for a communication that contains express advocacy.” This could effectively prohibit the NRA from even mentioning in a public mailing which candidate it supports or opposes.
In late March, when the fate of the legislation in the Senate was in doubt, the nation’s airwaves were hit with ads supporting the McCain Feingold bill proclaiming, “Let’s take the $100,000 check out of politics!” Ironically, the ads were paid for almost entirely by a $114,872 check from Andrew McKelvey and by another $l00,000 plus donation from a second fat cat.
McCain is, however, gung ho about free speech for billionaires. “I’m glad a guy with a billion dollars, or two billion dollars, wants to spend his money on an issue he feels strongly about,” he told The Washington Post.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R Ky., didn’t see things that way. “These so called reformers shamelessly solicit $100,000 contributions from fat cat special interests to fund an effort to deprive average Americans, groups and parties their First Amendment freedom to participate in the political process,” McConnell said.
Rep. Tom DeLay, R Texas, House Republican Whip, denounced McCain: “If, as you say, soft money is such an evil and corrupting influence in politics, why then do you use soft money to further your own personal and political agenda? This is the height of hypocrisy.” (This is not the first time that McCain has been bashed for hypocrisy on this issue; last October, after McCain appeared in AGS ads in Oregon, the Oregon Firearms Federation ran radio ads pointing out that “McCain is using millions in out of state soft money to attack the privacy of Oregonians while condemning the use of soft money by others.”)The Washington Post reported predictions that AGS “may become even more powerful if the changes to campaign finance laws passed by the Senate are enacted … It could give new power to independently funded groups such as McKelvey’s, which would not be subject to the new restrictions.’ AGS chief Jonathan Cowan admits, “McCain Feingold actually helps groups like us.”
McCain’s enthusiasm for campaign finance reform stems in part from his hatred of negative ads. McCain declared in March, “I am for free television time for candidates. I detest the negative advertising. I think it is one of the worst things that has ever happened in American politics, that we have these unnamed, unknown groups calling themselves by some attractive name (Ed. Note: Americans For Gun Safety comes to mind) and buy millions of dollars of advertising, and they basically viciously attack their opponents.’ McCain has said he would ban all negative ads if the Constitution allowed such a ban.
While McCain is vehemently opposed to negative ads, he apparently believes politicians have the right to denounce and smear anyone they please. In a speech early last year, McCain lashed out at Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance;” he also maligned conservative Christian religious leaders as “forces of evil” In the South Carolina primary, the McCain campaign ran a television ad asserting that George W. Bush was as dishonest as Bill Clinton.
In the Michigan primary, McCain’s top campaign strategist wrote a script for a telephone campaign that accused Bush of severe anti Catholic bigotry. McCain repeatedly falsely stated that his campaign had nothing to do with the smear efforts and the truth did not surface until after he had already won the Michigan primary.
Media Darling McCain Meets Megabucks McKelvey
JOHN McCAIN has recently become a prominent Washington champion of more federal gun legislation in large part because AGS has heavily publicized McCain. AGS is doing everything it can to keep McCain in the news. McCain and Sen. Lieberman are scheduled to appear in a multimillion dollar AGS television ad blitz attacking the “gun show loophole.” The ads will show each of the senators “at separate town hall meetings, sleeves rolled up, talking to voters:’ USA Today reports.
Lieberman declares: “This is our attempt to find a third way here. Our intention is to try to reach a common ground that will allow us to close the gun show loophole.” As usual, the third way” and “common ground” always involve an increase in government power.
The national media will likely write many news articles about the advertisements, professing amazement that an allegedly conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat can agree on one of the great issues of the day. Actually, this is no surprise, since McCain has lately been lending his name to many key parts of the Democratic Party’s platform.
AGS also will be launching a full-scale assault on Capitol Hill. National Journal, a Washington “insiders” magazine, recently reported that AGS “has hired a bipartisan team of lobbyists from Griffin, Johnson, Dover & Stewart and promises to spend ‘millions’ to push [McCainLieberman] gun show legislation” One of the two lobbyists AGS hired is Leonard Swinehart, previously a top aide to deposed House Speaker Newt Gingrich. An AGS spokesman declared that McKelvey is “committed to spending what it takes to get the job done” to get gun show legislation passed in Congress.
On May 9, AGS announced that McCain would be appearing in unprecedented gun safety announcements” in 2,500 movie theaters in 44 states. People who go to movie theaters this summer will see a 30 second clip of McCain before the movie fretting: “Every year over 40,000 kids bring guns to school. As adults, we owe it to our children to be responsible by keeping our guns locked up.”Thus, according to McCain and AGS the only safe gun is one that is completely inaccessible to the owner in an emergency. The notion that all guns must be locked up all the time fits with the anti gunners’ notion that guns can never be effectively used for self defense.
McCain and AGS derive the “40,000 kids bring guns to school” factoid from the number of children ejected from school for violating federal “zero tolerance” guidelines for weapons. However, schools have found that almost anything counts as a “gun” including a paper drawing of a gun, pointing a finger and saying “bang,” or possessing a water gun. But as long as the statistics sound frightening to non gun owners, they’re deemed “close enough for government work”
AGS chief Cowan declared: “We are happy to be working with Sen. McCain to deliver the important message to moviegoers that gun safety is the responsibility of everyone parents as well as children, gun owners as well as non gun owners. Were taking this message to movie theaters to capture the attention of students and parents, and to remind them that the use of guns as entertainment in movies is not something anyone wants to see in real life.” At the end of the McCain ads, moviegoers are referred to the AGS Foundation’s antigun website, which promotes waiting periods, “smart guns,” registration and one gun a month laws among a dozen or so other restrictive anti gun proposals.
