In this political year, Larry Pratt became a target of intense attack in February on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. This Buchanan aide was forced to take a leave of absence from his volunteer post in the election effort because of the unfounded charge that he is a racist.
Mr. Pratt's remarks on Senator Dole came in the context of answering how he decided to support Mr. Buchanan's bid for the Presidency. He stated that "there's no one running that's better on the gun issue"; and said, "happily, I think he also demonstrated that he's got the greatest amount of character and integrity among the candidates who are running. I thought his defense of me--well, I was personally gratified, but beyond that I thought his willingness to stand by a decision not to cut and run--if you know you're right, don't let the media buffalo you. That was a pretty good test as to what he might be like if he were to encounter some sort of a crisis in a Buchanan White House as to how he would perform. I thought, Well, you're shopping for President, folks, this is a pretty good preview."
Regarding the senior Senator from Kansas, Pratt remarked, "Bob Dole has said that I've been a pain in his neck or side for years, and that's true, because he's voted against the Second Amendment for years. He voted for the 1968 Gun Control Act. He actually caused to happen the Brady Law. He pushed it through the Senate with his parliamentary legerdemain. He did the same with the gun ban that was attached to the Crime Bill. And then, after he told us that he would have a repeal of the gun ban on the floor of the Senate by summer last year, instead, when there was an opportunity to have an amendment to the Terror Bill that he pushed through the Senate, which was also a bad move; instead he blocked any opportunity to do that. And the Terror Bill itself, by the way, provides a hundred million dollar increase for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, an agency with no Constitutional warrant that should be disbanded at the earliest possible opportunity. . . . The agency was established by executive order, so by executive order it could be done away with. But you'd still have the law looking you in the face; and naturally I would think the FBI would rush in and volunteer and say, 'We'll do it,' and that wouldn't be of any more comfort to anybody than having the BATF do it. So, we'll support Bob Dole when Bob Dole supports the Constitution."
Mr. Pratt, 53, has been in the public policy arena since graduating from college. He served as Executive Director of the American Conservative Union, Treasurer of the Heritage Foundation, and a campaign manager. Since 1976, he has been the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), whose offices are located in this Washington suburb--significantly enough, several hundred yards outside the Beltway.
Mr. Pratt explained how GOA differs from the National Rifle Association (NRA): "We take this as a freedom issue and as strictly a Constitutional issue. And while we don't have anything against hunting and other recreational uses, those are not factors in our decision-making or in our lobbying or even in our recruitment. If somebody joins Gun Owners of America, it's because they want to take an activist role in a pro-freedom, pro-Bill of Rights--really broader than just the Second Amendment--organization. And we would differ in that way. . . . The NRA sometimes has to balance competing constituencies. The pro-hunting Congressman may not always be pro-Second Amendment. . . . If he's wrong on the Second Amendment, we're going to try to make his life miserable, if not politically end it. We have found, secondly, that you don't necessarily have to end their political lives if you can be a big enough pain to them. Most politicians--well over ninety per cent--are primarily motivated by the avoidance of pain. And if you're enough of a pain, and by giving you what you want they can end the pain, then you'll tend to get what they can give that you want, whether or not they're for you or not. And the NRA would tend to be more ready to deal with a politician within the limitations of the system. . . . [W]e think that the system fundamentally needs to be overhauled. Because nobody really believes in the Constitution. And they all take an oath, under God, to uphold the Constitution. . . . They [the NRA] would tend to look at access as important--they want to be able to get into a Congressman's or Senator's office. We just want him to do the right thing. And if he hates our guts, and won't even talk to us, as long as he's voting right, that's OK. It's kind of like John the Baptist dealing with Herod--you hope you don't end up the way John did--but Herod, you know, didn't like John, because John criticized him for his un-Biblical marriage, and it was a public matter, and he confronted directly, obviously."
