Over the weekend, we learned that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will spend $12 million airing ads in 13 states pushing senators to support expanded background checks for gun purchases. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre, in his usual restrained fashion, described Bloomberg’s engagement as “reckless” and “insane,” but what’s so remarkable is that this is something you need an ad war to accomplish. After all, universal background checks (which would extend such checks to gun shows and private sales) enjoy pretty much universal support, with polls showing around 90 percent of Americans in favor, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and gun owners.
And yet, not only are lots of Republicans still holding back, but even some Democrats are afraid to take a position on universal background checks. Greg Sargent reports that at least five Democratic senators—Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Kay Hagen (NC), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (SD)—are refusing to say where they stand on the issue. There’s only one reason why: the abject, soul-gripping fear of the red-state Democrat.
There are certainly some times when a legislator would want to withhold judgment on an issue or a bill. Maybe it’s highly technical, or complex and multifaceted, or something that hasn’t been contemplated before, and she needs time to study it and weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. But this isn’t one of those cases. Sure, there are some particulars that would need to be worked out, but at this point the question is relatively simple: Do you support requiring some kind of background check for private gun sales, or not?1
But even with the knowledge that they would have pretty much their entire constituencies behind them if they came out for universal checks, they can’t bring themselves to say where they stand.
This is just one obvious case, but if you’re a red-state Democrat, you have to live with this kind of fear all the time.2 Since you know your party is unpopular in your home state, you have to be constantly looking for ways you can buck the party, and worrying about the times when you support the things your party stands for. Even if your leadership understands the necessity, it has to make things a bit uncomfortable with your colleagues. You’re forever worrying that the voters you represent will grow angry with you, and saying to them, in effect, “Please don’t be mad at me.” And the more the issue touches on “cultural” matters implicating what people see as their identities, the more fear it inspires, since the senator doesn’t want to be tarred with the lethal “She’s not one of us” attack in her next election.
All politicians have to worry about upsetting the folks back home, which is why they aren’t, as a group, particularly courageous. But the more precarious your electoral situation is, the less freedom you have to just say what you believe. And the red-state Democrats act as though they have no freedom at all. It just seems like a terrible way to live.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 25, 2013
1. The NRA’s argument against universal background checks has two parts. The first is that criminals won’t get them, so why bother? By that logic, of course, there’s no point in having laws against murder or robbery either. The second is that it will be an inconvenience for law-abiding gun owners, adding crushing “bureaucracy” to the simple process of adding to your arsenal. The truth, however, is that there are so many licensed gun dealers in America that you’re never more than a few miles from one. I made some graphs breaking out the numbers state by state here; Mayors Against Illegal Guns (an organization funded by Bloomberg) distributed the data geographically to show that 98.4 percent of Americans live within ten miles of a gun dealer. What that means is that instead of completing your gun purchase in 60 seconds, it might take you an hour, since you’d have to go down to the gun shop and have them run a check. Unless you’re buying a gun every day, that doesn’t seem like that much of a burden.
2. There are some blue state Republicans too, but for some reason they don’t seem to have so many visible displays of terror. Perhaps Mark Kirk and Susan Collins wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, having suffered through nightmares in which their constituents chase after them with pitchforks and torches, enraged by their refusal to support minimum-wage hikes and same-sex marriage. But somehow I doubt it.
You know, I had premonitions of this story, thinking: Didn’t the NRA used to support universal background checks as the alternative to every gun control measure? Between deadline pressures and the fear that I was having a senior moment, I didn’t follow it up. But now, via TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro, we have a former NRA president acknowledging that used to be the organization’s position not that very long ago, but has “changed its mind”:
The former president of the National Rifle Association told CNN Thursday night that the group has changed its mind on universal background checks. Back in 1999, after the Columbine school shooting, the NRA actually ran ads saying “it’s reasonable to provide for instant background checks at gun shows, just like gun stores and pawn shops.”
After last month’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn., the group has sounded a different note. Universal background checks are a waste of time at best and a “federal nightmare” that would lead to confiscation at worst, NRA leaders have said recently.
On CNN, former NRA President Sandy Froman admitted that the group dramatically changed its tune on universal background checks — which gun control advocates have said are their number one post-Newtown goal — and explained the reason was that the NRA now sees expanded background checks as totally ineffective.
