Ruling on guns is victory
for convicted drug criminalsI
The Michigan Daily - Thursday,.December 7, 1995 - 9A
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON -In a rare victory
for convicted drug criminals, the Su-
preme Court yesterday narrowed a key
federal law that adds an extra five-year
prison term for a drug dealer who "uses
or carries" a gun.
Until yesterday, prosecutors and most
federal courts have imposed that extra
punishment if a weapon is found in the
drug dealer's car, in a locked trunk or
even a closet in his home.
If the weapon was "accessible" to a
drug trafficker, it was used in the com-
mission of his crimes because it pro-
vided protection, prosecutors said.
But in a unanimous ruling, the Su-
preme Court threw out that definition
as too broad. From now on, a criminal
must hold, brandish or fire the weapon
to get the extra punishment, the justices
said. The "mere possession" of a gun is
not enough, they added.
A U.S. Justice Department spokes-
man could not offer a precise figure on
how many would be affected by the
ruling, but it was certainly "in the hun-
dreds," he said. Inmates who are serv-
ing time also could seek to shorten their
term based on the decision.
Though the outcome may seem sur-
prising for a generally conservative
high court, the outcome probably has
less to do with ideology than seman-
Justice Antonin Scalia, a conserva-
tive who is the Supreme Court's lead-
ing literalist, has insisted that the jus-
tices follow the strict meaning of words
written into law.
Two years ago, during an argument
in a related case, he commented that no
one would say, "I use a cane" to mean
he has a cane hanging on a hook in his
If Congress wanted to punish gun
possession by drug criminals, it would
have written the word "possess" rather
than "use," the court said.
The dictionary "definitions of 'use'
imply action and implementation," said
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, speak-
ing for the court.
Therefore, "'use' must connote more
than mere possession of a firearm by a
person who commits a drug offense ...
the government must show that the de-
fendant actively employed the firearm
during and in relation to the (actual)
crime," she said.
This "certainly includes brandishing,
displaying, bartering, striking with, and
most obviously, firing or attempting to
fire, a firearm," she added.
The federal gun law was originally
passed in the summer of 1968, shortly
after the assassinations of Sen. Robert
F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
It added a five-year federal penalty for
anyone who used a gun to commit a
Congress broadened the law in 1984
and 1988 to apply the extra penalty
"in relation to any drug trafficking
WASHINGTON (AP) - Despite a
fresh spate of allegations, Republicans
say House Speaker Newt Gingrich's
ethics problems haven't surfaced at the
town meetings, ribbon-cuttings and
other public appearances at home that
are the mainstays of a lawmaker's life.
"It's not resonating back home," said
Rep. Fred Upton, a moderate GOP law-
makerfrom Michigan. Added Rep. John
Linder, a Georgian and close associate
of the speaker, "It's a media ginned-up
At the same time, the GOP rank and
file are increasingly willing to talk
® openly about Gingrich's political diffi-
culties. "He's not very popular in Mas-
sachusetts,"said Rep. Peter Torkildsen,
a moderate who won a second term last
year with 51 percent of the vote.
Rep. Linda Smith, one of six first-
termers from Washington state, heard
some grumbling, too. "I'm not getting
questions about GOPAC," she said, re-
ferring to the political organization at
the center of the speaker's ethics con-
troversy. "I might be getting, 'Can't
you get him to be quiet?"'
In fact, Gingrich has told his caucus
he'd take on a less visible role, a tactical
retreat following politically catastrophic
comments made before Thanksgiving.
He said then that he had been snubbed
by President Clinton aboard Air Force
One, and that was one reason he stiff-
ened his terms during the six-day par-
tial government shutdown. There's vir-
I tual unanimity among Republicans that
the resulting furor weakened the party's
hand in the days that followed.
