Statement of Rep. Charles B. Schumer

Ranking Member, House Subcommittee on Crime

April 5, 1995

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Today's hearing on the Second Amendment comes the day after the National Rifle Association conference on the same topic.

Is that a coincidence?

I think not.

In fact, at least one of the professors we will hear from today was billed as a "discussion leader" at that NRA conference.

Is that another coincidence?

Of course not.

Newt Gingrich and the Republican leadership are working hand in hand with the NRA and the gun lobby to use this committee to stage yet another pep rally for guns and gun nuts.

But the intellectual content of this hearing is so far off the edge that we ought to declare this an official meeting of the flat earth society.

Because the pro-gun arguments we will hear today are as flaky as the arguments of the tiny few who still insist that the earth is flat.

Like flat earth fanatics, Second Amendment fanatics just don't get it.

Facts are facts. The earth is not flat.

And Constitutional law is Constitutional law.

The Second Amendment is not absolute.

It does not guarantee the mythical individual right to bear arms we will hear argued for today.

The gun lobby and its friends in Congress can line up professors of history and law from here to NRA headquarters and back.

They can all swear what they think the Second Amendment means, and how many angels can dance on a pinhead.

But the settled law is flatly against them. The courts have uniformly, consistently, and unanimously ruled against them. There is no room to argue with the leading Supreme Court cases -- United States v. Miller (1939), United States v. Cruikshank (1876), and Pressler v. Illinois (1886) -- and tens of lower federal court and state court cases following their precedent.

You don't have to take my word for it.

I'd like to take a moment here, Mr. Chairman, to play very brief excerpt from a television interview of a distinguished American on this subject.

[Excerpt played from video]

For anyone who may not have known, that was former Chief Justice Warren Burger, not exactly a raving liberal and not a gun banner. In case you could not understand the audio part of this video, the Chief Justice said that the NRA and its leaders "have trained themselves and their people to lie . . . and I can't use any word less than `lie.'"

That's not me. That's a distinguished American jurist calling these argument lies. He has also said:

"There is no Constitutional question here. The NRA has convinced a lot of people that the right to bear arms is an absolute right. It is not, any more than the right to have an automobile is an absolute right."

So there it is. If anyone tried to sell the baloney we'll hear today, they would be arrested for consumer fraud.

The NRA's Second Amendment is an empty cereal box in the market place of ideas.

I note also, Mr. Chairman, that the fans of an absolute reading of the Second Amendment do not extend the same absolute reading to the other parts of the Bill of Rights. They are among the first to carve the edges off the right to free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment, to shave the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure, or to restrict the Sixth Amendment's guarantees of due process.

For the NRA Flat Earth Society, the Constitution consists of the Second Amendment and the Second Amendment only.

Now, one might say, so what? The NRA and its friends in academia and the Congress are entitled to their opinions, aren't they? What harm can come from peddling these phony opinions?

The answer is that plenty of harm comes from it.

The first -- and most serious -- harm is the poisoning of our political dialogue.

The NRA and its friends -- some of whom serve in this body -- have planted a poisonous weed of political paranoia in the minds of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

This barrage of cynical, fund-raising NRA propaganda about the Second Amendment has convinced many people that there is a vast plot to seize their guns and "take away their rights."

The sickening fruit of this poisonous lie are obvious in our society.

Right wing hate groups are arming themselves to answer a purely imaginary plot with real gun violence.

And every day, members of this body receive in the mail the most vicious, hate-filled mail imaginable, inspired by this biggest of NRA lies.

This is dangerous sickness.

I charge the NRA and others who encourage this rasping political hatred to take heed.

You are sowing seeds that will bear the bitterest of fruit.

The second harm is that decent Americans are bamboozled into opposing even modest laws designed to keep guns away from violent criminals, children, and the mentally dangerous.

They are stampeded even into opposing simple gun safety laws that would protect gun owners from the kind of accidents that every year cost the lives and limbs of hunters and recreational shooters.

Just one look at what the American people do for recreation makes this point clear.

According to a Roper poll published last week in the New York Times, 40 percent of Americans relax by driving for pleasure. Another 26 percent go fishing.

Only 8 percent go hunting. And only 8 percent engage in target shooting.

What's wrong with this picture?

Well, the 40 percent who drive put up gladly with a little inconvenience in exchange for our common safety. Their cars are titled and registered. They get driver's licenses.

And the 26 percent who fish endure the minor inconvenience of getting fishing licenses.

But the NRA and the gun lobby go nuts when society seeks to impose even the slightest inconvenience by way of licensing or registration on the minority who own and use guns.

This is madness.

A tiny minority of people fascinated with guns -- and something they call the "gun ethic" -- is bullying a much bigger majority on vital issues of health and safety.

Mr. Chairman, I'll listen to the flat earth arguments we'll hear today with as much interest as I can. But I say to the NRA and those who push the gun lobby's absolute view of the Second Amendment:

Get over it. The earth is not flat.

And the Second Amendment is not absolute.

You are wrong.


April 6, 1995

REP. SCHUMER QUESTIONS HEROISM OF DECORATED VIETNAM VET IN CRIME SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING

Washington, DC -- A panel of six highly decorated law enforcement officers from around the country, appeared before the House Subcommittee on Crime yesterday, offering testimony in favor of repealing the assault weapons ban. Their testimony provoked fire from Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has maintained that the ban is widely supported by law enforcement. Rep. Schumer spearheaded the assault weapons ban last year when he was chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime.

Rep. Schumer criticized one witness, a disabled former Marine who was awarded nine decorations for his service in Vietnam, for displaying his medals. After the witness left the room, the congressman tried to discredit the officer by claiming that a "real hero" would not need such a display to prove his heroism.

The witness, master Officer Craig Roberts, who has worked for the past 25 years in the Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Department, drew the congressman's fire by disputing the effectiveness of the assault weapons ban in protecting either the police or the public. Officer Roberts testified that, "It has been my experience that enacting laws that restrict the ownership or right to bear firearms does not help the police, nor does it help keep citizens safe." Refuting the contention that the gun ban had the backing of law enforcement, Officer Roberts told the subcommittee members that "rank-and-file officers do not support this federal attack on the people's right to bear arms -- even so-called assault weapons." Speaking from personal experience, the former Marine told subcommittee members: "I've faced the muzzle end of _real_ assault weapons, and I learned the hard way -- to fear the man, not the device."

Officer Roberts, who said he brought his medals along as "physical evidence" of the truth of his testimony, was stunned by the congressman's remarks. "I can't believe that anyone would question my credibility, after my service to my country in Vietnam, and my service to my city of Tulsa," he said.

The panel of six officers, who ranged in rank from patrolman to chief, and represented six different areas of the country, was organized by Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), the nation's largest organization of police officers, crime victims and concerned citizens working to make America safer.


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