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Smoking Guns By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, May 12, 2003


EVERY SUNDAY CBS’ "60 MINUTES" FIRES A HIT PIECE concocted to damage President George W. Bush. Its May 11 smear attack, implying that Mr. Bush and the Republican Party were eager to put firearms into criminal hands, demonstrated journalistic dishonesty as slanted and partisan as that of the self-righteously leftist New York Times.

The "hero" of the CBS story was Robert Ricker, who after two decades working as "a top lawyer for the NRA [National Rifle Association] as well as the chief spokesman for the gun industry," suddenly in 1999 switched sides.

He was being interviewed four years later, correspondent Ed Bradley made plain, because "Last month, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill to shield gun makers from liability lawsuits and the Senate is expected to do the same. A vote could come as early as next week, and President Bush has indicated he will sign it into law."

The oath taken in courts of law has those testifying swear to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…" A half-truth can be as dishonest as an outright lie. Like so many news reports on CBS, what viewers got last Sunday was a patchwork of half-truths crafted to deceive.

If this had been an honest report, some unasked questions would have been raised and probed. Why did Ricker leave those lucrative jobs? "Because he was at odds with the hardliners in the gun industry," reported Bradley, "Ricker resigned under pressure in 1999."

But is not the phrase "resigned under pressure" a way of saying he was pushed out, in effect fired? Is revenge, getting even, one of his motives in attacking his former employers? CBS never asked, or never let us see Ricker’s answer.

One unmentioned reason for his resignation is that Ricker had embraced Hugh Rodham, brother of the First Lady Hillary Clinton. In May 1999, apparently through Rodham’s intercession as reported by CNN, Ricker met in the White House with top Clinton officials to discuss "negotiating a possible settlement" to lawsuits filed against the firearms industry by the Castano group of trial lawyers in behalf of five cities. Among the Castano lawyers, as he had been for one of the tobacco lawsuits, was Hugh Rodham.

To put this in context, the Clinton Administration was gearing up to use gangster-like tactics to force gunmaker Smith & Wesson to the brink of bankruptcy. The venerated manufacturer was being targeted by everything from harassing city lawsuits to federal regulatory terrorism. S&W, under new foreign ownership, would be forced to sign agreements with Clinton officials that, in the eyes of Second Amendment advocates, paved a fast four-lane highway to national firearms confiscation.

For Ricker, Executive Director of the industry-formed American Shooting Sports Council, to cozy up to Hugh Rodham and voluntarily carry a white flag of surrender into the gun-rights-hating Clinton White House seemed to most firearms and hunting enthusiasts an outrage. That is why he was "pressured" to resign.

Which brings us to the second question CBS never asked: Mr. Ricker, after losing the handsome income of your previous jobs, how have you made money? The unappetizing answer, hinted at but never spelled out in the "60 Minutes" interview, is that after going over to the other side Ricker has apparently been in the pay of the anti-gun side and those very trial lawyers suing the gun industry.

"Ricker is the star witness in several lawsuits accusing the gun manufacturers of reckless and ‘willful inaction’ — of placing no controls over the dealers and distributors who sell their guns," said Bradley. Some of these dealers allegedly turn a blind eye to "straw purchasers," people who can pass Federal background checks, who buy guns that might then be transferred to criminals who could not pass background checks.

When Bradley quoted some of the defenses of the gun industry that Ricker had given in media interviews prior to 1999, Ricker replied directly. "I was doing my job. I was a spokesman for the industry." In other words, he said what he was being paid handsomely to say.

Why, then, did not Ed Bradley ask: Mr. Ricker, how much are you being paid by the anti-gun lobby to say what they want said? And if your mouth is for hire – and you now tell us you took money to say things you did not really believe – why should we believe what people on the opposite side are paying you to say now?

The organization once called Handgun Control, Inc. – now with the less authoritarian-sounding name Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – is named for White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was severely wounded during the assassination attempt against his boss President Ronald Reagan, and James’ wife, Sarah.

Sarah Brady is rumored to have been receiving pay of $125,000 per year plus $5,000 per speech by the Leftist fat cats who fund this organization.

