Personnel is policy. The success of the new President is dependent not only on articulating his vision for America and his commitment to policies that will realize that vision, but also on appointing people to his management and policy team--from the Cabinet-level Secretary to the confidential assistant in an agency office--who share that vision and are willing to work tirelessly to make it a reality. -- Robert E. Moffit, Director of Domestic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, 8 January 2001, writing about the George "Dubya" Bush transition.
It should be noted that Burke is not a newcomer to the business of gun control. In an article in the Arizona Republic about the political ramifications on Arizona politicians for supporting gun control, former Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), a supporter of the Clinton "Assault Weapons Ban", had this to say about Dennis Burke:DeConcini credits Judiciary Committee staff aide Dennis Burke, now the U.S. attorney for Arizona, for much of the work in developing the ban, which became law during DeConcini's final year in the Senate but expired after 10 years.Burke also was Senior Policy Analyst for the White House's Domestic Policy Council from 1995 to 1997. This time overlaps with when Elena Kagan - now Justice Kagan - served as its Deputy Director. It was during this time that Executive Orders were used to further extend the ban on so-called assault weapons and to implement the Brady Act. Given his prior work on the Assault Weapons Ban in the Senate, it would not surprise me that Burke assisted in this effort.Looking at Burke's background and his attitude towards gun rights and those who support them, I see this as even further confirmation that the intent of Operation Fast and Furious from the very beginning was to build support for another so-called assault weapons ban. I just don't think it was coincidental that Operation Fast and Furious was centered in Arizona as opposed New Mexico or west Texas where the U.S. Attorneys have long careers as prosecutors. -- John Richardson.
"Banning guns is an idea whose time has come." -- United States Senator Joe Biden, quoted by AP, 18 November 1993.
Let us step into the Wayback Machine with Peabody and Sherman to the year 1989. George Herbert Walker Bush, Dubya's daddy, has just won the 1988 election. On 17 January, Patrick Purdy commits the Stockton California school yard massacre with a semi-automatic Kalashnikov that he bought in a Sandy, Oregon gun shop despite an extensive history of criminal arrests for everything from male prostitution to drug dealing to being an accomplice to armed robbery. Oddly enough, Purdy was able to buy the weapon legally, for despite his long list of criminal arrests, HE HAD NEVER BEEN CONVICTED OF A DISQUALIFYING CRIME by the California "justice system" nor had he been adjudicated mentally ill.
Purdy, a guy who apparently hated all humanity but particularly Asian immigrants (he had flirted with joining the Aryan Nations), killed five little kids and wounded 29 others, plus a school teacher. He then blew his own brains out with a pistol. On the stock of the AK Purdy had carved the words "freedom", "victory", "Earthman", and "Hezbollah" and he was wearing a Vietnam era flak jacket upon which he written "PLO", "Libya", and "death to the Great Satin" with a Magic Marker. It is assumed he meant Satan not satin, but then Purdy had been determined to be borderline mentally retarded as well.
Now this act was a powerful indictment of the California justice system -- that an essentially career criminal had been able to be arrested so many times yet never convicted of a serious crime that disqualified him from legally buying a weapon. Yet did the political elites react with demands to fix that system? Of course not. They took steps to ban semiautomatic rifles of military appearance and utility. In this, they were following in lockstep a path set out previously by citizen disarmament advocates like Josh Sugarmann of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (now of the more deceptively named Violence Policy Center) who understood how to use use the corruption of language to shape political battlefields.
"Assault weapons — just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms — are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons. In addition, few people can envision a practical use for these weapons." - Josh Sugarmann, Assault Weapons and Accessories in America, 1988
The application of the term "assault weapon," which in fact referred to full auto military rifles and machine guns, was a brilliant stroke on Sugarmann's part. Anti-gun politicians, with whom Sugarmann spoke regularly, leaped on the opportunity to obscure the differences in the public mind and thereby obtain the political consent for a outright ban. From this point in our Wayback Machine trip, I am going to let Dennis DeConcini, then powerful Democrat Senator from Arizona, be our guide, for truly he was right in the middle of subsequent events. With him all the way was a rising star in the Democrat gun control universe, a fellow you probably have heard of if you've read this column more than once -- Dennis K. Burke. The following is excerpted from DeConcini's memoir, Senator Dennis DeConcini: From the Center of the Aisle, University of Arizona Press, 2006.
