By Dave Kopel. Mr. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute.
4/18/00 10:00 a.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel on gun shows.
Fresh from an anti-gun speech in Maryland last Tuesday, Bill Clinton brought his Tragedy Exploitation Tour to Colorado the following day. Arnie Grossman, the head of Colorado's gun control lobby SAFE, insisted that the Clinton's timing had nothing to do with the Columbine anniversary eight days hence. The White House press office, however, proclaims that the Clinton visit is all about Columbine.
Clinton was in town to promote SAFE's November ballot initiative to impose special restrictions on gun shows. Currently, gun sales at gun shows are subject to the same controls as sales anywhere else. Gun dealers (who by federal law are required to have a federal license) need to put customers through the National Instant Check System (NICS) and fill out registration forms about the sale. Private collectors are not subject to these restrictions when they sell guns.
Clinton and SAFE want to make private collectors who sell at gun shows (but not other private collectors) subject to the same restrictions as federally licensed firearms dealers. The salami tactics of the gun control movement require that gun collectors at gun shows be brought under government restraint before restraints are imposed on a hunter who sells his used shotgun to a neighbor.
Colorado State Rep. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield) held a press conference to point out Clinton's amazing hypocrisy in demanding special restrictions for gun shows. Many of the private collectors who today sell guns at gun shows are people who used to have a federal firearms license (FFL). As FFL holders, these dealers put their customers through all the federally-required checks and paperwork. The small-time vendors lost their licenses in 1993 through 1996, when Bill Clinton's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms launched a campaign to make these dealers surrender or not renew their licenses. The pretext was that these vendors didn't sell enough guns to qualify as dealers, or that they did not have a storefront for their home-based business. (Federal law does not require gun dealers to have a storefront, but this technicality didn't bother Clinton's BATF.)
Thus, Rep. Mitchell points out, Bill Clinton came to Colorado to denounce a "problem" that is largely the creation of Bill Clinton.
In Colorado, support for the Clinton gun show proposal peaked at 94% early this year, declining to 83% by February. To defeat the Clinton/SAFE initiative, Second Amendment supporters in Colorado will need to continue educating about 6% of the voters every month from now till November.
Colorado political analysts ranging from Westword publisher Patricia Calhoun on the left to former House Majority Leader Chris Paulson on the right agree that Clinton's visit will do nothing to help SAFE's initiative, but instead will tar the initiative with Clinton's exploitation of the Columbine murders for his own political gain.
As in Oklahoma on the anniversary of 1995 bombing, many people in Colorado are weary of Washington politicians and national media who want to keep refreshing the pain of tragedy, regardless of the feelings of the victimized community.