Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 45 years ago yesterday, and one of the interesting little sidelights to the debate over guns that you might not be aware of is that gun advocates claim King as one of their own. You see, King had armed guards protect his family, and at one point applied for a permit in Alabama to carry a concealed weapon himself. He was turned down, since in the Jim Crow days the state of Alabama wasn’t about to let black men carry guns.
You can find references to these facts on all kinds of pro-gun web sites, as nonsensical as it may seem. Gun advocates want to claim King as part of their cause, but also want to completely repudiate everything he believed about the power of nonviolence, which is kind of like Exxon saying John Muir would have favored drilling for oil in Yosemite because he sometimes rode in cars. The reason Martin Luther King sought armed protection was there were significant numbers of people who wanted to kill him, and eventually one of them succeeded. If you’re a target for assassination, you should go ahead and buy a gun. But most of us aren’t.
This gets back to the threatening world so many gun advocates believe they live in. As they tell it, every one of us needs an arsenal of handguns and shotguns and AR-15s, despite the risk they might pose to ourselves and our families, because the risk from outside is so much greater. The imagine themselves as vulnerable as a civil rights activist in the Deep South in 1968. And they also believe that the authorities that are charged with our protection are indifferent or even hostile to our safety. That was certainly the case with King and other civil rights activists in the South in the 1960s; they knew that the government and the police wouldn’t be there to protect them, and some might even participate in trying to harm them.
But guess what: that’s not the world we live in today. The idea that the government is going to come knocking down your door, and you need to be ready to engage in a firefight with the police when that happens, is as ludicrous as the idea that MLK would be an advocate for further proliferation of guns if he were alive today.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 5, 2013
For the better part of 20 years, I have lived and worked in Washington, D.C., an urban metropolis once dubbed “the violence capital of America” by the Economist. I was born and raised, however, in Alaska, a largely rural state, where guns are an intricate part of its hunting culture and often necessary for survival.
I have lived and witnessed both sides of the gun control debate with my family and my friends, and I have sought to understand the valid points of each. My family believes that guns are to be used responsibly for hunting, sport, recreation and protection. My friends living in Washington, D.C., and other urban areas fervently believe that banning and restricting the use and flow of guns will reduce gun violence.
This past week, while visiting my family in Alaska, I attended my first gun show. I wasn’t sure what to expect and did see my share of interesting characters: One woman was carrying her AR-15 like it was a Gucci purse, and camo-chic was definitely the preferred attire, along with military bunny boots and Carhart coveralls. But what struck me most was that vendors were not professional dealers with slick advertisements, instead they were everyday citizens simply looking to sell their wares: Colt 45s, Glock revolvers, hunting knives, bear traps and the increasingly popular AR-15. As one vendor told me, “President Obama should be given the ‘gun dealer of the year’ award for increasing the sales of the AR-15.”
At the show, one could sense the ingrained culture surrounding gun ownership from both the vendors and attendees. They were patriotic, law-abiding citizens who want their constitutional rights to be respected and preserved and to protect their family and allow them to hunt the land.
Unfortunately, not everyone in possession of a gun is a law-abiding citizen. Law enforcement is asking for additional tools, such as the ability to have background checks conducted on all sales and to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Today, two out of every five guns sold in the U.S. change hands without a background check. In nine of 10 gun crimes, the gun used was not owned by the original purchaser.
Since the Brady Law took effect, which requires background checks on purchases from a federal licensed dealer, 172 million Americans have been subjected to background checks and 1.3 million criminals and other prohibited purchasers have been stopped from buying guns. In the three of the five states that host the most gun shows, Illinois, Pennsylvania and California, the “gun show loophole” was closed, requiring universal background checks on gun sales by unlicensed and private dealers, proving they can be done efficiently without harm to business.
In January, both Gallup and Fox News polls showed separately, that 91 percent of Americans favored universal background checks on all gun purchases with as many as 77 percent of National Rifle Association members supported the checks.
Ultimately, we must acknowledge the root cause and seek to change our nation’s heart and attitude toward the preciousness of life and not default to having violence solve our problems. My dad recently lamented that, “Until there is a societal attitude about the great value of each individual life, the carnage will continue.”