“Yes, the NRA has changed its position,” Froman said. “And the reason it’s changed its position is because the system doesn’t work. The (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) is not working now. We have to get that working before we can add any more checks to that system. It’s already overburdened. In Colorado, I know it takes 10 — 10 days to do an instant check.”
So why not fix the system? If the NRA’s basic position is its members are law-abiding citizens who have no reason to fear background checks, why is it a problem?
Current NRA President David Keene echoed those concerns at a meeting with reporters Thursday while explaining his group’s opposition to expanded background checks. But he also sounded a more ominous note, warning that a universal background check infrastructure was possibly a first step toward a dismantling of Second Amendment rights.
“One of the reasons we’re fearful of a system like that is because we have been and continue to be and will continue to be very opposed to any kind of national gun registry system,” Keene told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast. “For several reasons. The historic reason of course is that is a precursor in many cases to confiscation.”
So boil off the evasions, and we’re right back to the insane idea that Barack Obama is part of, a front for, or a precursor to, a totalitarian regime, and that “patriots” need the right to keep their military-style weapons on hand in case the day arrives when it’s time to start killing cops and members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Somebody with access to these people needs to very directly ask them their own personal indicators for when it’s time to start the blood-letting.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 1, 2013
Last September, The National Rifle Association released its annual “enemies list” of organizations and individuals who endorse “anti-gun positions.” The bizarre list of 525 names includes mainstream organizations from AARP to the National Association of Police Organizations, and celebrities, national figures and journalists from Maya Angelou to Henry Winkler to E.J. Dionne Jr.
But why aren’t NRA members on the enemies list? After all, 75 percent of NRA members support universal background checks for gun sales, which the NRA opposes.
And why aren’t women on the enemies list? A majority 67 percent of women support a ban on semi-automatic weapons, which the NRA opposes.
And why aren’t gun owners on the enemies list? A majority 60 percent of gun owners favor a federal database to track gun sales, which the NRA opposes.
Lastly, why aren’t the American people on the NRA’s enemies list? The majority of Americans support an assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and universal background checks… all of which the NRA opposes.
There is one group that the NRA would never add to its enemies list — gun manufacturers. One must always remember on which side one’s bread is buttered.
By: Josh Markds, The National Memo, February 1, 2013
Just another day in gunner’s paradise…
Another day, another shooting. I would imagine if this continues, and I fear it might, that Americans will become desensitized—if they haven’t already. Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Oregon, Newtown, Albuquerque, and now Houston. Of course there will be those that say, well, at least it wasn’t a massacre. Hmm…
The problem is, they’re all linked by three things: guns, violence, and rage.
We as a society have to ask ourselves, why is it that our neighbors to the north, Canada, have guns, hunt, watch the same TV shows and movies as we do—why do we have a level of violence that is simply not on par with the rest of the Western world? And if we look to the Eastern world, like Japan; they not only watch our movies, but many Japanese films and certainly video games that are much more violent. But, they don’t have the guns.
So those of us on the left propose to reduce the type of guns our society, which is obviously very violent and filled with rage—has access to. Those on the right say that won’t stop gun violence. And they’re right. It’s a piece of a much needed, comprehensive, multifacted approach to save our kids, our future, and dare I say our country, from…ourselves.
Now some on both the left and right will blame mental illness. Sorry folks, not everyone who’s violent, enraged, owns a gun, and uses it suffers from mental illness. And with the National Rifle Association and others on the right pushing back on ideas such as tougher background checks, like at gun shows. Well, I guess we’ll keep those mentally ill types pretty well armed.
And of course there are the movies, television, and video games. As someone who lives in Los Angeles and lives about 20 minutes from La La Land (a.k.a. Hollywood), let me explain something to you: Hollywood’s a business. And businesses care about one thing: money. Their bottom line. Here’s a simple, little economic principle: supply and demand. You think the movies and TV shows our kids are watching are too violent? Then stop buying tickets. If you line up en masse for those cute romantic comedies and ignore the more violent Terminator-type films, Hollywood will supply you with what you demand.
