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California and the West | CAPITOL JOURNAL

Violent Subtext Behind Opposition to Gun Control

April 20, 1998|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — Guns are not for hunting. When will you people figure that out? Guns are for hunting down politicians when they steal your rights away through tyranny. Hello! --Anonymous caller

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The guy who recently left the voice mail message about "hunting down politicians" went on to make some other choice comments. Such as: "We're going to add your name to the list. Any call for gun control is treason."

And: "The right to 'bear arms'--that means to keep those guns in your hands. The term arms means any type of military weapon. . . .

"The Constitution is there for one reason: To protect our freedom. You can't protect your freedom when the government has more guns than the people. The people always need more guns than the government."

Yadda yadda yadda.

This character sounded good enough to be a talk-show host. He was articulate, had a deep voice and spewed a message worth saving--to pass along to law enforcement.

The caller was twisted, but unfortunately not atypical of hard-core gun zealots. Legislators get these calls regularly, along with threatening letters and e-mail.

"They get direct threats, veiled threats, third-party threats," says Tony Beard, the longtime Senate sergeant-at-arms. "A lot of it is intimidation. Women especially get picked on."

Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Alameda), who has been trying to control guns for a decade, is the author of an assault-weapons bill now stalled in the Assembly, one vote short of final passage.

"I've been a poster boy on the Internet as Public Enemy No. 1," he says. "Somebody hand-delivered a bullet to my office. I've been stalked; I never drive home the same way twice. I was at a delicatessen in Oakland and a guy walked up and said, 'A family man like you needs to be careful.' There was no question he was sending one across my bow. These are the people whose so-called rights we're protecting. . . .

"This is one of those issues that has a subtext that's very dark."

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The gun zealots who are members of the Legislature act civilly, but some do seem mired in a time warp.

During last Monday's floor debate on assault guns, for example, Assemblyman George House (R-Hughson)--an almond rancher and former Highway Patrol commander--read the 2nd Amendment with religious zeal. " 'A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state . . . '

"Efforts to redefine 'militia' are legendary," he continued. "But the need for the 2nd Amendment is probably more vital today than it was at the time it was written."

House urged lawmakers to reject Perata's bill and "vote yes for the right of people to protect themselves--not only against the criminal." He didn't complete the thought, but presumably House had in mind people also protecting themselves against the government.

Indeed, during a rambling discourse in an Assembly committee last summer, House went on about how citizens may need assault weapons to use against Uncle Sam. "The issue as far as I'm concerned is not protecting your home," he acknowledged. "You can do that with a revolver or a shotgun. . . .

"Read your [news]papers and note the tremendous discontent of people. And then ask yourself again, what purpose [is] the 2nd Amendment. And if you nullify it, if you take it down to where it has no strength . . . do you subjugate the people then to a government of whims?"

Replied a somewhat amused Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), author of the bill being debated to control high-capacity ammunition clips: "You say, well, someday we may have to fire on our own government. But unless you have nuclear weapons, you're going to lose."

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Then there are a few legislators who earnestly believe that the Nazis--or their totalitarian descendants--are somehow going to confiscate all our small arms and overrun America.

"The things that you vote for [in] this kind of legislation would support what Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler and the Ottoman Empire did to [Jews and Armenians]," Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (R-Carlsbad) asserted during last Monday's debate.

But most gun control opponents--the vast majority of them Republicans--merely try to nit-pick these bills to death. Too confusing! What's an assault gun?

"They're weapons of war, not weapons of sport," says Assemblyman Steven Kuykendall (R-Rancho Palos Verdes), a Vietnam vet and one of only two GOP votes for Perata's bill. "Yes, people can keep their weapons. But we need some kind of reasonable restraint."

When his knee-jerk colleagues vote against every gun control proposal, however, they're lining up with the irrational dude who would "hunt down politicians."

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