Reflecting on the success of his organization, Pratt said, "We, by God's grace, have been growing in our ability to impact in the political process, and in the last couple of years, I think we've been particularly successful, still primarily in stopping bad legislation. But that beats having bad legislation pass. We're still looking to the time when we can successfully enact good legislation, which mostly would be the repeal of bad legislation. Because at the federal level, the only good gun control law is no gun control law, because there's no Constitutional warrant for it, either under the Second Amendment, or Article I, Section 8, which is the place where the enumerated numerous powers of the Congress are given." He is particularly pleased with the GOA's efforts on the Anti-Terrorism Bill--what his group calls the "Government Terror Bill"--and notes that Rollcall newspaper on Capitol Hill credits GOA with having stopped this legislation. According to Pratt, the freshmen Congressmen told him personally "that they were willing to stand up to the leadership only because of our rather ferocious opposition all during last year." Pressure from GOA members in the district of Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.) drove him, a sponsor of the bill, to modify what they view as the most odious provisions of this bill. In Pratt's eyes, the proposal would "do a lot to destroy what's left of the Bill of Rights, not only the Second Amendment, but the Fourth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, the Ninth Amendment, and the Tenth Amendment."
Even though, from his perspective, the bill has been improved, Pratt is still opposed to it. "And whether we're going to be successful in stopping that, I don't know. But I can tell you this, we were the only group opposed to some provisions that we claimed would run the risk of wiping out most firearms dealers in the country. And, belatedly, our ally at the NRA did come on line and oppose it, but only after our opposition had successfully generated the willingness of Mr. Barr to make the changes needed to take it out. So I think just the give-and-take on this piece of legislation alone indicates that we have been able to have some effect."
Mr. Pratt also cited the effect the GOA had on Congressman Barr's proposal to amend the 1994 Crime Bill: "it was really bad. It would've federalized all gun control laws, so that the BATF could have prosecuted you now instead of the local prosecutor, and the penalties would have been much more severe. And the NRA said that there was no problem with that: 'Well, there's no case law, we don't think it's going to be a problem.' And we said, 'That'll be a problem--let's kill the snake now, and not wait to try to deal with it in court.' . . . Historically, that doesn't work well generally. And Mr. Barr again agreed to take out the provision if his bill ever became the vehicle, if it ever started moving, he would move to amend out that provision. . . . I know that that was done because of our members' opposition--they just convinced him that it was going to be politically enough of a problem that he wasn't going to endure it. I'm sure it was in there to try to palliate Henry Hyde, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Bill McCollum, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime of the Judiciary Committee--in the gun area, those would be the two most important barons in Washington on this particular issue. And he had to decide whether it was going to be two guys who don't vote in his district or all these angry people who do vote in his district. And since they were mobilized, he made the obvious decision. What we're doing is applying what we think was wisdom when the late Senator Everett Dirkson used to say repeatedly, 'When I feel the heat, I see the light.'"
Even though Mr. Pratt believes in adhering strictly to the Constitution, he sees himself as more in line with the original settlers of America than with the "Federalists" who framed the Constitution. He thinks that the Bible speaks to all of life, and that this view parallels that of the Jamestown and Pilgrim colonists whose settlements "were openly and explictly dedicated in their charters to the glory of God and to the bringing of the gospel to those that didn't know Jesus Christ." He added, "And political government was obviously organized with that goal in mind. They weren't looking at politics as salvational, but they did look on it as one of the many ways that Christian people would serve and glorify God."
Mr. Pratt continued, "I don't think the natural law theories of politics, of political philosophy, ultimately are going to be successful, because any time we try to develop a system of political philsoophy apart from what the Bible would tell us good government ought to be, we're bound to fail, because then, whether we intend to or not, we're in rebellion against God. And I think the country was blessed because it was established by people who probably quoted Deuteronomy more than they quoted any other single thing."
He believes that the framers of the Constitution were more cultural Christians than were the colonists of the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, "[t]he founders of our country still at least had that same world view even if they did not have that same faith. And while their system certainly was not divine or inspired, it was, in many ways, consistent with a Biblical polity."
