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web posted April 29, 2002

Handgun giveaway aimed at city's ban

A gun-rights group that called on supporters to attend Taste of Chicago with handguns concealed in fanny packs is planning another controversial promotion--giving away one handgun a month to a resident of Chicago, where handgun possession is illegal.

Concealed Carry Inc., which has the motto "saving lives by arming citizens," is planning to start the giveaway in May with a semiautomatic .32-caliber pistol, said John Birch, president of Concealed Carry, based in Oak Brook. He compared the drive to an effort to push for gun owners' civil rights.

"At this point it's a moral imperative that we act on that which we speak," Birch said. "The problem is here. Cook County and Chicago are the 800-pound gorillas in the gun-rights battle, and the people are dying here. That's where the work is to be done."

Birch, who posted the promotion on the organization's Web site, said the group's estimated 1,130 members will determine who receives the gun each month. Every applicant must be at least 21 years old, possess a firearm owner's identification card and pass an instant background check, Birch said.

In addition, applicants must confirm on a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms form that they are not a convicted felon, substance abuser or mentally ill. The penalty for lying on the form is a federal perjury charge.

Finally, applicants must write a brief statement explaining why they deserve the gun, which retails for $300 and is designed as a plainclothes police officer's secondary weapon or "for concealed carry by licensed citizens," according to promotional material from the manufacturer, Kel-Tec CNC Industries Inc. of Cocoa, Fla.

Birch said members have agreed to fund the program, and the guns will be distributed to recipients in Oak Brook, which does not impose a ban on handgun possession.

A spokeswoman for the City of Chicago corporation counsel's office said the city has no plan to deal with the gun giveaway but cautioned that the penalties for breaking Chicago's handgun ban are severe.

"We take this very seriously," said spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle, adding that city prosecutors routinely seek jail time for those who violate the ordinance. The maximum penalty for violating the handgun ban is 6 months in jail. Hoyle noted that offenders often receive 10-day jail sentences.

"People have the right to disagree with the ordinance," she said, "but as long as they break these laws, they must face the consequences."

Thomas Mannard, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence in Chicago, called the giveaway a stunt to build support for an issue the public continues to reject. Illinois is one of six states that prohibits citizens from carrying concealed firearms. Proposed legislation to allow concealed carry has failed repeatedly.

"John is always talking about how law-abiding citizens should be able to carry concealed weapons," Mannard said. "Clearly, giving handguns to Chicagoans is not law-abiding. You should practice what you preach.

"This is just a matter of whatever stunt you can do today and get a little attention, he's going to do," Mannard said.

Birch said the city's ban would fail under court scrutiny. That belief is part of the motivation behind the gun giveaway, he said.

"I want them to sue me," Birch said. "The sooner we get this in court, the better."

In May, Birch invited members "to load up a fanny pack and head to the Taste of Chicago for a peaceful demonstration of our rights."

The drive drew the anger of law-enforcement and gun-control groups. By June, Concealed Carry had backed away from the Taste of Chicago promotion, although Birch maintains that supporters did bring handguns in fanny packs to the festival discreetly.

A year earlier the group began promoting carrying handguns in fanny packs as a way around the state ban on carrying concealed weapons. That strategy brought calls for rewriting the state law to block the use of fanny packs to carry a weapon but did not result in a change.

Jewish voters gravitating toward GOP

Jewish Americans make up only 2.5 percent of the U.S. population but they vote in higher percentages than any other minority group in the country.

Typically, they are known as staunch Democrats, but as more of the traditional left of the Democratic Party gravitate toward the Palestinian cause, American Jews are indicating that they place more trust in the party of George W. Bush.

"Prior to Sept. 11 on my radio show, a lot of people would call and say, ‘Rabbi, how dare you support a Republican,’" offered Rabbi Chaim Mentz, a Los Angeles radio talk show host.

"Now, all of a sudden, after Sept. 11, they notice there is a moral clarity which America never showed, which is an alliance with our brethren that may be living in Israel," he added.

At a recent pro-Israel festival in Los Angeles, Jewish American voters signed up to support the Republican Party.