In the days since, Gingrich has gen-
erally stuck to his new script. He's
imposed a virtual blackout on himself
on Bosnia, for example, while many in
his caucus strongly oppose Clinton's
policy of deploying troops as part of a
At the same time, some Republicans
are seeking a little political distance
from the leader of the revolution, and
Democrats are hoping to exploit their
"I think the speaker's in real trouble
Rep. Eva Clayton (D-Ga.) leaves the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday after the high court debated the validity of Texas and
North Carolina congressional districts that gave minority voters greater political clout.
GOP ates lobbying groups
as 'Friendly,' or'Unfriendly'
WASHIINGTON (AP) - Since tak-
ing control, Ilouse Republicans have
been circulating reports that rate politi-
cal action committees as friendly or
unfriendly based on how much they
donate to Republicans-and how much
to their enemies.
The reports are widely distributed to
committee chairmen, rank-and-file
members and to the PACs themselves,
leaving little doubt what lobbyists need
to do to curry favor with the new major-
"It's nothing more than a thinly veiled
attempt at intimidation," said Michael
Ferrell, a lobbyist for the Mortgage
Bankers Association. The association's
PAC began the year rated "unfriendly,"
but has improved with recent donations
"They have one message, and one
intent: to force PACs to give to Repub-
lican candidates and incumbents regard-
less of whether they were good members
(of Congress) or not," Ferrell said.
The "Tactical PAC Project" and simi-
lar reports, produced by the National
Republican Congressional Committee
and obtained by The Associated Press,
IS nothing more than a thint-V
veiled attemptat intimidation. "
- Michael Ferrtll
Mortgage Bankers Association lobbyist
rate PACs based on what percentage of
their donations go to Republicans vs.
Democrats. PACs, the donating arms of
special interest groups, can give a maxi-
mum of S10,000 per election cycle to
The largest of the reports, about an
inch thick, used a three-letter system to
rate all the PACs --"F" for "friendly"
groups that leaned Republican, "U" for.
"unfriendly" PACs that gave more to
Democrats and "N" for "neutral" orga-
nizations. The PACs were organized by
Later reports focused on just the 400
largest PACs, giving the exact dollar
amounts each gave to Republicans and
Democrats so far this year.
NRCC spokesman.Craig Veith said
the reports were "a research tool for our
members" for use in raising money.
"Those who gave more to Democrats
last time, it's fertile ground for Repub-
Ferrell insisted his group, the mort-
gage bankers, had not bowed to the
pressure and made its donatigns on a
"case-by-case basis." This year, the
bankers have donated 60 percent of
their money so far to the GOP, com-
pared with 35 percent last year.
"It gives the impression we reacted to
the pressure. That's not the case," Ferrcl I
The American Chiropractic Associa-
tion wasted no time earlier this year
when it found itself with a big, fat "U"
after donating $451,000 to Democrats
in 1994-- about four times what it gave
Richard Miller, a lobbyist for the
group, said no Republican openly crint-
cized the chiropractors' past support of
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) has come under fire from Democrats for
alleged ethical violations.
I think the speaker's in real trouble
inside the Congress and outside the
Michigan Rep. David Bonior
inside the Congress and outside the
Congress," said Rep. David Bonior of
Michigan, the H ouse Democratic whip
and Gingrich's tormentor-in-chiefwhen
it comes to the ethics controversy sur-
rounding his book deal, college course
and leadership of GOPAC.
Driving wedges to splinter the
opposition's rank is a key component
of politics, Bonior said, and it's clear
Democrats are hoping that GOPAC
documents released recently by the Fed-
eral Election Commission will break up
The material shows Gingrich writing
the Environmental Protection Agency
on behalf of a GOPAC donor. It also
shows links between GOPAC, the po-
litical organization Gingrich once
headed, and the five Republican mem-
bers of the ethics committee who are
sitting in judgment on him.
Other accusations against Gingrich
include that he misused U.S. tax law in
raising tax-deductible contributions for
a college course he taught and that
GOPAC illegally tried to influence fed-
eral elections - especially Gingrich's
own - before it registered as a federal
political action committee in 1991.
Thus far, Republicans have blocked
all Democratic attempts to appoint an
outside, independent counsel to inves-
tigate the speaker.
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