Mr. Pratt noted that Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, and other patriots "were concerned about the Supreme Court arrogating too much power to itself--well, they were right. They were concerned about the President arrogating power to himself--they were right. And when Alexander Hamilton and even James Madison [the prime author of the Constitution] said, 'Oh, no, that won't happen,' everybody agreed that that wouldn't be a good thing. The question was, Was this system sufficiently wired to keep that from happening or not." He noted that Madison was an author of the Virginia Resolves, joining Kentucky in issuing a nullification declaration against the Alien and Sedition Act; "which," says Pratt, "is very similar in many of its provisions to the present Government Terror Law. And they just simply said, Not in this state it's law. It's not Constitutional and therefore it's a nullity. I think any Christian can understand that. Anybody that would tell us to do anything that would violate a clear command of Jesus Christ just told us nothing--we cannot obey." Pratt observed: "Madison ended up later in life saying that the criminal jurisdiction of the federal government extends to counterfeiting, treason, piracy, and offenses involving the laws of nations. And that sure doesn't describe much of what is going on today."
"My philosophy," Pratt said, "would be described further as an Anti-Federalist, as one who thinks that we should be looking for the civil government to do only those things for which you can find a Biblical warrant, and the rest ought to be done at the local level and preferably by a non-governmental agency altogether, whether it be through the business system or the eleeomosynary system or preferably through the church. Welfare, ultimately, is a family responsibility, and secondarily, according to what Timothy was told by Paul, a church function. When there truly is no family and you're dealing with a widow indeed, then, fine, there's a legitimate and proper role for the church. I don't think there would be a problem with the church being involved in a limited extent with community welfare, in a very short term [way]. Our deacons are active in helping people. We'll give groceries or a small amount of money to anybody almost when they come in, but if they're not willing to submit to Biblical discipleship on how to organize their financial affairs so the mess they're in doesn't continue to recur, then we tell them, Look, this is God's money, not even our money, and we can't continue helping you unless you're willing to re-direct your life. And I think if we had churches doing that sort of thing, we could probably dry up the government welfare roles anyway. I think George Grant [noted Christian author who has written on, among other things, a Christian approach to welfare--Ed.] has been a wonderful evidence of how that can work, because he's been involved in the cases just like that--it can be done. But we have to be willing to take the lead and not wait for the government to come and pass some law, because they won't. It's against their interests. We're going to have go and do it anyway."
Mr. Pratt is a deeply religious man. He came to faith in Christ in 1969 while working in Indianapolis through the diligent testimony of a Reformed minister's son. He regards the six day creation account of Genesis to be "one of the best gospel presentations, . . . because it's the foundation for everything else in the Bible." Belief in creation "was actually I'm sure what God used to bring me into the kingdom." He said that he "just finally sat down and read through the Bible. And at some point in reading through, I can remember thinking, . . . 'You know, this is true: Jesus Christ really is Lord and Creator and Saviour.'"
According to Mr. Pratt, faith commitment should affect the way one does politics. He rues the fact that when he served in the Virginia state legislature, he allowed himself to get so busy that he neglected to observe the Lord's Day. "And when I didn't get re-elected, it occurred to me soon enough that God was now giving me all the time I needed to properly observe the Sabbath. . . . I really believe that any excuse that we give for not doing something that God will require of us will be the very thing that He rubs our noses in until we get the point." He believes very strongly that one should refrain from political activity on Sunday. "It ought to be a day spent with the Lord and the family, leading the family in observance." Is it realistic for a Presidential candidate to do so? "It would be realistic for him to do it. I think God would bless him for doing it."
