AUSTIN – As officials and average citizens across the nation debate the gun control issue and President Obama’s proposed regulations, Texans are supporting preemptive legislation that would prevent local enforcement. Montgomery County is leading the charge with HB 1076, and if there were any doubters, it was proven this week in our state Capitol.
The bill, better known as the Firearms Protection Act, was introduced by Representative Steve Toth (R-15th District) and co-sponsored by Rep. Cecil Bell (R-3rd District) and provides protection for law enforcement within the state of Texas from being forced to enforce unconstitutional federal regulations regarding firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition. HB 1076 goes a step beyond some other legislation that has been discussed and introduced. Not only would HB 1076 deny grant funding to any entity enforcing the federal regulations in question, but it would also criminalize that enforcement. Officials found enforcing the regulations would be subject to arrest and Class A misdemeanor charges.
When the House Committee on Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility met Wednesday afternoon and heard testimony on several proposed bills related to the controversial issue, HB 1076 easily had the most support and Montgomery County was well represented both in testimony and attendance by supporters of the bill. In fact, no one from Montgomery County or anywhere else testified against the bill. The Committee Chairman is Montgomery County native and resident Rep. Brandon Creighton R-Dist. 16, another homegrown proponent of Second Amendment rights, who later said it was nice to see so many familiar faces. There were also themes familiar to everyone, with some giving testimony that reached all the way back to Biblical times and the first recorded case of fratricide, which was committed without a gun.
And so it begins…
Rep. Steve Toth spoke first on his bill. The House freshman appeared experienced, poised and confident as he addressed the Committee before a crowd that grew so large, even the overflow room was filled. The number of people remaining to hear testimony on the bill, which was the next to last for the day, was its own statement.
Toth began by quoting George Mason, co-author of the Second Amendment, “To disarm the public is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
Toth explained the reason the Second Amendment was included at a time when Americans were acutely aware of how governments can place people in a position that forces them to choose surrender or fighting that government for their basic rights, and they were looking ahead.
“(Mason), along with the rest of the founding fathers, believed that as good as government leaders could be, they also understood the depth of depravity that people who came into government were capable of,” he said.
“The Second Amendment is a guarantee for all Americans – period – rich, poor, folks of any race, creed, of any faith,” Toth said. “We all have a right to live as free men and women.”
He echoed the theme presented again and again, by law enforcement, elected officials, and average citizens who testified, saying the proposed federal regulations would place law enforcement in “a terrible predicament, forced to choose between upholding federal law that infringes on our second amendment right.”
Rep. Toth and Rep. Creighton pointed out they only had the opportunity to address such an issue with legislation for five months every two years, which necessitated the preemptive strike, particularly with a President who already promised if Congress fails to take action on the regulations, he will do it himself.
Caught in the middle
Some members of law enforcement testifying on HB 1076 and similar bills asked the Committee to take the bill to the House and push to get it passed so they would not be forced to choose whether to abide by federal regulations or the Constitution they swore to uphold. Such was not the case with Montgomery County Pct. 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden, who opened by explaining how he gained his perspective on the subject.
“I grew up as the son of a Texas Constable, and now hold that position myself, in a community where most residents own firearms,” he said. “Like my father before me, I have a good relationship with our law abiding citizens and there is a sacred trust between us.”
The East Montgomery County Constable said he spent his life watching news reports and film clips on activity in “other countries where unarmed citizens are terrified of, and terrorized by law enforcement.”
“I will not be a part of what I believe with all my heart is the beginning of our transition to one of those other countries,” Constable Hayden said. “The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed in our nation’s Constitution and our state Constitution, and I refuse to use my position to trample on the rights our forefathers fought and died to protect.”
He then recalled the recent 177th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo, saying Texans were underestimated by Santa Ana and his large well-armed forces.
“A small, poorly armed, but determined group held the Alamo for 13 days against thousands of well-armed Mexican Army troops,” Constable Hayden said. “The Alamo eventually fell, but it only strengthened the resolve of other Texans. Their courage and sacrifice became the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo,” that spurred General Sam Houston’s forces to victory at the Battle of San Jacinto.”
The Constable said Texans were again being underestimated “by people who don’t understand us, and mistakenly believe they can take away our rights without a fight.”
Lt. Michael Atkins of Montgomery County Precinct 3 Constable Ryan Gable’s Office also testified, saying law enforcement was a “difficult and thankless job,” citing criminals, news media and civil lawsuits as reasons. Atkins said the proposed federal regulations would create another obstacle law enforcement would have to overcome simply to do their job.
“Much like when I joined the Marine Corps, I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment,” Lt. Atkins said. “Asking or requiring Texas law enforcement to participate in second amendment regulations contradicts the oath we swore to uphold.”
“This bill would allow officers to continue their jobs and allow them to perform with a clear conscience and without fear,” he said.
Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage stated his position on HB 1076 by reading aloud a letter he wrote and posted online over a month ago. The Sheriff said he wrote it after he was inundated with calls from concerned citizens inside and outside of Montgomery County, and even from other states, asking his position on the issue. Part of the letter emphasized what most proponents of the Second Amendment consider old fashioned common sense.
