Rudy and Guns: The Case For Federalism

June 10, 2007

In 1993, when Rudy Giuliani was elected as Mayor of New York City, it was conventionally known as the “crime capital” of America.  NYC then averaged about 35-40 homicides a week, and 10,000 felonies per week.  Tax paying, law abiding citizens were fleeing New York in record numbers, with about half of them citing the fact that they or someone they knew had been a victim of violent crime in the city.

When Rudy Giuliani assumed the office of mayor in 1994, he had his work cut out for him.  City Hall had been unable to make any real dent in the crime problem pre-Giuliani.  His predecessor, David Dinkins, refused to see the violent crime issue as a matter of enforcement, rather placing the blame solely on poverty and lack of education.  The solution to which, Dinkins asserted, was more taxpayer-funded social programs.  They didn’t work.

Conversely, Mayor Giuliani combined new, innovative accountability practices with vigorous enforcement of the law, and at the end of his tenure, saw great successes.  Murders and violent crimes (specifically gun crimes) were down tremendously.  The FBI at that time declared that New York City had become “the safest large city in America.”

How did he do it?

Mayor Giuliani admits that some modest gun control measures played a part in this drop, but perhaps his support for gun control has been blown out of proportion.  Rudy, as a revered prosecutor who, during the 80’s, ran the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Reagan administration, is an expert in law and knows the Constitution and its Second Amendment-guaranteed right to bear arms well.

Here’s what Rudy proposed in 2000: “I do not think the government should cut off the right to bear arms. My position for many years has been that just as a motorist must have a license, a gun owner should be required to have one as well. Anyone wanting to own a gun should have to pass a written exam that shows that they know how to use a gun, that they’re intelligent enough and responsible enough to handle a gun.”

Rudy’s view in no way infringes upon the basic Second Amendment personal right to own a firearm.  But, like every constitutional right, there are reasonable precautions that should be taken.  For instance, while Americans cherish the right to free speech, no one objects to arresting someone who makes a serious verbal threat against the life of a President.  And while this country was founded on the freedom to practice religion, no one expects the authorities to stand idly by if someone’s “religion” mandates murder or pedophilia.

With wild accusations now flying that Rudy is a “gun grabber” who advocates or has advocated abolishing the right to personal ownership of firearms or a national gun registration system, perhaps it’s time to set the record straight.

Here’s the kind of gun control Rudy has actually advocated:

  • Rudy supported the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, named for James Brady (Reagan’s press secretary who was grievously wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on the President).  This bill established a five-day waiting period to buy a gun, which was implemented partially as a “cool-off” time to deter impulsive suicides and crimes of passion, and partially to allow for a background check on the person wanting to purchase firearm.
  • In his second mayoral term, Mr. Giuliani endorsed amendments to the City Charter requiring gun owners to use child safety trigger locks when storing their weapons, and banning guns within 1,000 feet of schools.
  • He also endorsed a bill in Albany that suggested that new guns be test-fired so that the police would have ballistic records, and asked for background checks to be conducted when purchasing a firearm at a gun show or flea market.

Rudy understands the difference between guns and those who misuse them.  All of the gun control measures Rudy implemented have been very reasonable when taken in the context of the crime situation that New York City faced upon his inauguration as mayor.  But, most importantly, Rudy understands the importance of allowing the individual states the right to protect gun ownership freedoms as broadly as they desire.  Rudy is a true federalist in this regard, and this philosophy has been shown throughout history to be the most effective.

In America, where the federalist system prevails, states routinely protect their own constitutional rights to gun ownership.

Throughout the 1800’s, politicians in states like Kentucky and Georgia tried to enact overreaching gun control measures, and they were each time overruled by the states’ Supreme Courts as unconstitutional.  This is quite unlike the recent situations in countries like Canada, England, and Australia, where the federal governments have all but banned the personal ownership of firearms, even for self-defense, to no avail.

In the past two decades, England has implemented more and more restrictive gun control laws, and in 1997, banned all handguns.  Instead of the crime rates decreasing, criminals now know that their potential victims will be unarmed, and, as a result, the homicide rate in the U.K. bounded by 50% between 1990-2000, and in 1996, the U.K.’s violent crime rate surpassed that of supposedly “gun-negligent” America.