"I want to be a Republican. Why? Because I’m disappointed in Democrats," said Claire Shpayer, a Jewish voter.

"The Republican leadership has been standing up for Israel. The Christian Coalition, which is part of the Republican Party, stands up constantly for Israel," said another Jewish voter, Bennett Zimmerman. "I think it’s a matter of saying that on many key issues I agree with them."

Politicians from both parties rushed to buoy their support with the powerful Jewish lobby last week at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told committee members that the United States Senate stands with Israel in these difficult days.

"Israel has always had fair-weather friends. What it needs now are foul-weather friends," Daschle told the lobby group, which held its annual convention in Washington. "As long as I'm the majority leader of the United States Senate, we will be a friend to Israel in fair weather and in foul," he said.

Most notable, however, were speeches by prominent conservatives and members of the administration.

In a speech inspiring a standing ovation, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, called the Palestinian Authority "a holding company for terrorist subsidiaries."

"Let me assure you this morning, as long as I am in Congress, I’ll use every tool at my disposal to ensure the Republican Conference, and the House of Representatives, continues to preserve and strengthen America’s alliance with the State of Israel," he told the conference.

DeLay also plans to drum up support for a resolution that calls upon the House "to remain committed to Israel’s right to self-defense," and recommends $27 billion for Israel in supplemental aid.

Speaking to an audience of approximately 3,500, White House Chief of Staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. said, "Our differences are differences of true friends — friends who respect each other, friends who share the same values and the same dreams, friends whose affection for one another is genuine and abiding and unshakable."

Gary Bauer, a popular Christian conservative and 2000 Republican presidential candidate, has also come out strongly with pro-Israel statements, as has the conservative National Review and talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

A poll of Jewish voters shows that President Bush’s approval ratings among the Jewish community are over 80 percent. Political analyst Susan Estrich said this is an opportune time for the Republicans to start dipping into the wide support Democrats receive from Jewish Americans.

"Right now George Bush has an opportunity that no GOP president has had in our lifetimes — to change the dynamic of the Jewish vote in America," she said.

Zubaydah: Al-Qaida can build dirty bomb'

The senior al-Qaida field commander in U.S. custody has told his interrogators that the terror network knows how to build a "dirty bomb," a U.S. official said April 22.

Officials don't know whether to believe Abu Zubaydah, who also recently claimed al-Qaida is targeting banks in the northeastern United States. That report was the basis of an FBI alert two weeks ago.

"It could be he's not being truthful," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "It could be that he's boasting."

The successful detonation of a dirty bomb would be capable of dispersing radioactivity over a wide area.

Abu Zubaydah's statements further confirmed al-Qaida's interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, but they don't suggest the group has any unknown capabilities, the official said.

Captured in Pakistan and turned over to U.S. authorities last month, Abu Zubaydah did not claim that the group had built any of the weapons.

Such a weapon — also called a radiological dispersal device — would use conventional explosives to spread industrial or medical-grade radioactive material in a populated area to cause widespread fear of exposure.

They are not thought to be difficult to build. Acquiring enough radioactive material to do harm is regarded as the greatest challenge for terrorists.

A radiological device detonated by terrorists would require evacuation and decontamination of the immediate area and disrupt the local economy, officials from U.S. nuclear laboratories said at a recent Senate committee hearing. Hospitals would be overrun by worried people from the affected area.

Depending on factors ranging from the bomb's construction to wind direction on the day such a weapon was used, a potent dirty bomb could kill a few people quickly if they were exposed to enough radiation, officials said. Others would face a greater likelihood of developing cancers later in life.

Severe contamination could require that buildings be razed, and the economic fallout could reach billions of dollars in a big city, officials said. An orderly evacuation would limit the population's exposure to radioactive materials, and health effects would be minimal as long as victims avoided the contaminated area.

Much of the U.S. government's thinking on the subject is theoretical, because no one has detonated a radiological weapon.

They do exist. In 1995, separatists from Russia's embattled Chechnya region announced they had placed Cesium-137 in a Moscow park; it was recovered by authorities. The Chechens, who are believed now to have links to al-Qaida, threatened to covertly release additional materials.