In the meantime, implementing universal background checks that preserve the rights of law-abiding citizens while denying those who target the innocent to perpetrate evil seems like a balanced, common sense first step.
By: Penny Lee, U. S. News and World Report, March 13, 2013
The boardwalk where generations strolled along one of the world’s great urban beaches is gone, twisted and then tossed into neighborhood streets by an unforgiving storm called Sandy.
Off-season devotees of the Atlantic are bound together in homage to the waves even after the temperatures have dropped and bathing suits have given way to fleece. But now, the joy of a winter’s day walk along the ocean between Beach 120th and 130th streets quickly gives way to sorrow at the sight of collapsed roofs, mounds of rubble, front porches warped into unnatural shapes and homes blown from their foundations now perching at perilous angles.
Still, the human spirit cannot be blown away. The highlight of my beach walk was etched on a plywood barrier protecting an empty lot. Someone had scrawled the words: “NO retreat. NO Surrender. Not now. Not Ever. Rockaway 4ever.”
For political junkies, the meaning of 2012 was defined by an electoral verdict rendered by a richly diverse electorate on behalf of President Obama. History may well judge the election as the year’s decisive event, a turning point in our national argument.
Yet it was also a year that ended in twin tragedies.
First came the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, and in New Jersey, Long Island, Staten Island, Manhattan and Connecticut. Sandy taught me something troubling about the limits of my own empathy. Of course I felt for those elsewhere whose lives were wrecked and whose communities were torn apart in other natural disasters. Televised reports seared New Orleans, and especially its Lower Ninth Ward, into the consciousness of all Americans.
But television pictures are less powerful than ties to a particular place and to the people who live there. My mother-in-law, Helen Boyle, and the families of two of my brothers-in-law, Brian and Kevin Boyle, were all displaced by the storm. They inspire my love for Rockaway, a place that was also home to so many firefighters, police officers and others who perished in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
We can’t forget Rockaway’s times of sadness, but these cannot wipe away so many moments of delight. Whenever we arrive for one of our frequent visits, my wife, Mary, our three kids and I are immediately drawn in as if we have spent our whole lives here. Old-fashioned places are like that. Community is not a philosophical abstraction in the blocks of the Belle Harbor neighborhood where my extended family lives.
An experience like Sandy dissolves ideology. My sister-in-law Kathy Boyle, part of the management team that helped keep South Nassau Communities Hospital open during the storm, offered a view of the role of private and public action so filled with common sense that it would never enter Washington’s debate.
In politics, we debate, uselessly, whether government agencies or nonprofits are “better.” Her conclusion is that not-for-profits with ties to people and neighbors — Catholic Charities and a slew of other religious groups, Team Rubicon, local charitable organizations such as Rockaway Wish, Rockaway Help and the Graybeards — were absolutely vital in the earliest days after the storm, before government help was up and running.
Then, government could kick in with larger-scale aid and basic services, notably a New York City Sanitation Department that cleared away mountains of sand and debris.
Kathy, more conservative than I, has no illusions about government, yet she also has no illusions that we can live without it. At the same time, none of us should pretend that government, without community, religious and nonprofit associations, can solve our problems all by itself. Our authentic tradition is to bring the public and voluntary spheres together, not divide them.
And surely government has no more important role than in protecting its citizens, young children above all, from violence. However much we identify with Sandy’s victims, we can probably never fully fathom the desolation felt by the parents in Newtown, Conn. A hurricane has no face. Nature has no conscience. The loss of a child to random violence committed by another human being is an inexplicable evil.
We must act forcefully to contain gun violence, and that is a political matter. But a year that ended on notes of heroism in response to natural disaster and endurance in response to human horror brings to mind George H.W. Bush’s challenge: We need to become “a kinder, gentler nation.” That seems a worthy resolution for 2013.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 30, 2012
Have you ever seen the holiday film classic “A Christmas Story”? Set in 1940s Indiana, it’s the charming tale of young Ralphie, whose only wish for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun. Poor Ralphie is constantly rebuffed by the adults in his life, who warn him, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
During this shattered holiday season, with so many Connecticut families experiencing unimaginable loss, the movie is a reminder that guns have always been popular in the American imagination. It also gently reminded me, however, that previous generations were much more circumspect and cautious in their attitudes toward firearms.
