Wouldn’t it be nice if legislators who regard it as their responsibility to tell the rest of us how to live—and to fine us or lock us in a cage if we disobey—actually understood the issues about which they are legislating?
During the recently concluded legislative session, Colorado Democrats drove through a variety of gun restrictions, including one to criminalize the exchange of gun magazines that hold more than fifteen rounds and another to force gun buyers to pay a fee to exercise their Constitutional rights.
The problems with those measures are a topic for another day—here the point is that many of the Democrats supporting gun restrictions displayed profound ignorance about firearms, self-defense, and even their own bills. While that fact by itself does not prove the bills are bad, it certainly warrants reasonable suspicion about them. Consider the most prominent examples.
1. State Senator Evie Hudak gave a heartless, condescending, and erroneous response to a rape victim who had testified about the importance of armed self-defense. Hudak said, “Actually statistics are not on your side even if you had a gun. And, chances are that if you would have had a gun, then he would have been able to get that from you and possibly use it against you. The Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence says that for every one woman who used a handgun to kill someone in self-defense, 83 were murdered by them.”
However, Hudak’s statistics were totally bogus—she was misinterpreting out-of-date statistics from the anti-gun Violence Policy Center. The statistics had nothing to do with the effectiveness of armed self-defense. And the original statistics were misleading, as self-defense usually entails a gun or injuring the perpetrator, not killing him.
Clearly armed women can and do stop rapists: The Cato Institute’s study Tough Targets reviews numerous such cases.
2. On national television, Senate President John Morse cavalierly and wrongly dismissed concerns that various gun bills violate the Second Amendment. He told Rachel Maddow, “We get the point that some of these folks think their Second Amendment rights are being abridged and even though we know darn good and well that’s not true. It’s not worth getting into that argument with them. Just move along and don’t read anymore of these than you absolutely have to.”
However, concerns about Constitutional liberties are well-founded—just as they would be if the legislature instead proposed restrictions on speech. For example, when testifying about the magazine bill, Dave Kopel—one of the world’s preeminent authorities on the Second Amendment—said, “What does the Second Amendment mean today? Look at how people actually exercise the right…. For the practical exercise of that right, rifle magazines up to thirty [rounds], handgun magazines up to twenty [rounds], are within the Supreme Court’s ‘common use’ test.”
3. During a committee debate, State Senator Jessie Ulibarri completely misrepresented the nature of armed self-defense. He said, “When Congress[woman] Giffords was shot, and there was a shooting in an Arizona supermarket, people who were unarmed took that person down when he stopped to reload. And so there are other ways to address violence, and it doesn’t mean that we have our kids exposed to a whole crossfire of multiple folks in a room shooting simultaneously…. Very valiant folks stood up and defend[ed] themselves and protect[ed] themselves, and they did it with ballpoint pens.”
The grain of truth in Ulibarri’s statement is that a ballpoint pen can indeed become an effective defensive weapon (which is why I prefer to carry one with a stainless steel shaft). Indeed, in an “Attack Countermeasures Training” video, security expert Alon Stivi demonstrates how to use a pen to incapacitate an attacker.
However, the rest of Ulibarri’s statement is nonsense. The first error he makes is to portrays defensive gun carriers as crazed maniacs eager to shoot thoughtlessly into a crowd. Ulibarri’s overactive imagination does not comport with reality. A recent report from Texas State University mentions three cases when the intended victims successfully stopped an active shooter by shooting him. Gun Watch lists more examples of armed civilians stopping attackers. (A major problem is that mass murderers tend to target so-called “gun free zones,” where they can expect disarmed victims.)
The example of the 2007 New Life Church attack in Colorado Springs is instructive. Jeanne Assam, an armed, volunteer security guard for the church, did not randomly spray bullets into the crowd after an attacker opened fire in the parking lot. Instead, she waited until she was a close distance from the attacker, then warned him to stop, then shot him when he didn’t stop. By using a gun defensively, Assam heroically prevented the attack from becoming a horrific mass murder. (Sadly, few people are aware of her heroism precisely because she prevented untold bloodshed.)
Ulibarri omits a fact about the Arizona murders: One of the men who helped bring down the perpetrator was in fact armed; he had run across the parking lot to help. By the time he arrived he had no need to use his gun, and he didn’t use it.
Ulibarri’s second error is to think only of attacks in a crowd. What about the situation where three men break into a woman’s rural home? The Democrats’ laws apply to that woman, as well—and make it harder for her to defend herself and her children.
Finally, Ulibarri mistakenly suggests that, just because it’s possible to use a ballpoint pen as a defensive weapon, that is superior to carrying a defensive gun. Obviously he wouldn’t suggest that police officers carry only ballpoint pens rather than guns—and he should afford the same defensive capacity to non-police civilians.
4. When discussing concealed carry on campus, State Representative Joe Salazar suggested that women who carry guns for self-defense are mindless idiots who will tend to shoot people without cause. The logic of his comments also suggest that the government should restrict women to the use whistles and the like to ward off rapists.
Salazar said, “It’s why we have call boxes, it’s why we have safe zones, it’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop, pop a round at somebody.”
Not only were Salazar’s comments unsupported by the facts, they were prejudiced against women. (Thankfully, he later apologized.)
5. State Representative Rhonda Fields did not even understand the implications of the magazine bill that she sponsored. The magazine restriction (now signed into law) forbids the exchange of magazines that hold magazines holding more than fifteen rounds—as well as magazines that can be “readily converted” to do so. But what makes a magazine “readily convertible?” No one knows for sure—but Fields was not even aware the ambiguity was an issue.
As Independence Institute president Jon Caldara demonstrated, most magazines can be “readily converted” by removing the base plate and adding an extender. (What prosecutors and judges will deem to be a “readily convertible” magazine has yet to be established in court.)
9News reported Fields’s ignorance of this implication. As the Daily Caller summarizes, “Fields told 9News that she had no idea her bill would effectively ban nearly all magazines with removable base plates for which extenders are made. ‘I’m just hearing about that now,’ she told the news station.”
6. Although Diana DeGette is a member of congress rather than the state legislature, some of her comments deserve special mention here. DeGette—sponsor of a federal bill to restrict magazines—showed utter ignorance about how modern firearms work.
Bear in mind that a detachable gun magazine is a reloadable metal or plastic box with a spring in it, used to hold ammunition. DeGette got even this simple fact wrong. Instead, she claimed that magazines “are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now, they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high-capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available.” That’s just ridiculous: Magazines are reloadable. (Caldara also recorded a video critical of DeGette.)
Recognizing that DeGette made an error, one of DeGette’s spokesmen tried to make a correction, as reported by the Denver Post: “She simply misspoke in referring to ‘magazines’ when she should have referred to ‘clips,’ which cannot be reused because they don’t have a feeding mechanism.” Wrong again: Clips (which do not have an internal spring) also can be reloaded.
Unfortunately, these are not merely stray errors; they are part of a larger pattern of legislators trying to pass laws about things they fundamentally do not understand. But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that these Colorado Democrats are ignorant about guns, self-defense, and even their own bills; after all, these bills largely were pushed on Colorado by out-of-state anti-gun advocates.
Now it is up to Colorado citizens to learn the truth about these issues and ensure the statutes recognize and protect people’s fundamental human right of self-defense.
Ari Armstrong is a Colorado author and blogger. He writes at AriArmstrong.com