Published: May 31, 2013
Editor's Note: David Kopel is research director for the Independence Institute, a Denver-based public policy research organization that is helping 55 sheriffs in Colorado in their legal battle against gun control legislation passed this year by state lawmakers. The self-described "free-market think tank" hosted an event in Colorado Springs Tuesday to raise money to support the sheriffs, who contend that some of the legislation violates the right to bear arms provision of the Second Amendment.
Q. The El Paso County Commissioners believe the intent of gun control legislation in the state is to outlaw guns. What do you think the intent is?
A. That is certainly the intent of some advocates of anti-gun legislation, and there are others who want to constrain gun ownership as much as possible even if they know they can't ban all guns. That's a strategy that has worked in other nations.
Q. Why is this such a passionate issue?
A. Well, it's an important issue in itself. It's a matter of people's basic safety and autonomy. The ability to control your own body -- to not be a victim of an intruder in your home - is certainly important in its own right. Guns are, in the eyes of people on both sides of the issue, a strong symbol of certain things about America, of individualism, or popular sovereignty where the people are the rulers rather than a society, as in many other places, that is governed from the top down by an elite which believes it knows the interests of the people better than the people themselves.
Q. Is the lawsuit necessary?
A. The Legislature passed the bill with very narrow margins and the governor signed it. If they had said: 'Maybe we made a mistake. We should revisit this next year; maybe these are laws we can fix some of them or improve them,' it would be different, but we haven't heard anything like that from the people responsible for these atrocious bills. We are hoping the federal courts will be more responsive to the Constitution of the United States of America.
Q. Do you feel passage of gun control legislation in Colorado will lead to similar legislation nationally?
A. That's the point. That's precisely what Joe Biden told the undecided Democrat legislators he called. He wanted it passed in Colorado to help the White House's national agenda. But a fight here is important to keep Colorado free and to prevent Colorado from being a domino for the loss of rights elsewhere. The national implication is certainly for people to be aware of, but this is a case for Coloradans.
Q. Does your campaign against gun control reach outside of Colorado?
A. We have done lots of research and testimony and scholarly articles on national and international topics related to the right to bear arms. That's the way it's always been.
Q. Are there other factors behind the lawsuit aside from its possible conflict with the Constitution? is this how you phrased the question?
A. There are certainly businesses in this case, but they are in the Second Amendment business. They make and sell firearms and accessories. The same way if a bookstore wants to sell a book, it's defending not only its interest in whatever profit it will make in selling the books, it is defending the right of book makers everywhere to sell books. There's also the Americans with Disabilities Act issue. The ADA act requires states to offer a reasonable accommodation rather than interfere or prevent fundamental major life activities. That means that people who have impaired mobility who would have difficulty in retreating if attacked in the home or changing magazines because they only have one arm, are entitled to an accommodation to allow them to use or have the magazine necessary for self defense in their homes. They are the last people able to change magazines in the middle of a criminal attack.
Q. How much of the gun control legislation and the fight against it is partisan?
A. The anti-gun legislation was purely partisan. It had only support from one party. The opposition came from members of both parties.
Q. The institute is seen as right wing. Is this a right-wing cause?
A. If you look at some of the greatest defenders of the Second Amendment, you have people like Hubert Humphrey, who was the embodiment of liberalism in the latter part of the 20th century. We're named for the Declaration of Independence. Those are not principals of the left wing or right wing. Those are principals of human freedom.
Q. Police chiefs in Colorado have come out in favor of the legislation. How do you deal with that?
A. Of course, police chiefs have the right to say whatever they want, but the police chief's association is dominated by the chiefs in Denver and Broomfield. There are plenty of chiefs who have told us privately or publicly they disagree with that position.
Q. What happens if you lose?
A. It would be a sad day for our Constitution and for public safety. There's always the possibility of a more pro-constitutional legislature that would fix the problem on its own.