Justices back regulators in property rights case

The Supreme Court ruled April 23 that the Constitution does not require governments to pay compensation to landowners when agencies temporarily prohibit them from building on their land, a decision that strengthens the hand of environmental regulators against the conservative-led "property rights" movement.

By a vote of 6 to 3, the court rejected the argument of a group of California property owners that government freezes on development are tantamount to official seizures -- known in legal parlance as "takings" -- of private property and require compensation. Rather, the court held that such claims must be considered case by case, balanced against other factors such as the duration of a development moratorium and the government's reasons for it.

"Land-use regulations are ubiquitous and most of them impact property values in some tangential way -- often in completely unanticipated ways," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the opinion for the court. "Treating them all as . . . takings would transform government regulation into a luxury few governments could afford."

In previous cases, the Supreme Court had been receptive to property owners' claims of "regulatory takings." But last week's ruling signaled that the court's past support was not unqualified, and that a majority of the justices may not share the property-rights movement's most ambitious goals.

As a result, a legal cloud has been lifted from over what a friend-of-the-court brief from 22 state governments called "a vital planning tool" for dealing with environmental concerns, traffic and demands for services. The Bush administration also supported the regulators.

The court's opinion included examples of recent building moratoriums in jurisdictions ranging from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where officials were setting new standards for beachfront construction, to Aboite Township, Ind., which wanted to allow time for water and sewage improvements.

The court's two swing-vote justices, moderate conservatives Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy, joined with Stevens and liberals David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer in the six-member majority.

Stevens's opinion quoted frequently from O'Connor's past writings to support his view that "the extreme categorical rule that any deprivation of all economic use, no matter how brief, constitutes a compensable taking surely cannot be sustained."

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist dissented in the case, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

New law expands war on money laundering

The Treasury Department on April 23 began implementing a little-noticed change in banking laws passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that for the first time will require credit-card operators, mutual funds and money-transfer firms to set up programs to combat money laundering.

The new law requires the Treasury Department to write specific regulations covering more than two dozen types of businesses. Banks and stock brokerages already were required to help fight money-laundering abuses. Officials deferred action on some types of institutions, such as insurance companies, car dealers, real-estate settlement companies and jewelers, for as long as six months while they decide which would fall under the new requirements.

"There a distinction between Tiffany's and the kiosk at Tysons Corner," said David Aufhauser, the Treasury Department's general counsel.

The new regulations, and other provisions governing the sharing of information with law-enforcement authorities and identifying people who open accounts, will force the financial world to do more to identify potential abuses by drug traffickers and terrorists. Companies will have to train employees to detect money laundering and establish policies and procedures to carry out the law's requirements.

"It will change the way business is done for all financial institutions," said Alan Sorcher, vice president at the Securities Industry Association.

"We are not regulating corrupt institutions," Aufhauser said. "We are helping honest institutions prevent themselves from being corrupted."

Treasury officials conceded that the new rules may not be enough to disrupt the flow of terrorist financing. In part, that's because money laundering involves the movement of profits from drug trafficking and other illegal activities through a series of accounts or businesses in order to disguise them as proceeds of legitimate businesses. Terrorists generally aren't trying to disguise profits but instead are seeking to slip relatively small sums through the system without being detected.

"We can't point to clear examples" of how the rules would have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or a similar event, said a senior Treasury official. "But we want to close the door."

Officials said they were attempting to minimize invasions of privacy. "We only want to know enough information to prevent the next calamity," another Treasury official said.

The law requiring the rules, known as the USA Patriot Act, was drafted soon after Sept. 11 and mostly focused on giving new powers to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. But over the objections of the White House, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) added the provision requiring the anti-money-laundering rules.

Since 1992, the Treasury Department has had the authority to issue such rules, but never did. The new law essentially flipped the old statute, now requiring the Treasury Department to take action instead of merely allowing it. It also made financial institutions subject to civil penalties for failing to follow the regulations.

