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Misfiring at Harlon Carter
The media and anti-gun groups fire
a steady stream of misinformation.

Written by Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute

A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a thoughtful and
carefully-researched article about the internal politics of the National Rifle
Association. Amazingly, the article dealt with the NRA's pro-freedom
worldview in a respectful, nuanced manner, rather than with the shrill
contempt which so often characterizes the old media. 

The article did have some factual errors, such as mistakenly claiming that
it was the 1995 Republican Congress, rather than the 1994 Democratic
Congress, which was responsible for passing the (failure known as the)
"Brady Bill." 

A much more serious error, however, is the description of the late Harlon
Carter, the leading architect of the NRA's transformation from a
sportsman's club into the most powerful civil liberties organization in the
history of the world. According to the Post, "Asked in 1975 if he would
rather let convicted violent felons and the mentally deranged buy guns than
endorse a screening process for gun sales, Carter did not hesitate to say
yes. That's the 'price we pay for freedom.'" 

Not really. At the 1975 congressional hearing, a congressman asked the
question described by the Post, but when Carter began to answer, the
congressman cut him off, saying he wanted a different witness to answer.
In the official transcript, Carter's answer is "The price we pay for freedom

The Post's inadvertent distortion of Carter's meaning was doubtless the
product of an interview with someone from a Washington anti-gun lobby,
where the politics of personal destruction have been the norm for decades.

Misrepresenting Carter's statement was pretty mild compared to other
attacks that Handgun Control, Inc., launched on Carter. One fundraising
letter from HCI featured a picture of Harlon Carter on the envelope. The
letter screamed that Carter "has seen to it that thousands of life-loving
people like you and me DIE every year shot with a handgun." 

The Handgun Control letter continued: "50 years ago, Carter shot and
killed a 15-year-old boy and was convicted of murder." 

The letter omitted the fact that Carter was defending his mother's ranch
against a gang of intruders led by the "boy," and that the "boy" was
menacing Carter with a knife. At the trial, the judge was the prosecutor's
father-in-law, and he refused to let Carter introduce evidence of

Having left out the crucial facts about Carter's innocence, the Handgun
Control letter complained that the conviction "was reversed on the
technical grounds that the judge had not given the jurors adequate
instructions about the law of self-defense." Actually, it wasn't just the
instructions that were inadequate; all the evidence about self-defense had
been excluded. 

Most people would think that a citizen's shooting of a criminal should be
judged by whether the citizen was acting in self-defense. But Handgun
Control apparently considers innocent persons who shoot criminals to be
as bad as common murderers since self-defense is only a

This fits rather well with Mrs. Sarah Brady's standard: "To me, the only
reason for guns in civilian hands is for sporting purposes." (Tom Jackson,
"Keeping the Battle Alive," Tampa Tribune, Oct. 21, 1993.) Al Gore
claims that the NRA is against "family values" because they don't back the
anti-gun proposals which he copies from HCI the nation's leading
anti-defense lobby. 

What kind of family values hold that a young man shouldn't protect his
mother from violent gangsters with knives? 

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