Above: A girl holds a pro-gun sign at the Guns Across America rally in Austin, Texas, January 19, 2013.
There was a pro-gun rally at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. Normally those events take place in front of the Capitol, but this one occurred in the basement, in Extension Room E.036 during a hearing of the House Select Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility.
Tea partiers, Libertarians and Republicans showed up in force to testify in support of seven similar bills that would assert Texas’ state sovereignty or would void any new federal gun control laws within state boundaries. The bills themselves may not have much impact. State laws can’t invalidate federal laws—that’s usually considered unconstitutional—but that didn’t stop supporters of gun rights from putting on one the most entertaining hearings so far this session.
The theme of the day was exemplified by Michelle Prescott who quoted the late Planet of the Apes star and National Rifle Association spokesman Charlton Heston: “I say the Second Amendment is in order of importance, the first amendment. It is America’s First Freedom, the one right that protects all of the others. Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of redress of grievances, it is the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute capacity to live without fear. The right to keep and bear arms is the one right that allows ‘rights’ to exist.”
Not to be outdone, other witnesses gave historical and religious examples of the need for citizens to take up arms against government tyranny, citing the Holocaust and the Nazis, the Taiwanese “White Terror” era, China’s Tiananmen Square, the battle for the Alamo, the American Revolution, the disarmament of black freedmen in the South, Harvard’s Milgram Experiment on Obedience, and the biblical stories of Cain and Abel, and Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt.
Witnesses name-checked Ted Nugent, Justice Antonin Scalia, Ronald Reagan, the Fourth Amendment, the First Amendment and the Tenth Amendment in verbal defense of their Second Amendment rights.
Testimony for HB 553, by Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton) got mucky when the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, took to the stand as a neutral witness. Otto’s bill would make it a Class B misdemeanor—a fine of $5,000 or 180 days imprisonment—for any state employees or law enforcement officials to uphold potential federal gun laws.
Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) wanted to know how this would be implemented: “Who would arrest this officer?”
McCraw took a stab at it: “As I read it, it would be a state charge to enforce a federal law.” But that didn’t sound quite right, so Walle asked again, after a few more confused-sounding sentences from McCraw.
“Who would be the arresting officer? A federal or state officer,” Walle asked.
McCraw answered: “At the end of the day it’s the will of the Legislature. And what you pass, we enforce.”
Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) put forward HB 928, which would ban state agencies or officials from upholding federal regulations of firearms, firearm accessories and firearm ammunition.
Krause said he “got the idea” for the bill from Mario Loyola, the director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank. After the hearing, Loyola told the Observer he would rather let Krause characterize his involvement, rather than say whether he worked on the legislation. “When I first saw a draft of the bill I was surprised. I found out that they had read my article when I saw the bill,” he said.
Monty Goodell spoke “from his heart” in support of HB 928. Goodell concluded his testimony with this: “You’ve heard the analogy of a mama bear and her cubs. … Well, I’m the daddy bear and I have to protect everybody. And without firearms to protect them you may as well just put me in a zoo with the other bears that don’t have a life. Is that what we want for our country,” he said. “Do we want Germany and internment camps and Nazis? Is that what we want for our government? I don’t think so. “
“Well said,” said committee chair Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe).
A slew of Montgomery County folks were ready to take the stand in favor of Rep. Steve Toth’s (R- The Woodlands) HB 1076. The bill proposes—like HB 553—to nullify new federal gun control laws and assign penalties to state entities or officials who upheld federal laws knowingly. This bill suggests a Class A misdemeanor and a withdrawal of funding to state entities that enforce federal laws.
“It’s that it’s not the tool in a person’s hand that endangers society, it’s the evil in a wanton heart. And no law will ever shield us from that,” Toth said. “This is not a Republican or Democrat deal. This is not a conservative or liberal deal. This is not an Obama or Bush deal. This is about liberty. And we all hold that dear.”
All seven bills were left pending in the committee.
Other notable testimony:
William O’Sullivan with the Texas Patriots PAC chatted during his testimony with Creighton about what kind of gun he prefers and what kind of gun O’Sullivan thinks a woman might more comfortably use.
David Carter pulled out what he said was a CSCOPE curriculum book from 2002, during his testimony for HB 1076, and said the “far left liberals who basically control the education standards” who wrote the book say “’justice will be redefined to mean ‘whatever the police force is able to do.’ And that’s the way the world works a lot of the time,” he said. “People get away with what they can.”
Houston Pastor Aubrey Vaughan got biblical on HB 553: “Why would a pastor support gun rights? Because God gave us rights to bear arms,” he said. He reminded the committee that “realism is the bottom line.”
Ryan Lambert testified four times on different bills, unraveling that his wife was “made in Taiwan,” that he and a friend were held up at gunpoint in Venezuela – a country where private gun ownership is illegal, and that HB 627 is a nice way to “be able to regulate our own firearms…without having to pick a fight with our own government.”
Firearms retailer John Harrington asked the committee to “stop engaging in compromise on bills on things that involve our freedom. Because compromise in this day and age,” he said, “is nothing more than surrender on the installment plan.”