Libertarian Gary Johnson talks guns, private prisons - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Presidential candidate Gary Johnson talks guns, for-profit prisons

Gary Johnson's presidential campaign goal is to win 5 percent of the popular vote. (Source: Gary Johnson's presidential campaign goal is to win 5 percent of the popular vote. (Source:

(RNN) - Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will not be the next president of the United States.

But the former Republican governor of New Mexico and current Libertarian Party nominee for president hopes to use his fringe popularity to tear into the current dominance of America's two-party system.

Johnson isn't saying he can win the presidency and transform Washington. Rather, his goal is to earn 5 percent of the popular vote, which, under the Federal Campaign Act, would qualify the Libertarian Party to receive federal matching funds for the next election and provide some competition for the two major parties.

Five percent is not an unattainable number. Although most recent national polls do not include Johnson, state polls conducted by Public Policy Polling show him hovering around the 5 percent mark in several states, including Nevada and Virginia. And a nationwide poll released in September by Reason magazine (a libertarian-minded publication that supports many of Johnson's ideas), had Johnson at 6 percent.

Whether Johnson manages to get 5 percent or not, there is no denying he has built a large following that is reminiscent of Republican congressman Ron Paul's small "l" libertarian crowd. However, much of that following adores Johnson for his stance on legalizing marijuana and taking American troops out of other countries immediately to cut costs and stop wars. And indeed, a pro-pot, pro-peace message is what Johnson has focused on in campaign ads.

But the rest of his libertarian platform, including gun rights, private prisons, climate change, and healthcare might make many of his progressive supporters uneasy while earning him a second look by pro-gun, anti-tax Republicans.

In order to get a clearer picture of Johnson's 'other' ideas, we asked the candidate to explain his platform in an exclusive interview.

Guns protect against a 'growing police state'

After a summer of mass shootings, many gun control advocates felt that enough was enough and stronger laws must be adopted to stop gun violence, including a ban on automatic weapons.

But not Gary Johnson.

"I'm a firm believer in the second amendment and so I would not have signed legislation banning assault weapons or automatic weapons," Johnson said, adding that lines should be drawn when it comes to war-time weaponry such as rocket launchers.

"But how do you stem gun violence? I think that concealed carry was a way to do that," he said. "I go back to 1994 when I was running for governor of New Mexico and I believed that supporting conceal and carry would lead to less overall gun violence. And I think that has actually panned itself out."

New Mexico currently has some of the nation's most pro-gun laws, in part thanks to Johnson's adamant refusal as governor to sign bills putting more restrictions on guns.

Today, New Mexico ranks 13th in the nation in gun murders in relation to population, with 3.29 per 100,000 people, according to FBI statistics.

But while Johnson's gun stance might have a pragmatic goal, it is also inspired by the men who wrote the Second Amendment.

When asked if it was the Founding Fathers' intention for people to own high-powered assault weapons, Johnson said their intention was for citizens to protect themselves from the government - something relevant to today.

"I think [the Second Amendment] was designed to protect us against a government that could be very intrusive." Johnson said. "And in this country, we have a growing police state - if people can own assault rifles or automatic rifles, I think leads to a more civil government."

Johnson said that the right to own high-powered arms can act as a protection against illegal house raids by police and federal agents and act as a deterrent to a growing police state.

"You can look at the most egregious examples of the war on drugs where federal agents have gone in and killed individuals without their being any justification whatsoever," Johnson said. "And if these individuals that were killed were to have known to possess automatic weapons or assault weapons, maybe they would have been more careful and more diligent when it comes to due process."

For-profit prisons not the problem - bad drug laws are

For-profit prison companies like Correction Corporation of America and GEO Group have been in the news for an array of negative issues, including running dangerous facilities and being accused of lobbying lawmakers to create legislation that would put more people behind bars, including having an influence on Arizona's controversial immigration law, which would put more immigrants in detention facilities.

As governor of New Mexico, Johnson was an avid supporter of private prisons. And although he acknowledges that they have problems, he also believes that the positives outweigh the negatives.

"I think good government is offering goods and services at lower prices," Johnson said. "In the case of New Mexico, where we privatized half the state prisons, it was the same goods and services delivered for two-thirds the cost. In my opinions, that's good government."

Aside from lower costs (something that is strongly contested by opponents of for-profit prisons), Johnson believes that by not being tied to a government agency, for-profit prisons would be easier to shut down - something that would happen if people were not put in prison for drugs.

I always said that as governor of New Mexico, if we could adopt rational drug policy and empty out the prisons, then it would be a lot easier to empty the private prisons as opposed to the public prisons," Johnson said, adding that "adopting a rational drug policy would definitely empty out some of the 2.3 million people we have behind bars in this country because of our drug laws. A lot of them would otherwise be tax-paying, law-abiding citizens."

