Thursday, July 26, 2012

It Was True in 2006 and It's Still True Today... "The NRA: A Criminal's Best Friend"

In an editorial this morning the National Catholic Reporter reminds us why in 2006 "An elaborate report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence" was entitled "The NRA: A Criminal's Best Friend" -- and why it is still true six years later: in its demonic effort to undo every reasonable effort to control firearms, the National Rifle Association is complicit in the 30,000 gun deaths perpetrated in the United States every year.

And that, as one analyst notes, is "far more than anywhere else in the world that is not a war zone."

NCR also quotes the E.J. Dionne column I posted yesterday, and agrees with it wholeheartedly.

Isn't it time we stopped rewarding the NRA for intimidating reasonable people and responsible politicians?

NCR's editorial follows:

If the popular definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results -- applies in the matter of shooting massacres, then we have reached a dangerous level of cultural madness.

Adhering to what has become near ritual in these killings, President Barack Obama traveled to Colorado to console the victims of the July 20 movie theater massacre, promising them they won't be forgotten; news anchors did their solemn duty to acknowledge the inconsolable loss of victims to their families and friends; religious people held public prayer rallies; and we wondered endlessly in our living rooms at another public display of demented behavior, this time by a man who allegedly booby-trapped his apartment with explosives before taking off with his newly -- and legally -- acquired assault weapon and his thousands of rounds of ammunition (some allegedly acquired online) to mow people down at the local cinema.

Hour after hour we pick through the details of the tragedy, lamenting our inability to do anything in the face of such evil and grieving the loss of another place of innocence -- we've already seen the madness in high schools, colleges and places of work -- to the crazed random violence of a heavily armed, disturbed loner. What is shoved to the background, however, by the candidates and the respectable news anchors and most of the endless talking heads is the searing reality that in these massacres as well as in nearly 30,000 per annum killings, we have become, as a society, victim of an unrestrained, out-of-control gun culture.

It is futile, of course, to try to enter the tortured psyche of such an actor as the man charged with killing 12 and injuring 58 in Aurora, Colo. At the same time, it is essential to realize that while he might have been alone in his conception of this violence, he was not alone in acquiring the means to pull off the horror.

Standing squarely behind him, assuring him access to whatever means and level of gun violence he might wish to get his hands on, is the National Rifle Association, a lobby that holds an entire country hostage to its twisted notions of freedom and security and its agonized interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The power of both its money and its propaganda is again evident. It has intimidated otherwise responsible and reasonable public servants into silence in the face of gun laws that are patently absurd in their lack of oversight.

The NRA loves to pose as a protector of constitutional rights and friend of law enforcement. In fact, however, since the first meaningful federal gun control legislation passed in 1968, the lobby has repeatedly and effectively interfered with law enforcement, backing measures that have seriously handcuffed the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate and prosecute crimes involving gun dealers and gun owners.

An elaborate 2006 report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence -- "The NRA: A Criminal's Best Friend" -- details the lobby's efforts to counter the most reasonable restraints on sales of weapons and ammunition and to hamper the ability of federal authorities to track gun sales and to prosecute violations of whatever remnants of gun control statutes remain.

The NRA is beyond extreme in its efforts to allow virtually anyone to buy any manner of weapon and ammunition at any time, endangering not only the public but also law enforcement officers who have nationally opposed many of the NRA's initiatives.

Following the killings in Colorado, gun advocates, taking up the NRA strategy, immediately denounced any suggestion that we might, as a society, raise the issue of gun control anew by claiming that such talk was "exploiting" the tragedy and its victims.

As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne pointed out: "Nobody who points to the inadequacy of our flood-control policies or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers is accused of 'exploiting' the victims of a deluge. ... Nobody who lays part of the blame for an accident on insufficient regulation of, say, the airlines or coal mining is accused of 'exploiting' the accident's victims."

Health care writer Rob Waters, on the Forbes magazine website, cited gun violence as a major public health issue, noting, "In the 10 years from 2000 through 2009, more than 298,000 people died from gunshots in the U.S. [far more than anywhere else in the world that isn't a war zone], about 30,000 people a year." Excluding natural causes of death, guns constituted the second-leading cause of death, behind only car accidents, which killed 417,000 people in those 10 years.

During that same period, two-thirds of the 179,000 homicides in the United States involved a gun.

The gun control debate can become complex in its finer points and as the talk runs to smaller arms and those used for sport and hunting. There is little danger that those privileges, indeed rights, will ever be infringed.

