The Panic Zone

Published: February 4, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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There is a sixth dimension, well-known to man. It is a delusion as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is as unsubstantiated as myth and as unreasonable as deceit, and it lies between the depths of man’s passion and the intensity of his anxiety. It is a dimension of fear; a well-charted area of the mind which I call The Panic Zone.
– adapted from Rod Serling

Regardless of available facts, it continues to amaze me how many smart people gravitate to patently false information.

“I don’t plan on helping or assisting with any of the federal gun laws because I have the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Constitution on my side.”

That’s Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County, Colorado who, according to a New York Times story (Feb. 1), “…said that he believed a ban on assault weapons would do little and that universal background checks would unfairly halt private gun sales.”

When President Obama outlined a plan to address gun violence, Sheriff Justin Smith of Larimer County, wrote: “As Sheriff, I will not enforce unconstitutional federal laws.”

Last week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper held a very compelling and civil town hall meeting at George Washington University to examine all perspectives on the issue.

At one point, Cooper asked Sheriff Brad Rogers of Elkhart County, Indiana: “Do you believe the federal government has any right to any form of gun control?”

“No, I do not believe so,” Sheriff Rogers says. “Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution clearly spells out what the federal government should be — is authorized to do. And everything else goes back to the state…

“…the Indiana Constitution spells it out even further. In Article 1, Section 32, it says, that people shall have a right to arm themselves to defend themselves and the state. So, you know, even if this — you know, even if it’s taken up by the state, they are restricted usually by their own constitution.”

Cooper next turned to legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

“I think that’s just factually wrong,” Toobin said. “There is a supremacy clause in the Constitution. If there’s a conflict between state law and federal law, the federal government wins. However, the federal government does have to abide by the Second Amendment, too… there is no doubt that the federal government has the right to engage in some sort of gun control. The question is: what can they ban? They cannot ban handguns.

“We know that from the Supreme Court. But can they ban assault weapons? Can they ban tanks? Can they ban stinger missiles? You bet they can. And they do, and so that much we know is that the federal government can ban certain weapons, but they can’t ban all weapons.”

Here we have two, duly elected sheriffs, sworn to uphold the law, stating publicly, that they will not uphold any federal law that attempts to place restrictions on owning certain types of weapons. And we have a third sheriff who clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge about what states can and cannot do. All appear driven by their personal passion to uphold the Second Amendment, no matter the cost.

At one point during the hour-long discussion, Cooper told a harrowing story of a woman from his audience.

“Sarah [McKinley] did something extraordinary,” Cooper begins. “Two men tried to break into her home. She was alone in her home with her baby. She had two handguns… You were on the phone with the 911 operator and you asked the operator if they come in, is it OK to shoot? You actually shot one of the intruders. The other ran off. You protected your home, yourself, and — and probably saved your baby’s life.”

Cooper then follows up on the possibility to federally limit certain types of weapons.

“When you hear people talk,” Cooper asks her, “about gun control, do you worry, about any kind of limitation on the kinds of weapons citizens like yourself can have?”

“…I think that once they start limiting, they’re going to limit more…”

“You see it as a slippery slope,” Cooper asks, “they get their foot in the door and then they can take more and more?”

“Exactly,” McKinley says.

True? A lot of gun advocates certainly seem to think so.

In 1994, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, or Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act. The ban had a “sunset clause” which caused the law to expire in 2004.

While I’ve searched the Internet to see if there were any additional steps taken toward banning additional guns, I cannot find a single instance where either the state or federal authorities attempted to pass further legislation or confiscate additional weapons from private citizens during those ten years.

Once again, we have unfounded fear surpassing reason, as well as recent history.

Back to the original Times story (Feb. 1), Dan Frosch writes, “The Utah Sheriffs’ Association outlined an even stronger sentiment in a recent letter to Mr. Obama stating that no federal official would be permitted to take away its constituents’ Second Amendment rights. The sheriffs said they were ‘prepared to trade our lives’ to preserve a traditional interpretation of the Constitution.

“Sheriffs across a range of counties in Arizona, Kentucky, Oregon and other states have also weighed in publicly, suggesting they, too, would refuse to enforce gun laws they felt violated the Second Amendment.”

We now have a select group of publicly elected law enforcement officers stirring-up fear to such an extent that they are willing to violate their own duty as peace officers rather than work within the system in which they were elected.

While the debate on gun violence will continue, I strongly urge all sides to put aside inflammatory rhetoric and irrational fear and examine the issue using facts and reason. It seems to have worked reasonably well for this country for almost 240 years.


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