Scoundrel time is back

By David Kopel

Denver Post, February 20, 1996 Tuesday, p. B-06. More by Kopel on pro-gun organizations.

"Sir, have you no shame?" attorney Joseph Welch asked Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954, when McCarthy was attempting to smear a young man as a Communist. The same question ought to be asked to those who are now attempting to tar Larry Pratt, a co-chair of the Pat Buchanan campaign, as a racist and anti-Semite.

I've known Larry for nearly a decade. There's not a racist or anti-Semitic molecule in his body.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Larry pointed out that 20 percent of his staff is Jewish or African-American, that he attends a church with an African-American minister, and that he is a longtime member of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership and of the Congress on Racial Equality. In addition, Larry is married to a Panamanian.

Larry Pratt and his group Gun Owners of America have written literally hundreds of thousands of words on public policy, all of them available to anyone. The people at the misnamed Center for Public Integrity have not cited a single sentence written by Larry or GOA that has any hint of racism or anti-Semitism.

Nor does this "Integrity" group point out that GOA has consistently emphasized the lethal dangers that gun prohibition poses to African-Americans, Jews and other minorities who, when disarmed, are at the mercy of the majority. Whether you agree with this argument or not, it is certainly not an argument likely to be offered by a bigot.

What the center's smear campaign comes down to is this: Larry once attended an informational meeting about the federal government's killing of Sammy and Vicki Weaver. Among the other people who attended the meeting were leaders of racist organizations, and the meeting was organized by a racist.

In other words, Larry must be guilty by association. Even though no one denies that Pratt told the racists at the meeting that he rejected their views. In addition, Pratt was reported to have spoken at rallies that were attended by people in racist groups. What is Pratt supposed to do, post guards at every speech he makes to keep out anyone who may be a racist? Even by this high standard, Pratt has done pretty well.

At a "Preparedness Expo," Larry went to the show's promoter and successfully urged him to order several racist organizations to remove their booths from the premises. Finally, Gun Owners of America has given money to an attorney to help with the Branch Davidians' wrongful death suit against the federal government. The attorney, Kirk Lyons, has (in unrelated cases) represented racists. But then so has the American Civil Liberties Union, and so have most of the criminal defense lawyers in this country. Lawyers aren't supposed to judge a client's entire life; they're supposed to protect the client's legal rights.

Notably, while Pratt has been a strong defender of the right to keep and bear arms, he has also been a powerful voice against legislation that would infringe the rights of immigrants.

For example, he has denounced proposals for the use of secret evidence in deportation proceedings.

Back in 1974, many lifelong Republicans voted Democratic to protest the Republican party's defense of the criminal regime of Richard Nixon. Perhaps some New Hampshire voters will cast their ballot for Buchanan as a protest against the use of character assassination as a political tactic.

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