No rationale exists for anyone, save law enforcement officers and members of a "well-ordered militia," to own an assault rifle and hundreds, even thousands, of rounds of ammunition. To allow another gun massacre to go by with nothing more than hand-wringing and empty words is not being considerate of victims. It is rather buying into a culture-wide denial and giving assent to the insanity. We need to talk seriously about gun control.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gun Massacre: Shock and Mourning Are Bogus, Until We Outlaw Assault Weapons

So far there are only a few lone voices with the guts to say out loud what everyone knows about recent gun massacres:  our shock and our mourning are self-serving, hypocritical shams, as long as we allow ourselves to be duped by the National Rifle Association's ridiculous argument that every American adult who can fire a gun has an absolute right to possess and use assault weapons.

The NRA, unfortunately, has gotten traction with this argument over the last decade -- and so the gun lobbyists have repeated it after every major firearms fiasco --including the Virginia Tech massacre, the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and her constituents, and now the Aurora, CO, monstrosity.

Among the few who are not political cowards:  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Tom Menino -- whose courage is abetted by those increasingly rare citizens who are bright enough and honest enough to understand how stupid and self-destructive the NRA position is.

Another is Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr., who refers to both mayors in his July 20th column.  Dionne points out that we would not buy the NRA's insane, sleazy argument in the face of any other controllable disaster or corporate negligence.  It is only in our unbridled idolatry of firearms that anyone takes such a dogma seriously and gets away with imposing it on the rest of us.  Dionne's column follows:

For all the dysfunction in our political system, a healthy pattern usually takes hold when a terrible tragedy seizes the nation’s attention.

Normally, we engage in a searching conversation over what rational steps can be taken by individuals, communities and various levels of government to make the recurrence of a comparable tragedy less likely. Sometimes we act, sometimes we don’t, but at least we explore sensible solutions.

Unless the tragedy involves guns. Then our whole public reasoning process goes haywire. Anyone who dares to say that an event such as the massacre at a Colorado movie theater early Friday demands that we rethink our approach to the regulation of firearms is accused of “exploiting” the deaths of innocent people.

This is part of the gun lobby’s rote response, and the rest of us allow it to work every time. Its goal is to block any conversation about how our nation’s gun laws, the most permissive in the industrialized world, increase the likelihood of mass killings of this sort.

First, the gun lobby goes straight to the exploitation argument — which is, of course, a big lie. You can see this because we never allow an assertion of this kind to stop conversation on other issues.

Nobody who points to the inadequacy of our flood-control policies or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a deluge. Nobody who criticizes a botched response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a natural disaster is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a hurricane or a tornado. Nobody who lays part of the blame for an accident on insufficient regulation of, say, the airlines or coal mining is accused of “exploiting” the accident’s victims.

No, it’s only where a gun massacre is concerned that an absolute and total gag rule is imposed on any thinking beyond the immediate circumstances of the catastrophe. God forbid that we question even a single tenet of the theology of firearms.

The lobby then goes to its backup moves. The problem, it insists, lies in the failure to enforce existing laws — conveniently ignoring that the National Rifle Association’s whole purpose is to weaken the gun statutes we already have.

The worshipers of weapons also lay heavy stress on the psychological disabilities of the killer in a particular incident to create a sense of futility and resignation. Crazy people, they say, will do crazy things, and there is nothing we can do about this. Never mind that more rational laws would help keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of mental illness. Never mind that it’s harder to get a license to drive a car than it is to own a gun. Never mind that even a Supreme Court ruling that gave an expansive reading of the Second Amendment nonetheless acknowledged the right of the people through their legislatures and Congress to enact sensible gun regulations.

Oh, yes, and then there is the trump card: We’d all be safer, says the gun lobby, if every last one of us owned a gun.

Why is there so little pushback against assertions that are so transparently designed to prevent rather than promote dialogue? The answer lies in a profound timidity on the part of politicians in both parties. The Republicans are allied with the gun lobby, and the Democrats are intimidated.

Sure, there are some dissenters. Many of the nation’s mayors, led by Mike Bloomberg of New York and Tom Menino of Boston, have tried to organize a push for carefully tailored laws aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands. But they are the exceptions. President Obama has done little to challenge the NRA, and yet it attacks him anyway.

There are many reasons for this politics of timidity, not the least being a United States Senate that vastly overrepresents rural voters relative to suburban and urban voters. (The electoral college overrepresents rural voters, too.) Add to this a Republican Party that will bow low before any anti-government argument that comes along, and a Democratic Party petrified of losing more rural support — and without any confidence that advocates of tougher gun laws will cast ballots on the basis of this issue.

So let’s ask ourselves: Aren’t we all in danger of being complicit in throwing up our hands and allowing the gun lobby to write our gun laws? Awful things happen, we mourn them and then we shrug. And that’s why they keep happening.