Prior to this event, I was a strong Second Amendment supporter . . . my voting record in that regard made me an NRA "100 percenter" . . . But the firearm usede in the Stockton massacre, an inexpensive Chinese version of the Soviet AK-47, drew considerable media attention. . . Even First Lady Barbara Bush was surprised to learn that they were legal in the United States. She thought they had been banned, but following the Stockton massacre, she said, "They should be."In this changing context, on February 8, 1989 . . . Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D -- OH) introduced S386, the Assault Weapon Control Act of 1989. Responding to a reporter's question Metzenbaum announced his motivation . . . "No," he said, "we're not looking at how to control criminals . . . we're talking about banning AK-47s and semi-automatic guns." Indeed, the great national debate over federal legislation dealing with automatic weapons had reached a milestone. -- pp. 106-107.
Note that even here, DeConcini mistakenly -- or perhaps intentionally -- elides the differences between full auto and semi auto weapons.
In addition to Metzenbaum's legislative proposal, the newly installed George H.W. Bush administration took action that further placed gun control at the forefront of public debate. On March 14, 1989, after several cities and states had passed laws banning various automatic weapons . . . William Bennett, on his first day as "drug czar," issued a one-page statement that was in essence a reversal of Republican policy: "Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady and I have discussed assault weapons and he has decided to suspend, effective immediately, the importation of several types of assault-type weapons. . . Three weeks later, on April 5, 1989, President Bush, who had taken a few tepid steps toward the gun-control supporters, expanded on Bennett's pronouncement and on the suspension on the importation of assault weapons."
Ah, yes, George H.W. Bush, the recent annointee of Mitt Romney as the next GOP presidential candidate. Many trace the elder Bush's treason to the Second Amendment here as one of the principal cause of his reelection defeat in 1992. A read of Dave Kopel's George Bush and the NRA is instructive for background. DeConcini continues:
. . . At this time I received intense lobbying from both camps. Several police organizations, supportive of gun control in general and of the Metzenbaum bill in particular, approached me with the intent of seeking my endorsement of the legislation. At first, I rebuffed these overtures because I thought Senator Metzenbaum's bill was too draconian and could not generate enough support to become law. I agreed with the motivation and intent of the Ohio senator's legislative proposal, but after seriously reviewing the bill I had deep reservations about its broad provisions. . . I consulted with my majority counsel to the Judiciary Committee, Dennis Burke, who rightfully informed me that I could not turn my back on the police organizations, who, like the NRA, had supported me. -- pp. 108-109.
Ah, yes, the "police organizations," who were so very happy to be federalized and militarized and pampered and supported with ever greater budgets throughout the ever-growing drug war. Of course they were the "Only Ones" who could be trusted with guns, weren't they? You know why they call tyrannies "police states" don't you? Because the police call the shots. DeConcini:
(The NRA's) inflexible stance, coupled with the pressing need to take action, prompted me to offer a middle way through this political quagmire. . . (DeConcini then crafted, with the help of Dennis K. Burke, the "Anti-Drug Assault Weapons Limitation Act of 1989.) . . . In effect, my bill banned future sales of several types of semiautomatic assault weapons, both domestic and imported, but allowed present owners to keep their firearms. S747 called for prohibition of nine specific firearms, none of which was typically used for hunting . . . Dennis Burke helped navigate this legislation through seemingly innumerable obstacles. He has recalled that NRA officers and members "went through the roof" because to them I had defected to the other side. They immediately began a direct mail campaign against me. They also instituted a mass phone campaign to derail the proposed legislation. One humorous memo from Senator John McCain suggested the degree of commitment the NRA had in trying to scuttle my bill. . . "I mean, how many times can you hear the argument that it's every red-blooded American's right to carry an AK-47 to defend himself against those really vicious attack deer wearing Kevlar vests?" -- pp. 109-110.. . . Dennis Burke reported that the lies and exaggerations (of the NRA) stretched credulity and were almost humorous, but we had to acknowledge that the NRA was sending this material to the voters of Arizona. Although this mailing no doubt caused me political damage, I knew that the NRA was hurting itself with this extreme reaction. My bill would prevent even harsher legislation . . .