The U.S. prison population increased 722 percent between 1970 and 2009, according to the Justice Policy Institute. Meanwhile, CCA, which was founded in 1983, has grown into a $1.67 billion company that is completely dependent on government contracts.

While Johnson admits that for-profit prisons can have an influence on lawmakers to put people behind bars, he says that public unions are just as guilty, giving Proposition 19 - the 2010 initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California that ended up failing - as an example.

"The largest opposition against prop 19 was the public prison union," Johnson said. "So I it's the public prison union that really has a vested interest in keeping people locked up."

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, that state's prison guard union, did not officially oppose prop 19, but several publications indicated it had a strong influence on the outcome, as well as police officer and prosecutor unions.

On Sandy and government's role in natural disasters: 'good economy' is key to safety

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was under fire for saying that federal agencies like FEMA would best be handled by the private sector. As a libertarian, it would seem that Johnson shares this opinion, but he sees the federal government as having a role in matters of natural disasters - as long as it's paid for.

"I think perhaps the federal government brings resources to bear that perhaps states can't," Johnson said. "But of the issues with FEMA is that we don't budget for natural disasters and that we should be budgeting for them. So part of the spending crisis that we're in right now is because we don't budget for natural disasters. We just print the money to fix these things and we should be planning ahead for what inevitably are constant natural disasters that occur from one state to the next.'

Climate change has been blamed for what many believe to be an increase in storms like Sandy, leading to an increased call for government intervention to reduce carbon emissions. But Johnson prefers a free market approach.

"I just think that the best indicator of a good environment is a good economy," Johnson said. "I would not pass cap and trade legislation. I think that would be devastating to the economy. You and I as consumers are demanding less carbon emission, cleaner burning energy, and we're getting it; energy produced 50 years from now will be a lot cleaner than it is today, as it is a lot cleaner than 50 years ago."

He added: "The most effective way to bring about less carbon emission is for you and I as consumers to demand just that…an informed public demands less carbon emission. Do we have coal-burning heaters in our homes? No. We make those choices. We're consuming less oil and less energy, which is a good thing - that's part of the equation also. But a good economy is what leads to a good environment. And if we have a monetary collapse in this country due to our continuing to spend more money than is sustainable, then people will be burning furniture and burning trees to stay warm - that's a result of a monetary collapse. And that's where we're headed and that would be catastrophic to clean air."

Government medicine will kill you

Johnson wants health care in America to be as far removed from Obamacare as possible.

Not only would be repeal Obamacare, but he would drastically cut and reform Medicare and Medicaid - systems he says are unsustainable and will eventually help cause an economic collapse.

Instead of the current model, Johnson favors giving states block grants to help pay for health care.

"It would be spending within our means," Johnson said. "A lot of talk is given to the fact that we have hundreds of trillions of dollars of unfunded liability. Well, if we keep Medicare as a program the same way it is today with the same eligibility going forward, we have more of unfunded liability."

Johnson says that to reduce costs, he would like to see states be able to redraw eligibility requirements for Medicare and Medicaid, but did not specify what they would be. He did say, however, that the biggest danger of the current model is that the government goes bankrupt.

"Wouldn't we like to have a safety net for health care for those who are poor and over 65 as opposed to a monetary collapse of government where no health care would be delivered at all to those that are poor and those over 65?" he said.

To reduce costs, Johnson adopts the libertarian view that a free market would cure the health care industry.

"Health care in this country is about as far removed from free market as it possibly can be," Johnson said. "Government restricts the choices that we have. Government restricts the number of doctors that we have."

In a free health care market, Johnson says, there would be fewer restrictions on medical school admittance, which would double the number of doctors. There would also be more tailor-made insurance options.

"How about giving us a myriad of choices that currently don't exist? Why do we have an insurance model?" Johnson said. "I would not have insurance to cover myself for ongoing medical need in a free market approach to health care. I would have insurance to cover myself for catastrophic injury or illness, and I would pay-as-you-go in a system that is really competitive."

Johnson says that a freer health care market would also increase supply, which would lower costs and force prices to be advertised and transparent.

"You go to the doctor today, you have no idea what you're going to pay and the person at the desk has no idea what you're going to get billed," Johnson said.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), U.S. healthcare costs are the highest in the world and about 60 percent more expensive than in other developed countries, including those with socialized medicine.

Part of the reason for the higher costs, the OECD report said, were higher drug prices and additional procedures. 

Johnson is on the presidential ballot in 48 states. His campaign lost lawsuits to get on the ballots in Michigan and Oklahoma.

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