The McCain advertisements are another step in an attempt to maximize fear of guns per se. And neither McCain nor AGS will be informing moviegoers that McCain is perhaps the foremost congressional advocate of government censorship of violence in movies. It would be interesting to know how often McCain’s so called “public service announcement” gets booed but it’s unlikely that AGS will keep such statistics.
Truth is, the media clout McCain garnered during his presidential campaign has been converted into an instant high profile for AGS. The Washington Post, in an article that read like an AGS press release, hailed McKelvey as the “dominant force” in the gun control movement: “The ascension of his advocacy group, Americans for Gun Safety, has altered the national debate over guns … McKelvey’s supporters hail him as a potential savior who can attract a broader constituency to their cause’ AGS has also snared frequent appearances on National Public Radio and mentions in many of the nations largest liberal newspapers.
McCain’s media teflon shield is heavily benefiting AGS. While AGS portrays itself as a friend of gun owners, the organization’s internal documents reveal that its eventual goal is registration and licensing of gun owners, (See America’s 1st Freedom, “The New Gun Haters,” May issue).
When AGS chief Jonathan Cowan was a guest on a National Public Radio talk show on April 12, he was asked by an audience member “if you support licensing and registration” of gun owners. Cowan replied, “That is not on our agenda right now.” Cowan did not deny that licensing is AG~ long term goal. Cowan also said, “We work with a lot of states and we give different states money, and many of those states are interested in licensing and/or registration within their states.’
Cowan made no effort to deny that his organization favors far more draconian restrictions on gun owners than have ever existed at the federal level.
A few weeks later, AGS policy director Jim Kessler a former staffer for antigun U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D N.Y. was asked by ABC News what his organization will do if and when the gun show loophole” is closed. Kessler replied, “We will happily move along” to advocating other gun laws. Since its founding last summer, AGS has portrayed closing the gun show “loophole” as the holy grail for its “Third Way” version of gun control. But, even if Congress banned all gun shows, AGS would almost certainly find some pretext to demand additional federal restrictions on Second Amendment rights.
WHAT DOES McCAIN want? Howard Fineman of Newsweek recently wrote “.McCain regards himself as a man on a mission, leader of a crusade with an independent base …. McCain believes that his run for the presidency was more than a campaign …. McCain and his acolytes … thought the Bush crowd played too hard, and too dirty …. The McCainanites think They Wuz Robbed”
Unfortunately, what’s good for McCain might not be what’s good for America or for friends of the Bill of Rights. McCain seems to be choosing his subjects and positions almost solely based on what will maximize his media visibility. (He and Sen. Lieberman are reportedly finishing up a bill that would give the government power to censor movies and television.) McCain has not hesitated to provide legitimacy to an anti gun organization that, without McCain, would likely be lost in the crowd of thousands of other Washington lobbies. By partnering with AGS, he is advancing their goal of registration and licensing of all gun owners regardless of whether McCain personally takes that position (yet, see sidebar).
The latest AGS anti-gun show television ads are built around the theme, “Washington, it’s time to stop playing politics with guns!” In reality, it is time for gun owners to be especially wary of any anti gun group that claims to be their friend. The antigun media will continue to pretend that each stepping stone toward gun prohibition, is the final step making it more and more difficult for gun owners to politically resist the tidal wave. Hopefully enough Americans will pay attention and avoid falling for the “Third Way” snare.
FURTHER EVIDENCE OF AGS’ disingenuousness can be found in a report it issued in late April on the need for national controls on gun shows. AGS ran heavy media ad campaigns in Oregon and Colorado last fall portraying state referendums on gun shows as a key to reducing violent crime. Yet, its new report implies that statewide gun show controls are practically irrelevant. As long as any state does not impose background checks on all sales at guns shows, every state is vulnerable, AGS believes.
Even though a federal report found that gun show sales account for only 2 percent of guns used in crimes, the AGS report claimed that the “thirty-two states that fail to require criminal background checks at gun shows are flooding the nation with guns used in crimes.” AGS chief Cowan proclaimed, “This report shows conclusively that gun shows without background checks have become firearms convenience stores for criminals — it’s cash and carry, with no questions asked.” Such lies give the impression that all guns show sales are exempt from federally-mandated background checks. In reality, federal firearms licensees who sell at gun shows must follow the same strict procedures they use when selling in a gun store.
The AGS report claims that states without mandatory “background checks are far more likely to export crime guns to other states.” The phrase “export crime guns” makes it sound as if it was the intentional policy of politicians in two-thirds of the nation’s states to export guns to be used in criminal endeavors. Many of the nation’s lowest crime states — such as North Dakota, West Virginia, Maine and Vermont — do not require mandatory background checks for all sales at gun shows, while many of the nation’s highest crime states do require such checks. AGS would have you believe that if parts of New York and Illinois have stratospheric violent crime rates, the fault could not possibly lie with anything done by the politicians or residents of those states. This is the modern version of the bogus theory of not blaming individuals for their criminal conduct — now updated to exculpate entire states.
The recent AGS report is based largely on data on guns used in crimes tracked by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). It’s important to note that this data was available last fall at the time AGS made its entry splash into the national media with its Colorado and Oregon campaigns for gun show restrictions, yet it wasn’t mentioned. This is a typical bait-and-switch maneuver of anti-gun organizations, reminiscent of the reaction of Handgun Control, Inc., demanding additional federal restrictions on gun buyers as soon as Bill Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
Yet almost no one is examining or questioning what AGS really stands for in part because of the McCain halo effect. If AGS is good enough for McCain, then it will be presumed good enough, for all of McCain’s supporters in the media and elsewhere.