(Here, DeConcini recounts the struggle to get his version of the ban out of the Senate Judiciary Committee which was split along party lines. In the footnotes to this chapter he tells us: "Dennis Burke had many duties, but he was one of my primary staff on the Judiciary Committee." DeConcini indicates that a crucial vote was Arlen Specter, GOP Senator from Pennsylvania, who played coy games about the vote.) Although the Republicans on the committee remained calm, my counsel, Dennis Burke, informed me that in this particular instance Specter could be a wild card. . .As Dennis and I waited and watched while the deadline for voting approached, we noticed that the Republican on the committee grew increasingly nervous. Several aides were sent to find Specter. Judiciary Committee Joe Biden (D-Delaware) counted off the final seconds. As he prepared to announce that the bill passed seven to six, Specter entered the room and stunned all of us with his actions. He looked at Biden and said, "I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman, I can't vote on this bill. My staff has not briefed me adequately." Then he turned and walked out. With that weird ending to the hearings, the Judiciary Committee moved my bill to the Senate floor. -- pp. 111-112
DeConcini reports that Specter's motivations were provided by several national police organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Police Organizations, and the International Organization of Chiefs of Police, who backed the bill. When it came to more gun control and citizen disarmament, these groups of tax-feeders have ever been faithful soldiers against the Constitution they swore to uphold. Fast forward to May 1990. The bill is one of three anti-gun proposals -- Deconcini's, Metzenbaum's and one by Strom Thurmond -- which are competing to be included in a larger bill, S1970, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. Deconcini's was already in the language of the bill, having been voted out of committee thanks to Specter's strange performance. The DeConcini/Burke plan was almost deleted beforehand because Joe Biden didn't think they had the votes. In a late night meeting in the office of then Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, DeConcini, ably supported by Burke's staff work, was able to keep his language in the bill. Metzenbaum's and Thurmond's plans, then, would have to be voted on as amendments, to stand or fall on their own. DeConcini:
On May 22, 1990, Senator Metzenbaum passionately spoke in behalf of his bill . . . His bill was soundly defeated, eighty-two to seventeen. The Senate then turned to Senator Hatch's motion to strike what he called the "Deconcini ban" from the crime bill, S1970. I recall how Dennis Burke and I prepared for defeat, believing nwe had done everything we could to win. After two hours and fifteen minutes of debate, the Senate chose to recess at around 10:45 that night and would reconvene at 9:30AM the next day, May 23.That morning Dennis Burke and other staff members placed a number of postersize photographs of the assault weapons to be banned on easels at the back of the Senate chamber. The impact was that these guns looked nothing like hunting rifles. Senators began gathering in groups, gazing at the photos and shaking their heads. I stood before the photo of the Streetsweeper and asked a senator beside me, "Would you go hunting with this?" . . . An extraordinary thing took place on the Senate floor that day. Floor debate was aimed more for the record than to convince colleagues to vote one way or the other. Most votes were decided long before being cast. In this case, however, senators were making their decisions on the Senate floor. As they lingered around the photos and talked, Dennis Burke, thinking quickly, contacted several law enforcement leaders and had them call the senators, saying they would provide cover from any NRA attack. . . When the clerk reported the final tally, fifty-one to forty-nine, to uphold the assault weapons ban, we could barely contain ourselves. -- pp. 114-115.
The victory was Dennis K. Burke's as much, or even more, than Dennis DeConcini's. Burke had become a potent player in the drive for more gun control. And that drive began in 1989, two decades before he was selected by the Obama administration to go back out and run the Phoenix U.S. Attorney's office and a little program called Fast and Furious.
Note: In Personnel is Policy, Part Two, we track Dennis K. Burke as the Clinton Administration comes into power and he shepherds both the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons ban through the Senate Judiciary Committee and then leaves the Senate to become a policy player in the Clinton Administration whose principal concern is more gun control.