It also has the cash to employ Michael Barnes, who when he was a hyper-leftist Representative from Maryland was reportedly among the biggest congressional supporters of the Castro-aligned Marxist Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua. He was also the loudest advocate for replacing a pro-American government in Haiti with strongman Jean-Bertrand ("My greatest personal hero is Fidel Castro") Aristide, something Bill Clinton rushed to do with American bayonets the moment he became President. This suggests the political orientation of the anti-gun movement.

Under questioning in one court case, Mr. Ricker acknowledged that he was being paid $225 per hour – almost 20 times the hourly wage of average Americans – by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to testify as its self-described "bombshell witness" in its lawsuit alleging that the firearms industry knowingly sells guns to criminals. Ricker did not disclose how many hundred hours he billed the NAACP at this rate.

Ricker has also been an expert in losing cases against gun dealers and manufacturers in Boston and New York, as well as in cases filed by 12 California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. Such lawsuits, according to Second Amendment advocates, are attempts to win by litigation and the whim of unelected judges the gun control and confiscation that the Left was unable to achieve via democratically-elected legislators.

Even when such lawsuits lose, they can bleed millions of dollars in legal fees out of a gun manufacturing industry that lacks the billions of dollars’ profit of the tobacco industry.

The jackal packs of trial lawyers like Hugh Rodham have a shot at making more millions if they win here. But expert observers believe their larger goal is to use gun cases to set legal precedents over health and safety that can later be used to squeeze billions out of other industries such as fast food, alcohol, meat producers, and the like. These groups of lawyers have tons of money they could pay an expert witness with the "smoking gun" credentials of Ricker in any of the 50-odd pending lawsuits against gun makers. Republicans are moving to prohibit this systematic and cynical use of the courts to destroy an industry.

The trial lawyers are waging a methodical war against all private industry in America, bleeding one and then the next, and the next. Not surprisingly, trial lawyers have in recent elections provided 40 percent of campaign funds for the Democratic Party and its candidates, their lawsuit enablers.

Not surprisingly, Democrats in congress just gunned down an amendment that would have required trial lawyers to return to state governments a fraction of their huge multi-billion dollar piece of recent tobacco settlements….something to remember if your state is short on funds for education or public health and planning to raise your taxes.

But even if lawyer Robert Ricker were not profiting personally from these court cases, did his attack against the gun industry Sunday night make logical sense?

By analogy, imagine this scene. A man walks into a liquor store, presents a legitimate I.D. showing that his true age is 35, and buys a fifth of Smirnoff vodka. A mile away from the store he gives this vodka to a 16-year-old boy, who proceeds to get drunk, steal a car, and kill an innocent lady in a crosswalk.

Who is most responsible? According to the reasoning presented on "60 Minutes," the most guilty party is not the boy who did the killing. It is not the man who gave the boy the vodka. It is not even the liquor store who legally and properly sold the bottle.

No, according to Robert Ricker’s logic the most guilty entity here is Smirnoff, the manufacturer of the vodka that was legally distributed to a licensed dealer, who sold it to a sober citizen of legal age.

The mental contortions needed to reach this conclusion make the assumption that manufacturers should somehow be able to figure out which licensed dealers are likely to make "straw sales" that lead to guns getting put secondhand into criminal hands. Manufacturers should then cut off their own wholesale sales to these dealers – or face lawsuits by trial lawyers whenever one of their guns gets used by a criminal.

(Ricker’s contortions, however tortured the logic, are needed to pull gun makers into lawyer gunsights so that they can be bled dry and destroyed. Even so, this requires juries to turn a blind eye themselves to guns as an already-heavily-regulated industry. If a gun dealer is corrupt, the Feds can pull his license. If a gun buyer is corrupt, a federal background check is more likely to discover this than is any gun manufacturer thousands of miles away. Why does Ricker refuse to put the responsibility here where it belongs – on the Federal Government? Because he and his fellow lawyers would have a harder time getting rich by suing the government. They have to blame and go after somebody with money to lose in the private sector.)