But commitment to Christian ideals does not imply squeamishness on Mr. Pratt's part in the political arena. Responding to a question about the appropriateness of political satire for a Christian, and the suggestion that even a political cartoon or political satire should always be redemptive in focus, towards the one that was being attacked, he said, "Presumably, then, we'd have to say that it was redemptive when Christ called Herod 'that fox' and when John the Baptist criticized him very precisely for having violated the provisions of Leviticus on marrying the wrong woman, that was too closely related to you. . . . In any case, it seems to me that that's actually redemptive when you warn somebody about doing something that's so flat-out wrong. And we think that it actually would be tantamount to lying to not inform the public and certainly our members and those concerned about Second Amendment issues when a politician has been unfaithful to his oath of office and perhaps even his explicit promises to do something on a particular issue and then turn around and do just the opposite. And so, we've in the past run, and will be doing in the future, even on Mr. Dole, 'He said this, but he did this; he said this, but he did this.' Or, 'He did this back then, but now he's done this.' . . . [I]f that's an attack, so be it. But I think that's also called a rebuke when somebody has simply not done what they said would do and we're saying, 'You're wrong. You said you would do something and you haven't done it.'"
He would not attempt to destroy the person, nor would he say something that was untrue. "As Christians we're enjoined to say things that are edifying and to speak the truth in love. I don't know that that necessarily precludes satire. But certainly we have to keep those limits in mind. And there's the rub, because maybe in a particular case you're not sure whether what you think you should say is on the one side of that line or the other. And that may be where in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom."
Mr. Pratt was critical of lobbyists who "get into a very pragmatic and compromising mode--and I've seen that happen. . . . As a general rule, an interest group has to keep in mind the admonition of Proverbs 23:3, 'Beware of the king's delicacies, they are deceitful food.' When you are in the corridors of power and you're negotiating at the tables of power, we can deceive ourselves into thinking that 'I belong here, I am part of this.' And the surest sign that that conversion has occurred is when the lobbyist who's supposed to be representing a constituency and taking their message to the Congress instead turns around and starts explaining and justifying why Congress just stabbed that constituency in the back. You know, 'Senator Dole had to do this or that,' or, 'Senator so-and-so had to do something else.' Then you realize that they have eaten those deceptive foods. But this deception, it doesn't come from the king--it's a self-deception. And so we have to warn ourselves when we're in this process not to succumb to that and to think of the wisdom of the world as somehow suitable to the children of light."
A commitment to Biblical ethics clearly influences Mr. Pratt's work for the Gun Owners of America. He claims that the Bible "talks a lot about using lethal force in the defense of a person, and what are the limits of that force. . . . I think that probably the principle is laid out best in Proverbs 25:26 where it says, 'For the righteous to give way to the wicked is the same as a murky spring or a polluted well.' God doesn't take pleasure in having us, the recipients of the gift of life, turn it over without any due process and without any godly reason to some miscreant who would steal from God. That's why death is demanded, because there's no other form of punishment that fits when murder is committed. We don't get restitution, we don't get time in jail in a Biblical system, we get death, when we commit murder. In Exodus 22:2-3, in the case laws following the Ten Commandments, it talks about when you can kill a thief and when you can't. So obviously there are times when it is necessary to do so. Not that that's necessarily your object, but in killing someone in self-defense, there's no blood on your hands, if it's truly a self-defense situation." He prefers not to use such terminology as "universal right to bear arms," since he does not see the concept of "rights" in the Bible. "I see 'responsibility.' We have a responsibility to protect our life, and, if we're not to be worse than an infidel, that of our household. That's why we've got locks on our doors. And once somebody has put a lock on their door, they've conceded my argument, because then they're not going to be able to go out and piously pray. And I don't want to be against pious prayer, but a pious prayer that would limit human action to waiting on God for everything. . . . Is that the way we're supposed to plant our fields? We just pray and God will do it? He's sort of our errand boy? We're given various responsibilities that we're expected to carry out."
He denies that Christ, as reflected in His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to turn the other cheek, was preaching pacifism, for that would contradict His teaching in other places:
"and I think He's the same yesterday, today, and forever, so I don't think He contradicts Himself."
