It's not about guns...
It's about citizenship

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"Sixty Minutes" can no longer claim to be uninformed on what is really at stake in gun violence. Despite the much deserved insults, there are some sentences in this letter that were serious candidates for raising public consciousness by taking them to the public in their letters section. "Sixty Minutes" never did any letters on the program. A copy of the "Return of Militia" from 1802/1803 was included. Like the Violence Policy Center and the The Washington Post, the function is to keep public consciousness very narrowly confined.

The program was May 28. What they might have made use of is in bold.

May 29, 2000

"Sixty Minutes"
CBS News
524 W 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

Dear Sirs/Mesdames:

Your responsibility is not just to report news and information but to provide a context for news and information. More than either of those your responsibility is not to be a platform every advocate's fraud. You have had more than thirty years to get the story right on what is really at stake in gun rights and gun violence. The dereliction is still appalling. If you want to put Charlton Heston, Wayne LaPierre and other gun lobby advocates on your program, your duty is to ask the questions. The National Rifle Association and its spokespeople are advocates for a political ideology of extreme individualism that denies the very viability of political community. The ideology of extreme individualism and the political cynicism it produces are the driving forces in contemporary American politics. The advocates, however, are no more or less honest that any other political advocates. Your responsibility is to keep them honest. That is your responsibility without any contribution from anyone else including me.

Charlton Heston does not even have his rightwing demagoguery straight. Benjamin Franklin was asked, "What do we have, a monarchy or a republic?" Those were the choices in the eighteenth century. There is a little more context here relevant to contemporary issues. A monarchy maintained a regular army, usually composed of mercenaries, foreigners and/or social misfits. The armed force of a republic was the militia composed of citizen soldiers rooted in their communities. Militia duty, however, was conscript duty. The regular army was not. Just as the Framers of the Constitution distrusted political power and divided power between state and federal government and among three branches within each, they divided military power between the regular army, much distrusted at the time, and the militia. The NRA's extreme individualist gun rights ideology reads into the Second Amendment a personal right to be armed outside of any military, militia, or legally authorized or permitted purpose. The personal or individual right serves to maintain a balance of power between a privately armed populace and any and all government. It, in fact, denies the very legitimacy of political power. If you don't think so, you just ask them. That right is now seeking certification in federal court in US v. Emerson,, US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Oral arguments are scheduled for June (right now). The ruling should be out by September just in time to introduce substance for once into an election season. It is appalling that you do a story on gun rights, quote some Supreme Court justices but do not mention this case. You vitiate any claim to the most rudimentary professional competence. An explanation really is in order.

The Potowmack Institute filed an amicus curiae brief in Emerson. This is where the gun lobby's political ideology has met its opposition. The gun rights militants who have filed briefs in this case, which include the NRA, are quite shocked to discover that there is more here than just the benign extension of constitutional protection to another long neglected civil liberty. There is a story for you.

The NRA cannot win what it wants in court. It has to have its armed populace fantasy by defeating legislation. It has to promote demagogic frauds to rally a constituency that will prevail over cowardly and ignorant politicians. It succeeds because you, among others, fail. Accountability to public authority is the one point of policy that the NRA's armed populace fantasy cannot accommodate. It is the one thing the NRA works hardest to prevent. The most important but little unobserved provision of the Brady Law, for example, was that sales receipts retained for background checks had to be destroyed within twenty days. Sales receipts to the NRA are the equivalent of registration. See pp. 39-43 in the NRA's Stephen Halbrook's petition on behalf of Sheriff Printz in Printz and Mack (1997), See also the NRA's amicus brief in Perpich (1990) on the militia as the "population at large", .../nraperp.html. [See also .]