Ricker has a plan. He would require all gun dealers to be tested on their ability to recognize the "warning signs" of gun trafficking. Oh, and he would prohibit dealers from selling several guns at a time to the same person. This means that even if you had not purchased any gun for the past 30 years, it would become against the law for a dealer to sell you one rifle, one shotgun, and one handgun on the same day – or maybe the same week, month, or year. Once any such law is in place, it becomes easy for gun controllers to keep expanding the interval until citizens are limited to one gun per decade – or lifetime.

Now imagine such restrictions in the real world. Ricker and CBS pointed to a gun shop in Tacoma, Washington, where the accused Washington, D.C. snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo apparently obtained the rifle used in those killings.

Muhammad walks into the gun shop, pulls out an I.D. that shows him not only to have no criminal or mental illness record but also to be a member of the U.S. military, entrusted by the Federal Government at Fort Lewis to fire bazookas and cannon. He easily passes the required federal background check.

What is the gun store salesman supposed to say – "I’m sorry, but you look like the kind of person who might transfer this gun to others, so based on my subjective judgment I refuse to sell it to you"?!

Oh, by the way, John Muhammad is African-American, the very sort of black man that the earliest gun control laws in America were intended to disarm.

Guess how many hours it would take the NAACP, ACLU, Rev. Jesse Jackson and – yes – CBS News to swoop down on this gun store with accusations that it violated this man’s civil rights with its racist, discriminatory decision? If a gun manufacturer cut off sales to an inner city gun store, it could face the same kinds of accusations….and potential lawsuits. The trial lawyers can rob you if you do, or rob you if you don’t, sell guns. But CBS reporter Ed Bradley, whose ancestors were the target of those racist gun control laws, never questioned Ricker about such dilemmas in his proposal.

At least Ed Bradley told half the truth. Not as much can be said for now-former New York Times reporter Jason Blair, who swilled Scotch while making up quotes, descriptions, and more – and yet was promoted after 50 factual mistakes had been caught in his news stories. Blair was apparently promoted because he had been touted as a rising African-American star of diversity at a leftist newspaper that, with its politically correct ego invested, was prepared to turn its own blind eye to his failings.

"It’s a huge black eye," said Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., with what must have been deliberate irony.

But the greater sin belongs to Howell Raines, editorial dictator of the gray lady, America’s newspaper of record, for his lack of standards. This is the loony so far to the Left that he censored two Times sports columnists for questioning whether women should be forced into the Masters golf tournament.

If Raines really wants diversity, why doesn’t he hire a few reporters and columnists whose brains have some intellectual color other than pink or red? That would be genuine atonement for the sins and shortcomings so painfully confessed this week.

Hubris infects the Left media, as "60 Minutes" itself Sunday night revealed in the scandal of a New Republic "investigative reporter" who made it all up as he went along. He was caught not by leftists but by the conservative fact checkers at Forbes Magazine trying to follow up one of his stories.

Remember "Jimmy," the purported eight-year-old heroin addict whose story won a Pulitzer Prize for Janet Cooke, a young African-American reporter for the Washington Post? The prize was returned after it turned out that Jimmy was fictional – perhaps like the "Deep Throat" character the Post used in a successful coup d’etat against elected President Richard Nixon.

But the deeper scandal in the Janet Cooke case was that the prize itself had been rigged. As 1981 Pulitzer jury member Edward Shanahan writes, his panel actually named someone else to win this prize…but behind the scenes somebody very powerful, presumably from the Washington Post, was able to pull strings, reclassify Cooke’s series from a category in which she would lose, and persuade the Pulitzer Board to give her undeservedly the prize on which she had her eyes.

This is the rest of the Janet Cooke story that the leftist media has for decades kept mostly suppressed because it shows just how morally corrupt, dishonest, arrogant and unworthy of being taken seriously they are. Thank heavens that the First Amendment allows you to have alternative sources of information. But after the Left completes its demolition of the Second Amendment in our Bill of Rights, be assured that they then intend to destroy the rest.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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