So since some say we can’t blame the guns, some say we can’t blame the people owning the guns, some say it’s the mentally ill but don’t want further controls and certainly don’t want to pay for any type of mental illness programs or hospitals or medications—since we’re the ones buying those violent video games, TV shows, and movies, what’s left?
Look in the mirror.
As the parent or a 4 and 5 year old, I notice that the way I handle my stress is the way they handle theirs. They’re imitators. So for every parent out there that’s watching Die Hard or The Godfather in front of your toddler and you think they’re too busy playing with their Elmo, think again. Their brain is absorbing that flick, frame by frame. And for those of you who knock out a wall, or perhaps your wife or girlfriend every time you get ticked off, our kids are watching.
America, we are responsible for those that died. For ignoring our culture of rage and violence far too long…and for not correcting those behaviors within ourselves. This isn’t just systemic, it’s epidemic. So what are we as a nation going to do about it?
By: Leslie Marshall, U. S. News and World Report, January 23, 2013
“Defying A Bloody Status Quo”: In The Face Of Brutality And Carnage, The “Moderate” Is Fighting Back
President Obama went big in offering a remarkably comprehensive plan to curb gun violence, and good for him. But his announcement Wednesday is only the beginning of a protracted struggle for national sanity on firearms. Extremists have controlled the debate on guns for many years. They will do all they can to preserve a bloody status quo. The irrationality of their approach must be exposed and their power broken.
Far from acting as if his work was now done, the president made clear that he is fully invested in seeing his agenda realized — and fully prepared to lead a national movement to loosen the grip of resignation and cynicism in the face of brutality and carnage. Gun violence is not some “boutique” issue, as it is occasionally called. We are in danger of having mass shootings define us as a nation. As a people, we must rise up against this obscenity.
This fight is especially challenging for many who view themselves as “moderates” or “centrists.” Moderation is a thoroughly honorable disposition, and Obama’s proposals are moderation incarnate. By international standards, they are very cautious. The president did not call for registering all guns or confiscating assault weapons. He strongly endorsed the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. He is operating within a broad consensus about what is possible and what can work.
An assault weapons ban received 38 Republican votes in the House in 1994 and is backed by 58 percent of Americans, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Were those Republicans outside the mainstream? And what about that 58 percent of Americans? The poll also found that 65 percent favored a ban on high-capacity magazines, another part of the Obama plan, and 88 percent favored closing the gun show loophole, part of the effort to make sure there are background checks for all gun purchases.
But the lobbies that purport to speak for gun owners (while actually representing the interests of gun manufacturers) don’t care what the public thinks. They tried to pretend the president’s ideas are radical. And it shows how perverse our national conversation can become when those who speak in the name of civility, reason and bipartisanship give in to timidity.
Too often, moderation has become a synonym for cowardice. Too often, moderates lack the guts to define the sensible middle of the road themselves — as Obama has done on the gun issue — and then defend it. Instead, they yield to the temptation to calibrate where everyone else stands before deciding what they believe. This allows extremists who lack any shame to drag our discourse off the road entirely, into a ditch of unreason, fear and invective.
After the NRA’s vile new advertisement that uses Secret Service protection for the president’s daughters to make a small-minded political point, can anyone take the organization’s arguments seriously again? Aren’t politicians who continue to bow low before the NRA complicit with a crowd that lacks any sense of decency?
It tells us all we need to know that the gun lobby is deeply afraid of the facts and the evidence. This is why one of the most important actions the president took was to end the ban on research into gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the weapons lobby had forced through a compliant Congress.
Yet Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also worked hard to find middle ground in their anti-violence program in drawing on concerns raised since the Sandy Hook tragedy by gun rights advocates. Obama thus addressed not only firearms issues but also the imperative to improve school security and our mental health system, as well as the need to know more about the impact of violent videogames.
Most heartening of all was the tone the president took. He did not cast himself as an evenhanded umpire far above the fray, handing down ideas that all people of good will would inevitably accept. He acknowledged that the battle ahead would be difficult. He predicted he would have to fight the lie that his plan constituted “a tyrannical assault on liberty.” And he sought to mobilize a new effort to counteract the entrenched power of those who have dictated submissiveness in the face of bloodshed.
“Enough,” Obama declared, insisting that change would come only “if the American people demand it.”
By: E. J. Dionne Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 16, 2013