He also takes exception to Christians and others who would argue against proliferation of guns because they increase the possibility of violence. "They basically have taken a very un-Biblical assumption of human behavior when they make that argument. They're arguing as behaviorists, as Marxists, as something other than Christians. Now I'm not saying that they're Communists in their heart, I'm just saying that they've made a very dangerous assumption about human behavior. When the first murder occurred, the one recorded in Genesis, . . . we're not even told what the instrument was that Cain used. It might've been his fist, perhaps it was a rock, or a plow. . . . God doesn't respond with a waiting list for rocks, or a registration system for plows, or anything like that--He goes after Cain and punishes Cain and ever since Noah the punishment was death, but He deals with the person and the problem with the person's heart and there are certain penalties that are prescribed as well. But clearly none of them go against other people and they don't go against the externalities. . . . Everything I see in the Scripture is that man's problem is a spiritual problem and man's salvation is a spiritual solution. And externalities are, at best, of secondary importance. . . . The world we live in is a spiritual world, ultimately, and even the whole idea of national defense--you know, all the armaments in the world . . . won't be worth anything if you're in rebellion against God. The record of the Jews in their dealings with the Philistines in I Samuel 13 . . . is an outworking of Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26: a people faithful to God are going to be blessed, and one of them will chase a thousand. But if they're in rebellion against God, there's a progressive measuring out of curses until they finally get it or until they're finally wiped out altogether. Jehoshophat was another example, of a godly king, who, when he had a military buildup--he was at peace with his neighbors--but it's clear from II Chronicles 17 why the peace with the neighbors: because he was also tearing down abortion clinics and basically taking a spiritual leadership role in the country, and the passage makes it clear that's why they were at peace. Yeah, it was nice they had the military buildup, and that certainly was good; but the drive for their peace was their spiritual condition."
Mr. Pratt stated that he had not had much conversation with Pat Buchanan regarding his faith. He described the Presidential candidate as "a Roman Catholic in the Augustinian mold, a very traditional orthodox Catholic, . . . [who] clearly . . . believes the Bible rather literally, because he made a defense on national television of six-day creation. He referred to that as the reason why he thinks homosexuals should not be allowed to practice openly in the military, because it was something that was proscribed for conduct. I'd like to see a lot of evangelicals be as open in their acceptance of the Bible for the basis of their decision-making as Pat Buchanan." He is not sure if Buchanan has "really has placed his trust in Jesus Christ alone for his salvation. . . . But I do know that I am thrilled that anybody in our day and age would make such an open defense of the Scripture as the basis for decisions on controversial points."
Mr. Pratt is himself an evangelical Protestant and serves as an elder at Harvester Presbyterian Church in Springfield, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. He commented, "By the grace of God, I think our Presbytery and our General Assembly [i.e., regional and national church courts], even with all [their] warts, move in a more elegant fashion than that. It's interesting because a lot of the forms are the same. We've obviously left our imprint as Presbyterians on the American political process; but, happily, I think there really is an effort to seek God's will much more in our [ecclesiastical] process. Even when I don't like the outcome, I still have a lot less trouble with the motives of 'the other side' of an issue. But here [on Capitol Hill], there's no seeking of even what the Constitution is all about. And it's not just me that has that problem. Congressman Bartlett took to the floor . . . us[ing] one of those little one minute speeches, and he pulled out of his pocket his ever-present copy of the Constitution and it kind of flips open to Article I, Section 8, and he rebuked his colleagues by . . . [summarizing] the 18 different things that are listed there as what the Congress can do, and he said, 'These are the things that we can do and look at all the other things that we are doing and we don't have any jurisdiction to do.' As he finished up and was leaving the floor, the recording clerk came up to him and said, 'Mr. Bartlett, could I have a copy of what you were reading from? I'd like to make sure I can get your remarks verbatim.' And he said, 'It was just a copy of the Constitution.' And the clerk said, 'Yeah, but I'm not sure where I could get a copy of that here.' So, I don't think you'd ever have that happen on the floor of any of our [church] bodies. And, you know, whatever our frustrations with our [ecclesiastical] system, by the grace of God there really is a substantive difference. I think the men there are by and large really genuinely seeking to be faithful to the vows which they have taken. And unhappily that does set them apart from the political process, because they take vows, . . . under God, that 'I'm going to uphold this Constitution,' and they just don't give it a never-mind as soon as that ceremony is over. It's just words."