In the letter, he stated, “Murder has been a part of human society since Cain killed Able. Taking guns away from law abiding citizens will not stop murder. Reducing the amount of ammunition that a weapon can shoot will not stop murders from occurring, nor will it necessarily reduce the number of people killed in a given specific incident. A person intent on the mass murder of people will find the means to complete the act regardless of whether firearms are available or not.”
The Sheriff’s letter also plainly reassured he would not enforce laws that violate the Constitution.
“I will leave the rule making to the politicians in Washington D.C., as long as those politicians DO NOT attempt to pass legislation that will further restrict the ability of law abiding citizens in their right to keep and bear arms,” he wrote. “I will never support any attempt by the federal government or act in conjunction with any federal agency to confiscate or restrict the possession of firearms by law abiding citizens in Montgomery County.”
Judge takes a stand
Longtime Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts, known for his even temperament and laid back personality, as well as his love of God, Country and firearms, delivered impassioned testimony in favor of the bill, even tossing one of President Obama’s favorite phrases back at him.
“A wise man once said the highways of history are strewn with the wreckage of nations that forgot God,” he said. “They are also littered with remains of peoples that had no weapons to defend themselves.”
The Judge said human beings have a “God given right” and Americans have a “Constitutional right” to “defend ourselves, our families, and our property.”
“We cannot, and will not, stand by and allow them to be infringed upon,” he said.
The Judge then read from an article penned by Ronald Reagan in 1975, before he ran for President. In it, Mr. Reagan said the gun had been called the “great equalizer,” not only because it makes a small person equal to a large person, but because it “insures that the people are the equal of their government whenever that government forgets that it is servant and not master of the governed.”
He wrote when the British forgot that, a revolution occurred and soon our Constitution was born. Mr. Reagan cautioned to give up any part of that Constitution is to give up part of our freedom “and increase the chance that we will lose it all.”
The final Reagan quote read by Judge Metts said simply, “I believe that the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms must not be infringed if liberty in America is to survive.”
The Judge said Ronald Reagan’s words, written nearly 40 years ago are even more relevant today “when our liberal leaders have forced us to draw a line in the sand to protect our most basic rights.”
“As a lifelong Texan, and longtime public servant, I cannot speak for those in other parts of our great country – but I know my state and its people,” Judge Metts said. “This time, ‘let me be clear,’ Mr. President, we are not helpless.”
The Judge ended his remarks saying, “May God bless America, may God bless Texas, and may those who pledge loyalty to both support and uphold our Constitution – Support House Bill 1076.”
An “Amen!” could be heard from somewhere in the audience. The Judge later said he preferred that over applause because he believed he and the others testifying in support of the bill were standing up for the God given right to remain free.
Prosecutor defends Constitution
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam testified on behalf of District Attorney Brett Ligon, who was unable to attend.
“As a prosecutor, I’ve sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the laws of the state of Texas,” Diepraam said, “That’s what we do, what we’re proud of, that’s what we love – and I’ve been doing it for 25 years.”
“As an immigrant I have a unique perspective on the US Constitution, and what it means for us,” he said. “For those reasons, I join the District Attorney in coming forward to support this bill.”
Diepraam said he did not see the bill resulting in local police arresting federal agents, but rather serving as protection “from police officers from being put in an uncomfortable position, or doing something they feel constitutionally prohibited from doing.”
The ladies concur
Doris Golemon, Chief of Staff for Montgomery County Judge Alan “Barb” Sadler also made the trip to Austin to testify. Golemon asked the Committee not to let anyone “mess with Texas and our right to bear arms” and said the Bill of Rights was “too important to be tampered with.”
Chief Deputy Tammy McRae testified on behalf of her boss, Montgomery County Tax Assessor/Collector J.R. Moore, saying the federal government “does not have a right to restrict our constitutional rights.”
Others testified, for a total of 16, not including Representatives Toth or Bell.
Rep. Toth took the opportunity to testify again following the other witnesses.
He reiterated his previous points and responded to one Committee member’s suggestion that the issue should not be used for “grand standing,” saying he agreed that neither side should exploit the issue in that manner. Toth said he did not believe “grand standing” occurred on Wednesday. He explained the urgency that may have been misinterpreted was due to the short time left to enact legislation before going home in May, leaving the state’s law enforcement and civilians at the mercy of the federal government. Knowing the President himself has promised to take action with or without Congress, Toth said he wants safeguards in place now and is acting on behalf of his constituents.
“We have a representative form of government and the folks have spoken back in my district and across the state of Texas that this is a necessary deal – that we get after this,” Toth said.
Rep. Bell, who was seated at the front with the Committee during testimony regarding the bill he co-sponsored, also commented at the end. By then, there were few points not already made, but Bell made reference to some of the hasty legislation passed in other states following tragedies that happen to involve firearms. He said it is of vital importance that legislators “examine reactionary responses” and “do not allow tragedy to erode our constitutional rights.”
VIDEO FULL 90 MINUTE HEARING IN 2 PARTS
VIDEO PART 2