After shocking murders in 1996, the Australian government launched a pricey $500 million+ campaign to confiscate and destroy legally purchased and owned handguns from law-abiding citizens.  As a result, armed robbery increased 166% nationwide, and Australia’s violent crime rate increased in stark contrast to America’s decrease during the same period.

In marked disparity, New York City displayed the exact opposite trend.  By the end of Mayor Giuliani’s tenure, overall crime was down 56%, murder was down 66%, and, importantly, gun-related crimes went down significantly.  Yet, Rudy recognizes that what works for New York City might not work for New Mexico.  “There can be reasonable restrictions, and they largely should be done by state and…done by legislature,” he stated at a March 12 press conference in Washington.

The difference between America’s “states’ rights”-focused model and the more “federalized”-focused model of countries like England and Australia, is that America retains the right of its individual states to defend their constitutional freedoms against any new, impulsive, overreaching gun control laws the federal government might try to impose across the entire land.  This is something that Rudy knows and understands well, and is why Rudy has proposed no new federal gun controls in a future presidential administration.

“His history is of enforcing gun laws, not of gun control,” said Anthony V. Carbonetti, a senior adviser to Giuliani. “Rudy took over a city that averaged over 2,000 murders a year, and 90-some-odd percent were gun-related murders. It was all about taking guns out of the hands of criminals.  Responsible gun owners will see him as an ally.”

Rudy Giuliani is not advocating, and has never advocated, the repeal of the personal right to bear arms, nor is he advocating a national gun registration system.  Rudy is all about keeping guns in the hands of the good guys, and disarming the bad guys.  Wayne LaPierre, Executive VP of the NRA, recently highlighted the fact that cities like Los Angeles are trying unsuccessfully to use gun control as a substitute for criminal control.

LaPierre recounted: “Back in October, a gang of teens viciously assaulted a group of women in Long Beach.  Months later, some of these ladies still haven’t recovered from their injuries.  But instead of charging the teenagers as adults as the law allows, prosecutors went after them in juvenile court.  And instead of years behind bars for their assault, most of them got off with probation, community service, and two months of house arrest.  What type of message does this send to violent criminals?  Assault people within an inch of their lives, and you’re going to be ‘grounded’ for two months?  Is that going to make any criminal think twice before he breaks the law?”

This is exactly the approach that Giuliani took issue with as Mayor, and that is why Giuliani reformed New York’s law enforcement system with tough, innovative tactics such as “Broken Windows” policing, which focused on enforcing all laws, even minor ones, which led to a reduction in major crimes as well, and “CompStat” programs, where up-to-date statistics of certain crimes in certain areas were made available to track, and where regular meetings were held to keep law enforcement officers accountable for their areas of responsibility.  Giuliani was often criticised for being supposedly “too tough” on crime, but his tactics worked.

Giuliani got hounded for cracking down on petty subway turnstyle-jumpers until it was found that 1 out of 7 turnstyle-jumpers also happened to be a wanted felon.  Giuliani suffered many a nasty remark for driving away the squeegee men who would wash car windows and then demand payment (often violently), until their absence brought people back into New York City, revitalizing the tourism industry.  Giuliani’s top-down approach to fighting gun crime by enforcing the law was what worked, and it’s something both the NRA and Rudy Giuliani understand and agree upon.

Rudy Giuliani is not running for President to advance some liberal social platform of more federal gun control.  He has unequivocally stated that a Giuliani presidential administration will defend the overall right to personal ownership of firearms for both self-defense and recreation and leave the specifics up to the individual localities.  Rudy Giuliani’s approach is about federalism, not only because it works, but because it’s constitutional.  As the tough-on-crime prosecutor who brought down New York’s most powerful organized crime rings and drug dealers, and as the Mayor who turned the once crime-rampant New York City around 180 degrees, Rudy Giuliani understands both the practical and constitutional benefit of the Second Amendment better than perhaps any other conservative running for President in 2008.

Josiah Schmidt


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