Now, credit-card operators, previously not covered by anti-money-laundering rules, will be required to address the problem. Under the regulations, they are encouraged to determine whether a foreign bank seeking to issue a U.S. credit card has adequate anti-money-laundering controls, and perhaps even deny credit cards to institutions that pose a risk to the system.

Berkeley directs police to shun DEA in pot busts

The Berkeley City Council quietly and unanimously passed a resolution affirming the city's support for medical marijuana on April 23.

Against the recommendation of City Manager Weldon Rucker, the council directed the Berkeley Police Department not to cooperate with the Drug Enforcement Administration in investigations of medical marijuana clubs.

In a meeting dominated by the controversial "Crisis in the Middle East" proposal, few in the packed council chambers noticed when Mayor Shirley Dean moved the marijuana resolution to the front of the agenda, where it was dispatched without discussion.

"We could have given a lot of speeches on how great we think (medical marijuana) is, but I'm more interested in getting things done," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

The city's Police Review Commission drafted the measure, which is similar to a law San Francisco passed late last year.

The measure directs the police department to enforce Proposition 215, the 1996 state initiative legalizing medical marijuana.

But marijuana use of any kind is illegal under federal law, which supercedes state law, so the DEA has ignored Prop. 215.

David Ritchie, chair of the Police Review Commission, said the DEA should give up its prosecution of medical marijuana, in light of more serious problems facing the federal government.

"They don't have the moral authority and they certainly don't have the facts on their side," he said.

Despite the measure's passage, the police department's relationship with the DEA will not suffer, said DEA Special Agent Richard Meyer.

"We know we have the moral support of the (Berkeley police) officers," he said. "It is an inconvenience, but it's something we can live with."

Meyer said the new law will not "stop us from doing our jobs." He said the DEA only busts medical marijuana clubs when evidence from other investigations leads them in that direction.

The DEA has never raided a Berkeley medical marijuana club, but two months ago it made a major bust in San Francisco.

The agency informed the San Francisco Police Department just before it raided the Harm Reduction Center, a medical marijuana distribution club. City police assisted only in crowd control, Meyer said.

Initially an opponent of the measure, Dean said she feared it would draw the DEA's attention to the city and invite a similar bust.

Dean said she changed her mind after the DEA said the measure would not affect its relationship with Berkeley police.

"I was more concerned with a, 'hey, keep a low profile,' kind of thing," she said. "But once you don't have a low profile, you can't go back."

As an alternative to the commission's resolution, Rucker recommended the council endorse a proposed federal bill that would leave medical marijuana laws to the discretion of states.

Most of the public attended the meeting to weigh in on the controversial proposal to divest from Israel.

Only one member of the public testified in favor of the medical marijuana measure. None testified against it.

Councilmember Polly Armstrong called the medical marijuana debate "old news," and said she was not surprised at the measure's easy passage.

"I think it's real clear Berkeley people across the board think that if you need to smoke marijuana, you ought to be able to smoke marijuana," she said.

The council, however, tabled a second measure calling for the city's support for Ed Rosenthal, a high-profile marijuana grower arrested in the Harm Reduction Center bust.

House passes INS reforms

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill on April 25 that completely overhauls the troubled Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The 405-9 romp in effect scraps the INS and creates a new office "Agency for Immigration Affairs" in the Justice Department headed by the associate attorney general for immigration affairs. Within this new agency there will be two bureaus: the Bureau of Immigration Services and Adjudications and the Bureau of Immigration Enforcement. According to the bill, a director with 10 years of experience would head each bureau.

"It is beyond time to restructure one of the worst-run agencies in the U.S. government," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who authored the legislation.

The bill also requires the attorney general to establish an Internet-based system that permits people with applications filed with the INS to access online information about the status of the application, and creates a special office for children's cases.

The Bush administration threw its support behind the bill in the eleventh hour. Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared on Capitol Hill Thursday to endorse the Barbara Jordan Immigration Reform and Accountability Act, which will restructure it into two organizations, one for enforcement of immigration rules and one for administration of visa requests.

"It is time to separate fully our service to legal immigrants who help build America... from our enforcement against illegal aliens who violate the laws of America," Ashcroft said before the vote.