Although a participant in Republican politics, this Buchanan lieutenant is not necessarily committed to the GOP. "I think the Republican party will have whatever policies are propounded by the folks who are in control of the party, and that's why if a coalition of, shall we say, Constitutionally-minded poeple are able to wrest control of the party from the inside-the-Beltway establishment that now controls it, the Republican party will be a perfectly fine vehicle for pro-lifers and pro-gunners and so forth. If that control is not obtained, then it won't be. It's a vehicle. It's just like whatever it was that Cain used to kill Abel--if it's used the way that God intends it, it'll be a good thing; if not, then it's going to be horrible."
The issue that brought Mr. Pratt into the spotlight was the charge that he is a racist, an allegation based on his appearance at a 1992 convention in Estes Park, Colorado, at which were present some white supremacists. He decries the allegation "that by somehow being there I was working with and had ties to the Aryan Nations. That's just patently false on its face, and would have to be, I would think, for somebody whose church is multi-racial, who has a black pastor . . . (actually, an intern), who preaches there and fills the pulpit quite often; and who hires blacks and Jews at Gun Owners of America and who belongs to these organizations such as CORE [Congress on Racial Equality]. . . and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. So, that information, I think, would put the lie to the allegation, and that's probably almost certainly why that information seldom was brought to the attention of the American people, because the media had an agenda and they simply did not want that to be known." He also stated that GOA, in trying to prevent erosion of Fourth Amendment rights, has worked with the ACLU; which, Pratt notes with irony, "is another probably typical characteristic of the average anti-Semite."
To deal with the charge of racism, Mr. Pratt followed the Biblical example of Nehemiah in dealing with his enemy, Sanballat, who sent a letter to defend himself. Mr. Pratt commented, "We sent out an op-ed piece, and I was on 'Nightline' and 'Crossfire' and other TV and radio shows, many of which were national. And I think there was a substantial clearing of the air, although I am also quite sure that there are many people who only saw that first-page newspaper article. . . . The morning shows that ABC and CBS have had initially scheduled me, and I kind of think that after they saw me on various other TV shows realized, you know, you give that guy five minutes, he may just be able to pack enough of an answer in that he might dispel what we're trying to do. And so, they cancelled me out." Knowledge that his adversaries will someday have to face a Judge has kept Mr. Pratt from being bitter. He claims that he really has "been able to pray for them and not just that they fall into the pit that they've dug for me, although I did pray that. You know, these people are a mission field, and they are just as much in need of the Lord as the guy living next door to me. So, I've been able to pray for my enemies, and that has kept me from being consumed by some root of bitterness. Since I don't have any other way of dealing with the problem, I can't take Matthew 18 [a passage dealing with church discipline] to them since they're not under any proper authority. But they are under the Lord, and I can take my case to Him. And because of that, I was able to count it all joy when I encountered these various tribulations." Mr. Pratt is grateful for the support of his family--a Panamanian wife and four grown children--and he adds, "The church has been extremely supportive."
Regarding the future of the country, Mr. Pratt responded, "Well, in the long-term, I am optimistic, because I really do believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. But, in the short-term, I believe that the message to our country would have to be that of Jeremiah: unless we repent, God's judgment is going to continue, not come some time in the future. It's going to continue, and it's going to get heavier. So, I think our challenge as Christians, as evangelists, ought to be a real burden, for each one of us, to think that there are so many people in this country that are really hell-bound. And everything we see around us indicates that even people who call on the name of Jesus Christ, the day's going to come when they're going to stand before Him and He's going to say, 'I never knew you!' There's a whole lot of deception going on in this country, and we'd better sound off so that at least we can say with Paul that there's nobody's blood on my hands because I was faithful to preach the gospel to everyone that I came into contact with."
Mr. Larry Pratt, Executive Director
Gun Owners of America
8001 Forbes Place, Suite 102
Springfield, VA 22151