Will the 2014 Election be Red or Blue?

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National_Rifle_Association (Photo credit: ChrisWaldeck)

This morning I received an email from Chris Cox, who spearheads the membership campaigns for the NRA.  The email referred to a recent comment by Michelle Obama at a New York fundraiser in which she asked the guests to donate to the 2014 campaign in order to push through the President’s agenda; issues which, of course, include the gun control bill that failed to pass the Senate earlier this year.  The point of Cox’s email, which also solicited a contribution, was that , “next year’s elections will decide whether you and I get to keep our freedom, or if we will lose the Second Amendment as we know it…PERIOD.”

It would be easy to dismiss Cox’s hyped-up rhetoric except that it might just be true.  And the reason I say this is that while the Colorado recall last September was a big victory for the NRA, more recent election results seem to indicate a turning of the tide.  In particular I’ll draw your attention to the close contest for Attorney General in Virginia which, although there will be a recount, will still probably end up with the election of a Democrat who ran a very explicit anti-gun campaign. Not only did he charge his opponent, State Senator Mark Obenshain, with opposing “common-sense” gun controls, he also brought such gun control heavies as Gabbie Giffords into the state to campaign on his behalf.

Virginia has been turning steadily more blue and less red but that only reflects trends that are happening elsewhere as well.  Slowly but surely the county is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, the population is increasingly urbanized or suburbanized, the percentage of households that admit to gun ownership, according to Gallup, keeps going down.  Overwhelmingly gun owners are white, male, high school but not college educated, and located in smaller cities and towns, particularly in the South.   While people who fit this profile may vote overwhelmingly Republican, the truth is that this profile just doesn’t register majorities at the polls, particularly in ‘battleground’ states like Virginia which hold the key to electoral victory every four years.

Right now, and of course things could always change, whichever party wins two of three states – Florida, Virginia, Ohio – will control the White House in 2016.  And don’t think that the GOP is in any better shape when it comes to their majority in the House of Representatives, because even though they currently enjoy a 31-seat edge (but will lose the majority if the Democrats pick up 17 seats), in 2012 they actually lost the total popular House vote.

Given those numbers, I don’t think that Chris Cox is being at all extreme when he says that gun owners could lose their 2nd-Amendment “rights.”  Of course this assumes that any change in current gun regulations, even something as feeble as Manchin-Toomey, represents an erosion of the right to bear arms.  The NRA would like everyone to believe that gun ownership is as mainstream and traditionally American as apple pie.  But what’s really mainstream is the notion that everyone has the right to vote.  And right now, the votes don’t seem to be adding up for the NRA.



Coming Up: The Next SCOTUS Gun Case


NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may recall that in the debate over a new gun bill earlier this year, the major issue was whether to expand the FBI background check system to cover private sales. Proponents of expanded checks (Bloomberg, et. al.) argued that background checks helped prevent “straw sales,” thus keeping guns out of the wrong hands; opponents of the measure (NRA) said that there was no reason to further restrict law-abiding citizens from exercising their constitutional rights to own guns.

Now the Supreme Court has decided to hear a straw sales case concerning a transaction that took place in Virginia where a former state trooper, Bruce Abramski, was convicted of committing a straw sale purchase because he bought a gun for his uncle but stated on the background check form (ATF Form 4473) that the gun was for himself. Abramski argued that there was nothing illegal about the sale because his uncle was, in fact, legally able to buy a gun. Therefore, since the intent of the statute and the background check was to keep guns from getting into the wrong hands, the defendant’s transfer of the gun to his uncle didn’t violate the law at all.

Abramski is represented by the NRA, whose attorneys discovered a split at the federal appellate level over how to handle straw sales. Several circuits have upheld the government’s contention that making a false statement on the 4473 is, in and of itself, a violation of the law, regardless of the intention or additional facts in the case. But the Fifth Circuit held in US vs. Polk, that purchasing a gun for someone else, as long as the latter individual also qualified to own a gun, was completely permissible within the statute that applies to the 4473. The SCOTUS has agreed to hear the case and resolve the apparent dispute between the different appellate courts.

Who was this guy Polk whose conviction for lying on a 4473 Form was overturned by the 5th Circuit? It turns out that Polk didn’t actually purchase the gun or guns in question; the real straw purchase was committed by a guy named Davidson who was acting on instructions from Polk. And the reason that Polk instructed Davidson to buy more than 40 guns for him, along with plastic explosives, grenades, a light tank anti-weapons system and a machine gun was that he allegedly represented an organization called ‘Constitutional America’ that was planning a rebellion to restore America to its “common-law roots.” Polk was finally arrested, charged and convicted of soliciting various crimes of violence, along with “aiding and abetting” a straw purchase even though he didn’t actually fill out the 4473.

The NRA wants SCOTUS to exonerate the Virginia state trooper who lied on the 4473, using as precedent a wacko in Texas who got somebody else to lie on his behalf. It would be nice if Mother Theresa was the defendant every time an attorney wanted a conviction overturned, but a guy who wants to blow up IRS offices and assassinate judges and police officers all over the country deserves just as much consideration if the law was used improperly to get a conviction in his case. On the other hand, it seems to me that the NRA is really scraping the bottom of the barrel by trying to assert a constitutional right to gun ownership because everyone involved in the transaction is legally entitled to own a gun. The 4473, with all its shortcomings, doesn’t give the purchaser the right to decide for himself whether the gun will eventually wind up in law-abiding hands.

Abramski could have avoided the entire problem by having his Virginia dealer send the gun directly to his uncle’s dealer in Pennsylvania; licensed dealers do this all the time. If the SCOTUS decides this case in favor of Abramski and the NRA, we might as well get rid of the background check system all together. But isn’t that what the NRA wants?

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