Up until now, the White House had resisted new legislation, preferring to make internal changes to the agency and consolidating the INS and the Customs Service into one unit under the Justice Department.

White House spokesman Scott McLellan said the bill wasn't perfect, but compromises could be reached.

"There are several improvements we would like to see in the legislation, but we share a common goal and believe that Congress needs to get this done," he said.

The administration's change of heart about the INS reforms may have been prompted in part by what was described as an embarrassment to President Bush when a Florida flight school received paper notification in February that two of the hijackers who crashed their planes into the World Trade Center had their student visas approved. A month later, the INS reported that it had allowed four Pakistani merchant marines to disembark their ship in Norfolk, Va., and they never returned.

Thirteen of the 19 terrorists who hijacked four commercial jets on Sept. 11 entered the United States legally on tourist, business or student visas. The government has acknowledged that four of those men allegedly remained in the United States after their visas had expired.

One of the few opponents of the bill said the changes would make little difference.

"You've got one inefficient unproductive INS now. It seems to me what you're going to end up with is two inefficient agencies," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who introduced a similar bill in the Senate, said he prefers that the head of the agency be appointed by the president to act independently of the Justice Department.

"In reforming the INS, we need to maintain strong overall leadership to ensure uniformity, efficiency and decisive action in a crisis. Now is not the time to diminish the power of the person running the nation's immigration agency," he said Wednesday.

Ashcroft said he would be "delighted" if INS Commissioner James Ziglar spearheaded the changes.

Currently, the INS has a backlog of some five million applications, and estimates that it has lost track of more than 314,000 aliens ordered to be deported but still in the country.

Georgia Democrat wows NRA gathering

Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia wowed the National Rifle Association as a Democrat who wants more guns and chastised his own party for failing to recognize the social and political reach of gun issues.

"There is nowhere I'd rather be tonight than right here with you, on the picket line of freedom's defense," Miller told more than 2,000 NRA members in a speech at a banquet on April 27.

Only about half the crowd at the NRA's 131st annual meeting at the Reno Hilton hotel-casino stood when Miller was introduced as the first Democrat to give a keynote address to the gun rights group in more than a decade.

But nearly all rose to give a 30-second standing ovation by the time the popular former two-term governor finished his speech touting the NRA's 4.2 million members as the epitome of "mainstream America."

"Like many of you, I've got more guns than I need, but not as many as I want," Miller said.

"Now that may sound a bit confusing to some — a Democrat wanting more guns," he said, explaining he's a life member of the NRA with an A-plus voting record from the group, "and I'm darned proud of it."

Miller echoed the words of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who told more than 4,000 delegates at the annual meeting earlier that day, "You are why Al Gore isn't in the White House."

Miller said Gore lost partly because Democratic strategists listened to bad advice from pollsters who claimed voters favor gun control. He said Gore's stands on gun rights cost the former vice president key southern states, including Arkansas, West Virginia and Tennessee.

"I recall the surprise of national Democratic leaders at losing those states in the presidential election," Miller said.

"All their expert pollsters said voters favored some kind of gun control. ... Well, I stand with heartfelt conviction over a political wind gauge any day.

"What many do not understand is that the gun issue is not just about guns. It's about values. It's about setting priorities. It's about personal freedom. It's about trust," he said.

Miller said 73 percent of the Georgians he surveyed in a poll for his 1994 gubernatorial re-election bid agreed with the statement: "Whenever I hear politicians talking about gun control, it makes me wonder if they understand my values or my way of life."

The last Democrat to give the NRA's keynote address was former Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Texas, in 1991.

Bill Bauer, an NRA board member from Boerne, Texas, said Miller's speech was on the mark.

"A lot of people here (at the convention) don't even shoot guns but are concerned about the principals of the NRA," he said.

David O. Boehm of Rochester, N.Y., a retired appellate judge, said in recent years "it seems most Democrats nationally have opposed instead of supported the right to possess firearms."

But Miller "has grown up with firearms. He understands there's nothing sinister about it," Boehm said. "I thought he beautifully, articulately and eloquently expressed the feelings of so many of us here."

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