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Campaign Finance Reform and Gun Control: Partners in Pretense
Jan. 26, 2001

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Campaign finance reform and gun control. Believe it or not, these two agendas have some amazing traits in common.

First of all, both issues are tailor-made for public grandstanding. Demagoguery just seems to gush forth whenever a big wad of money is tied to the political system or a firearm tragedy occurs. In matters of money and death, emotion trumps intellect every time, present day definitely not excluded.

Campaign finance reform devotees characterize the sheer size of a contribution as evil in and of itself. The presence of a quid pro quo is not mandatory. Only the potentialfor some sort of mischief need exist. Gun control advocates tell us that somehow a lifeless object is the source of the problem rather than human action. In the case of a crime that involves gun usage, laws which merely regulate conduct are deemed insufficient. New laws aimed at gun ownership are suddenly desirable and urgently needed.

But here is the rub. Legislation in either area runs counter to the express language of the Constitution. No place in the Constitution authorizes Congress to regulate money given to candidates. Furthermore, the First Amendment protects so-called issue ads asfree speech. Proponents of campaign finance reform know that soft money cannot effectively be banned without closing the issue ad loophole. However, the very groups that attempt to enlighten the public through issue ads are the same alternative sources of information that compete with the conventional media. Advocacy groups of all persuasions would be silenced by the types of proposals that campaign finance reformers seek.

With regard to gun control, firearm ownership regulations contradict the express language contained in the Second Amendment. The language of this amendment simply reiterates one of the unalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. It is a right that government does not bestow. Rather, it is a birthright and may not be infringed.

The second commonality involves the threat to liberty when government gets into the business of regulating specifically determined rights. If a certain type of speech by a certain organization is restricted, other organizations acquire greater power as a result. When an advocacy group is censored, the monopoly power to control information is vested in the mainstream media. The American public already knows that conventional news sources cannot be relied upon to provide the complete picture. When government regulates the possession of firearms, the monopoly power is vested in the criminal.

Thirdly, new laws mean nothing if existing laws are not enforced. Campaign finance laws have been on the books for approximately 25 years. In recent times we have seen troubling allegations of foreign campaign contributions, individual limit violations and policy changes that appear to be payoffs. So many times the public has witnessed failure on the part of officials to apply the law in even the most obvious cases. And with tens of thousands of gun laws on the books, and additional laws prohibiting criminal conduct while using a gun, the same principle applies. Why bother to pass new laws when old laws are basically ignored?

Fourthly, facts are consistently dismissed by supporters of campaign finance reform and champions of gun control. There is an excessive conflict of interest involved when legislators are asked to regulate the source of their incumbency. Campaign finance reform turns out to be an incumbency protection plan that allows currentpoliticians to stay in office and hampers challengers from using grassroots resources. Politicians who are pushing for campaign finance reform know that it will never work. They know that the Supreme Court has already struck down restrictions on issue ads. Since there is no way to eliminate soft money without eliminating issue ads, it is justempty rhetoric.

Gun control enthusiasts ignore the millions of crimes each year that are thwarted in a non-violent way, due to the mere presence of a firearm in the hands of an intended victim. The fact that crime rates plummet in every jurisdiction that allows "concealedcarry" is, for the most part, kept secret.

What we do need is enforcement of campaign finance laws. We need to provide for full and complete disclosure of all contributions and continue to safeguard the First Amendment. And we also need enforcement of gun laws. We need policies that properly advance the spirit and letter of the Second Amendment.

The Constitution has proven itself a venerable document. Its fundamental principle is that of liberty. We must make it clear to campaign finance reformers, gun control advocates and politicians who try to use these vehicles as a path to more power that the Constitution has friends in common and diverse places who will oversee its care and ensure its preservation.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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