Gun rights activist Larry Pratt warned gun owners against complacency and urged them to pressure politicians to regain lost rights.

With the re-election of President George W. Bush and with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, there is little likelihood of more obviously anti-gun bills being passed at the federal level during the next four years, he said.

"Any direct attack is not likely to come. So in some ways it's really easy for somebody who's not paying a lot of attention to what goes on politically to say: 'We've won, let's go do other things.'"

However, we cannot afford to forget the wisdom of the founding fathers that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, he said.

Pratt was the keynote speaker at the Texas Concealed Handgun Association annual banquet in Waco. He is the executive director of Gun Owners of America, a national membership organization of 300,000 dedicated to promoting the second amendment freedom to keep and bear arms.

He described some of the major restrictions to gun rights that have been enacted legislatively since the 1920s.

    * In the 1920s and 1930s, every state passed concealed-carry laws requiring government permission for people to defend themselves with guns out on the streets, Pratt said. They were passed to "ensure we didn't have too many blacks running around with guns. The Vermont Supreme Court overturned the law in that state and so Vermont remained the only state to be free of such gun controls."

    * In 1934, Congress was still afraid to pass gun-control legislation that would contravene the second amendment as well as the 10th amendment which restricts the federal government from being involved in any area not specified in the Constitution. The attitude, according to Pratt, was: "We're not going to control machine guns, wink, wink, we're just going to tax them."

    * In 1938, Congress passed legislation that required gun dealers to have a federal license. "Conceptually that was a big step because now the feds were totally unconstitutionally reaching down and telling an individual, where they had no jurisdiction whatsoever, what the individual had to do."

    * In the early 1990s, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning guns from schools on the grounds that the federal government exceeded its jurisdiction. However, Congress just re-enacted the law with different wording and it has not been challenged, Pratt said

    * In 1994, the semi-auto ban was passed with a 10-year sunset provision which has recently expired. "Good thing we didn't have to have an actual vote to get it off because for one thing, I don't think the president would have signed the repeal bill," he added.

    * Also in 1994, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (and now Explosives) became "a national zoning czar," pushing more than 100,000 gun dealers out of business, Pratt said. "They determine whether or not you will get a permit to be a dealer partly on the basis of whether or not you can show that you've got the approved papers from your locality to operate your firearms business where it is you are operating it."

    * In 1996, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey tacked an amendment onto an appropriations bill that retroactively banned anyone convicted of a misdemeanor of domestic violence from owning a gun, Pratt said. He said he once debated Lautenberg, who is Jewish, on Fox News. According to Pratt, Lautenberg said he couldn't understand why Pratt and the gun lobby objected to reasonable gun control like registration and licensing of guns. "I looked at him in disbelief and I said: 'I can't believe I just heard this United States senator say that he is for the very same laws that were used by the Nazis to murder millions of Jews.' And he almost went berserk. He could not speak."

Pratt said gun owners have been nice guys and compromised about gun control far too often in the hope that law makers won't go too far.

"Well, that nice guy stuff doesn't cut it. They just keep taking from nice guys and so we've been losing, losing, losing," he said.

Gun Owners of America went after Orrin Hatch, the U.S. senator from Utah who, in the wake of the Columbine shooting incident, was trying to pass a bill that would have shut down gun shows. Pratt said GOA attacked Hatch on his record and cost him $600,000 during his re-election campaign. When he was re-elected, he killed his own bill despite support from Trent Lott, the Republican Senate leader, and Republican Senator Don Nickles.

"That's how the gun show bill never made it; because confrontational politics was finally practiced by our side. The other side has been doing this to us for years," Pratt said.

Conservative Republicans are too nice, he said. They let the Democrats define the terms and tactics of the debate. Gun owners should be insisting that their senators and representatives retract gun control laws.

"They need to be encouraged. That's a nice word for a fire lit under them." Pratt quoted Senator Everett Durkson of Illinois: "When I feel the heat, I see the light."

"They need a little heat and their vision does improve. It's a known law of medicine and physics. And so we need to be putting that heat on them. We want to see gun control laws taken off," he said.

He warned that if Hillary Clinton becomes the next president with the current gun control laws still in place, "Kiss it off. She has everything she needs in place. We've got to get this stuff off now while the getting is good.

“We need an infectious commitment to putting the heat on (politicians) and to reminding them that the battle has only just begun; that there is a war under way and it's a war against our guns," Pratt said.

Chris Bird is second vice-president of the Texas Concealed Handgun Association and is author of The Concealed Handgun Manual.

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