If the NRA wants to have its very contemporary armed populace fantasy, it can have it, formulate it, believe in it, and lobby for it, but it has no roots in the Second Amendment and the historical practices of the militia. The Second Amendment was about the arrangement of military force in the early republic. The best that can be said of the Framers of the Constitution and the political leaders of the time is that they were comfortable with the presence of arms in the general society. They were also comfortable with conscripting the owners of those arms into public duty and maintaining inventories of the arms they possessed. The Militia Act of 1792 (.../emerappc.html), enacted by the same people who ratified the Second Amendment, required the states to "enroll"— that is, register— militiamen for militia duty. It also required the states to report to the President, the commander-in-chief of the militia, inventories of the militia resources of the states including privately owned arms. The inventories were called "Return of Militia." Presidents Washington and Adams had little use for the militia and ignored the requirement, but President Jefferson for ideological reasons wanted to emphasize the militia over the regular army and required the inventories be reported. They were reported from 1802 through the 1820s when the militia institution was in an advanced state of decline. The listings under "Arms, Ammunition, and Accoutrements" included: "artillery side arms" (apparently pistols worn by artillery men), "pairs of pistols" (cavalrymen were required to provide a pair of pistols), "muskets," "sabres," "bayonets," "pounds of power," etc. See enclosure. There was no mention or discussion in those days of a civil right to be armed outside of the knowledge and reach of government, state or federal. If the NRA wants to have militia rights as originally understood, it needs to resurrect the conscript militia institution and have its members sign up and register their guns for militia duty. Former Senator Gary Hart has actually proposed a semblance of this concept in his recent book, The Minuteman. See his Chapter 4 for some honest history.

Charlton Heston's confusion over the difference between a republic and a democracy makes him into something of a buffoon even within his own rightwing political persuasion. You ought to get him to explain. In political theory there is no clear distinction between a democracy and a republic. The Framers did not want monarchy but neither did they want too much democracy. They associated too much democracy with demagoguery and licentiousness which led to tyranny just as certainly as arbitrary power. There is a big difference between a republic and a democracy, however, in rightwing ideologies. In hard right ideologies, as, for example, formulated by the John Birch Society, the original design was a "constitutional republic" which is set off in contrast to a democracy which to the John Birch Society is mob rule associated with Franklin Roosevelt and the expansion of federal authority in the New Deal— such oppressions as federal enactment and enforcement of the forty hour work week originally proposed by the Socialist Party. The gun rights militants write to me all day long that the United States is a republic not a democracy and that touching guns with laws is socialism. (The state of Vermont meanwhile allows conceal/carry without a permit and elects unabashed socialists to public office. You explain that one.) It is not a coincidence that Chief Justice Rehnquist's narrow five member majority on the Supreme Court in recent rulings has worked to pare back the expansion of federal authority under the Commerce Clause. It goes unobserved that the NRA is at cross purposes within rightwing ideologies. It does not want the Federal Government to have any gun owner's number but wants to expand federal authority into local law enforcement with Project Exile. Even some of the gun controllers have gotten behind this. It takes the John Birch Society, however, to point out the ideological conflict and constitutional menace. See "The NRA's Gun Control Schizophrenia," The New American, June 5, 2000,
We don't get the story from "Sixty Minutes."

The fraudulent quotations that fortify the armed populace fantasy are too long to list. You can find some of these frauds exposed in the amicus briefs filed in support of the prosecution in Emerson. I will make mention of one other of Heston's points about the tyrants that register guns, then confiscated them and then exterminated their populations. The examples just do not hold up. The strong gun control law in Germany was enacted by the Weimer Republic in 1928 to disarm and disband the private armies that were fighting gun battles on the streets of German cities. The Weimar Republic did not have the political will to enforce its law and was eventually "outflanked" by the German version of the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" (.../emerappd.html), called Stormtroopers. The Nazis actually loosened the 1928 gun law in 1938. There is absolutely no historical record of Nazis going door to door confiscating guns. If the NRA has such historical documentation, it is your business to ask for it. The only confiscation of weapons in Germany was conducted by the victorious Allies in 1945. Stalin certainly wreaked murderous havoc on a large fraction of his population, but the real lesson of the Soviet Union for our notice is what happens when political authority breaks down and gangster capitalism and ethic strife become the new order. According to the NRA, Stalin confiscated all the guns decades ago, but the NRA is not required to explain where the gangster capitalists and ethnic factions got all the guns they are killing each other with now.

It is really a waste of time and effort to write to you. You don't have thought processes, but you are only another representative manifestation of the same political dysfunction that the forces of darkness thrive on. See


It really is hard to imagine how you carry on in good conscience with fabulous salaries to compound the political cynicism of the present political culture. Please do the public a favor and start with a disclaimer: Seek your civic enlightenment elsewhere. All you prove is that the purpose of commercial television programming is to draw people in to watch the commercials. Blood does run in the streets and there are simple solutions.

Yours truly,
G. Eyclesheimer Ernst

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[NRA v. Reno (July, 2000)]
[US v. Emerson PAGE]
[Printz and Mack PAGE]
[US v. Lopez PAGE]
[ARCHIVE]. Potowmack Institute Files
[RESOURCES]. Newspaper, magazine, journal articles, books, links

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