Today’s leftist progressive “liberals” often take decidedly illiberal stands against the Second Amendment and the fundamental human right of self-defense.
I was especially surprised when Representative Elisabeth Epps, the famed “abolitionist” who supposedly wants to work toward the elimination of police and prisons, agreed to cosponsor a drafted bill that would subject Colorado’s gun owners to abusive policing. One could be forgiven for suspecting that Epps wants less accountability for criminals who hurt people or take their stuff but harsh treatment for her political opponents who have harmed no one.
The bill as originally drafted pertains to so-called “assault weapons,” including handguns, an arbitrary category that targets select semi-automatic guns that are functionally identical to other semi-automatics. The bill “prohibits a person from possessing, manufacturing, importing, purchasing, selling, offering to sell, or transferring ownership of an assault weapon.” True, existing holders of such guns were grandfathered in—so long as they were prepared to present their ownership papers to prove their innocence under this perverse measure. Complete Colorado’s Sherrie Peif has details of the original measure; I’ll discuss changes below.
It’s “abolition for me, threats of jail for thee,” I guess. True, Epps is not too clear on what she means by “abolition,” as I reviewed in a previous article on the topic. She said, “Abolition does not mean immediately disbanding all law enforcement and decriminalizing all offenses—of course not. But it does mean actively investing” in various social programs. Yet Epps also said, “Police violence is gun violence. Not only do cops do an objectively poor job of preventing gun violence, they exacerbate it.” But if the targets of potential police violence are just peaceable gun owners, who cares, right?
Epps’s utopian fantasies aside, we need police to help protect us from dangerous people. Yet better policing is possible. As the better libertarians have argued for decades, real police reform starts with the recognition that police should act only against those who harm or threaten person or property, not against those who violate the rights of no one. That is why libertarians have long been against both the war on drugs and the war on guns. Epps, on the other hand, is fine with a police war against nonviolent people she doesn’t happen to like.
Candi CdeBaca, the Denver council member who joins Epps in embracing the “Democratic Socialist” label, is skeptical of a police war on gun owners at least in some contexts. When the Denver City Council voted to ban concealed carry on city-owned property, CdeBaca warned, “We just spent the last two years learning what the use of excessive force can lead to, and this policy single handedly justifies an excessive use of force in any case where someone is accused of having a gun on them.” How can it not be obvious to Epps that the proposed bill on “assault” guns creates comparable dangers on a far wider scale?
After putting her name on the draft bill Epps announced a “new rule”: “No politicians [are] allowed to speak about MLK” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) if they “support . . . expanding the prison industrial complex.” You mean, for example, by creating a large new class of victimless crimes?
The bill’s lead sponsor, Andrew Boesnecker, has updated the proposal to apply only to sales, not possession, reports the Colorado Sun. As revised the measure is less onerous. But it still criminalizes gun sales based on arbitrary features.
A so-called “assault” gun is just a regular semi-automatic gun with arbitrarily defined stylistic features. When Democrats start threatening to send heavily armed agents of the state after people merely for stylistic features, you’d think that people serious about criminal justice reform would speak out for sanity.
Perhaps today’s Democratic legislators have failed to notice this, but Colorado law already restricts sales of magazines to 15 rounds. I oppose that restriction, but at least it has some plausible connection to the functionality of the firearm, unlike the stylistic features listed in the new bill. One might suspect that Democrats really want to outlaw all semi-automatic guns—the most popular type of gun for self-defense—and outlawing some arbitrarily defined “assault” semi-automatic guns is a means toward that end.
Even though Democrats hold strong majorities in the legislature, I doubt they do something so obviously illiberal and strategically self-destructive as pass the bill on “assault” guns. Kyle Clark reported on Governor Jared Polis’ “State of the State” address: “Polis indicated no support today for an ‘assault weapons’ ban being drafted by Democrats in the [legislature]. Polis twice dodged questions asking if he supported the idea. He suggested federal action and said Colorado should focus on its red flag law.”
Although I share Dave Kopel’s concerns about inadequate due-process protections in the existing red-flag law, in principle such a measure is warranted in that it seeks to disarm people who have made a serious threat against others.
I’m not an “abolitionist” in the criminal-justice context because I recognize that we need police, prosecutions, and prisons to protect us from genuinely dangerous people. Yet I take seriously calls to reform the criminal justice system such that it consistently protects rather than violates people’s rights. I hope those behind the bill to ban arbitrarily defined “assault” guns come to recognize that their measure does not comport with those aims.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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