Lawyer says gun ownership has important historical role

By Thomas Wilson
Ben Mallicote still owns the antique Parker shotgun his grandfather gave him several years ago. He says that hardly makes him a gun enthusiast or even mildly interested in firearms. However, as a practicing attorney, Mallicote is interested in the dynamics of the Second Amendment that grants the right of private citizens to keep and bear arms.
"Rights are all about power," Mallicote told members of the Elizabethton Rotary Club at their club luncheon Wednesday afternoon. "What is the right to vote if not a source of power?"
Mallicote said after researching the history of gun ownership in America, he learned how the right to bear arms had served as a political tool in struggles for freedom.
He referenced the militia men of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and both World Wars as examples of the right to bear arms directly reflecting a nation's ability to fend off tyranny. Mallicote said that while wars claimed the lives of 40 million people during the 20th century, acts of genocide against people due to ethnicity and religion had resulted in the deaths of 170 million.
The common thread is not one of those victimized by genocide was armed, he said. Mallicote cited the murderous reigns of Adolph Hitler in Germany, Pol Pot in Cambodia and Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia as examples of an unarmed citizenry being victimized by despotic rule.
After the pre-Hitler German government confiscated firearms from the citizens, Jews and Germans were essentially left at the mercy of Hitler's henchmen, Mallicote said. He also cited violence that engulfed the former Yugoslavia after the Communist country's rulers fell from power in the early 1990s. Ethnic Serbs were well-armed and led by Milosevic, who effectively massacred tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims who were unarmed.
He also noted the role of the Second Amendment during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. When Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights workers traveled through the Jim Crow South, black Americans relied heavily on the Second Amendment simply as a means of self defense.
"They had to rely on armed parishioners to protect them from being killed by the Klan," he said.
Gun control and the Second Amendment have been firestorm political issues in recent years. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act which became law in 1994 requires that a background check be conducted by the FBI or a state agency prior to the transfer of a firearm from a federally licensed dealer to a purchaser. Since its inception, the "Brady Bill" has resulted in approximately 976,000 rejections out of the 45.7 million background checks conducted by government agencies.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System last year rejected 136,000 applications from among the more than 7.8 million applications to buy or transfer a firearm, "a 1.7 percent rejection rate" the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced last month.
In 2002, for the first time since the act became effective in 1994, more prospective firearms purchasers were rejected for reasons other than a felony conviction history (52 percent) than those rejected for having a prior felony conviction (48 percent), according to the Justice Department. Congress is currently considering legislation introduced last month to transfer health records of the mentally ill who have been adjudicated as mentally ill into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Under federal law, people who have been adjudicated as mentally ill or involuntarily committed are barred from buying and possessing guns. But many states do not forward records on the mentally ill to the NICS, and some mentally ill people have been able to get guns in violation of federal law.
Gun control and regulation certainly has a place, especially keeping firearms away from convicted felons, said Mallicote. He said while gun crime related to the Columbine, Colo. high school shootings and the Washington, D.C. area sniper case got enormous media attention, private gun ownership did not necessarily translate to wanton violence.
He said after Great Britain enacted legislation banning private gun ownership, gun-related crimes committed in that country in 2002 shot up 35 percent.
A 2003 graduate of the University of Tennessee School of Law, Mallicote specializes in labor and employment law with the Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz office in Kingsport.
"I became interested when I started reading some of the history," said Mallicote after the meeting.