Let us pause now not to mourn the innocents who were riddled by a madman with a shredder that he borrowed from his equally distraught mother’s stash of firearms. No, let us grieve as a nation for the National Rifle Association and its leader, Wayne LaPierre, for having to suffer the guilt of anti-social acts of terror as well as their own delusional brand of lunacy. For in the words of Jesus, “They know not what they do.”
Conversation is the antidote to action. And so, too, let the pundits and the politicians, once and for all, abandon the word “conversation,” as in, “We’ve got to have a conversation…“ This is about an outcry, a demand, a national furor and not a genteel chat over petite fours at a Junior League tea. This about the urgency of adopting a program, of elbow-grabbing for votes and getting the job done. Enough conversation.
The enduring crisis over mass killings is not about the Second Amendment. It is about murder, pure and simple. Adoration of the Constitution and wholly reverence for firearms in this gun-crazy nation should be removed from the equation and the debate. Consider the situation for what it is. No place is safe because of guns.
President Obama has done just that. He has appointed a task force whose assignment is to provide gun control legislation in just a few short weeks instead of the usual long-term study. In that way, public pressure can be sustained and demand for action by Congress (probably an oxymoron) will intensify as the memories of those 20 school children and six adults are kept alive in a compressed amount of time.
Obama has specified three points of action: Banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and requiring a background check before any gun is sold. It all sounds simple enough, as simple as reinstating the original ban on assault weapons that was allowed to expire in 2004. But the larger question is whether Obama will expend the same amount of political capital on gun control as, say, immigration reform, climate control, tax reform and the debt ceiling. He has promised that he will.
But we really knew the NRA’s response, even through a week of silence and blackouts. The Newtown massacre is everybody’s fault but the NRA’s. It’s the media’s fault; it’s Hollywood’s fault; it’s politicians’ fault; it’s the public’s fault. And the only way to solve the nation’s culture of violence and guns is with more guns. The NRA, after promising a meaningful contribution to the debate, wants every school in America to be an armed camp. “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” That’s it. LaPierre turned a supposed news briefing into a 25-minute commercial for more guns. His tone of defiance appeared calibrated to rally the base and rattle gun control advocates.
There have been three major pieces of gun control enacted between 1968 and 1994, all when Democrats had total control of the federal government: In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson rammed through a ban on mail-order gun sales; in 1993, President Bill Clinton passed legislation that required a five-day waiting period and background check; and in 1994, Clinton won passage—with the forceful support of then Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del)—of the ban on assault weapons which the administration of President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress allowed to expire.
The killing machine that has focused America’s attention on gun control once again is the Bushmaster AK15, the most popular rifle in America with an estimated three million in circulation. The average cost is $700-$900, and with a 30-bullet expanded clip the shredder can fire off a round a second, enough firepower to turn Bambi into mincemeat within seconds. The weapon belongs on the killing fields of Afghanistan and not on the school grounds of Newtown or in anyone’s closet or den. Beyond the Bushmaster itself, there are an estimated 300 million privately owned guns in circulation in America, according to the FBI, but the truth is that nobody really has an accurate count.
A Children’s Defense Fund report revealed that eight children are killed every day by guns and that over a single two-year period, 2008-2009, 34,387 kids were killed by guns. This year alone, 101 persons were killed in 13 major mass shootings. The total includes the shooters who either took their own lives or were shot by police. A sampling of the locations includes Oakland, Calif., Seattle, Wash., Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis., Minneapolis, Minn., and the latest, Newtown, Conn. All involved arsenals that featured Bushmaster rifles, and/or Glock and Sig Sauer semi-automatic weapons.
But Bushmaster and the NRA may have finally met their match. It’s true that Walmart has sold out of the weapon since the carnage in Newtown. But the national sporting goods chain, Dick’s, has temporarily suspended sales of the weapon and Cerberus Capital Management, a major investor in the gun industry, has said it is selling off its premier gun company, Bushmaster. LaPierre can shout and snort until the cows come home but it’s economic and public pressure that’ll turn the tide against him.
At the same time, many NRA stalwarts in the Republican party are caving to the public outcry and have begun easing away from the organization’s foam-at-the-mouth positions on firearms. And gun control activists have been picketing the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, VA. Demonstrators even interrupted LaPierre’s bizarre news conference last week, not once but twice.
The NRA has an estimated four million members, a tad more than one percent of the population, yet it has traditionally wielded an extraordinary amount of power over the nation’s political process, especially within the GOP and in the rural areas of the nation where a gun culture prevails. It has an annual budget of $300 million and spent $17.6 million to influence elections in the 2012 cycle. So far it has spent $1.9 million lobbying Congress this year.
The NRA is a front group for the nation’s firearms and munitions manufacturers and kind of a macho boy’s club for conservative headliners. The NRA website lists among its corporate sponsors Winchester, Brunton Hunting, Hunger’s Specialties, Smith & Wesson, Weatherby and Benelli. And its board of directors includes, among others, David Keene, Grover Norquist, John Bolton, Ollie North, Chuck Norris, Ted Nugent, Jim Gilmore and Ken Blackwell.
The organization’s political power, real or imagined, flows from its vast treasury and its club-to-the-head threat of recruiting political opponents to run against those who step out of line. But no one has been more outspoken against the NRA than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has described the organization’s political power as “a myth.” Bloomberg has put his billions where is mouth is to take down the NRA.
Public officials, from the sublime to the silly, have been scrambling to deal with the fallout from Newtown and the public demand for safe schools for their children. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), along with a group of liberal legislators, is following the Obama prescription for a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity clips. Maryland already requires background checks and waiting periods. Down I-95, in Virginia, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), by contrast, suggested arming teachers and other school officials as a line of defense in the classroom, perhaps anticipating the NRA’s identical position as the same as it was five years ago following the shootings at Columbine.
McDonnell joins Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) in the off-the-wall idea that teachers should learn to shoot as well as teach. Virginia, it should be noted, is a concealed-carry state as well as a wide open state for the purchase of guns. It is host to many gun shows, requires no background checks, allows unlimited gun purchases as well as straw purchases that are the largest source of illegal guns on the east coast. In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would have allowed concealed weapons in schools, churches and other public places.
So, as the NRA likes to say, guns don’t kill, people do. Yes, but they do it with guns. And after all, the NRA is in the gun-selling business.