I am delighted that President Obama, shocked to his senses by the carnage in Connecticut, has finally found the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and take steps toward more regulation of firearms. But I fear that won’t be enough.
Don’t get me wrong: I support a ban on assault-type weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and waiting periods for gun purchases. All of those are common-sense measures that should already be the law of the land.
But I don’t think those steps will be enough to change a culture steeped in gun lore and conditioned to believe that firearms hold some magical powers to keep the streets safe. Somehow, our crazed romance with guns — a dangerous and dysfunctional relationship — must end.
It hasn’t always been this way. My late father came of age in the 1930s and ’40s in deepest, reddest Alabama. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing and hunting. Nothing made my father happier than awakening in the wee hours on a crisp morning in November to go out into the cold and stalk deer. Go figure.
I think he would have been amused — or perhaps puzzled — by the ad campaign that Bushmaster adopted to sell its AR-15 assault-type rifle, which was used by the Connecticut shooter. The campaign bestowed “manhood” on Bushmaster buyers. I don’t think my dad — who worked hard, supported his family and tried to teach his children right from wrong — ever thought his manhood was in question.
A veteran of combat in Korea, he was as strict about gun safety as the National Rifle Association is imprudent. He and his hunting buddies refused to hunt with rifles because the projectiles are too powerful and travel too far; they used shotguns instead. They banned hunters whom they deemed careless. Dick Cheney would not have been welcome.
As a young college graduate headed for the big city, I contemplated buying a firearm. My father wouldn’t hear of it, noting that I’d be more likely to be a victim of my own handgun than to ward off danger with it. He suggested that I stay out of dangerous places instead.
My dad was also a junior-high-school principal, and I think he would be horrified — simply horrified — by the irrational suggestion from some political leaders that the answer to school shootings is to arm teachers. He knew perfectly well that arming teachers would be a way to get more children killed.
As the term “friendly fire” connotes, soldiers and police officers, who undergo intense weapons training, frequently miss their targets or hit others by mistake. Last August, as just one example, New York City police officers killed a gunman outside the Empire State Building. Nine bystanders also ended up wounded, all by police gunfire or ricochets.
When did so many of our political leaders — governors, members of Congress, state legislators — lose their senses about guns? How did we come to have a culture in which public figures believe it is rational to advocate arming teachers to prevent school massacres?
Even as some of the loudest gun advocates have become more hysterical in their absolutism, the number of households with guns has actually decreased over the last few decades, according to polls and federal data. Unfortunately, the number of guns owned by a smaller portion of households has increased.
Meanwhile, reasonable, old-school outdoorsmen like my dad aren’t speaking up. They need to stand up and be counted.
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, December 22, 2012
We should mourn, but we should be angry.
The horror in Newtown, Conn., should shake us out of the cowardice, the fear, the evasion and the opportunism that prevents our political system from acting to curb gun violence.
How often must we note that no other developed country has such massacres on a regular basis because no other comparable nation allows such easy access to guns? And on no subject other than ungodly episodes involving guns are those who respond logically by demanding solutions accused of “politicizing tragedy.”
It is time to insist that such craven propaganda will no longer be taken seriously. If Congress does not act this time, we can deem it as totally bought and paid for by the representatives of gun manufacturers, gun dealers and their very well-compensated apologists. A former high Obama administration official once made this comment to me: “If progressives are so worked up about how Washington is controlled by the banks and Wall Street, why aren’t they just as worked up by the power of the gun lobby?” It is a good question.
There was a different quality to President Obama’s response to this mass shooting, both initially and during his Sunday pilgrimage to offer comfort to the families of victims. I think I know why. It is not just that 20 young children were killed, although that would be enough.
For some months now, there have been rumblings from the administration that Obama has been unhappy with his own policy passivity in responding to the earlier mass shootings and was prepared in his second term to propose tough steps to deal with our national madness on firearms.
He spoke in Newtown in solidarity with the suffering, but pointed toward action. No, he said, we are not “doing enough to keep our children, all our children, safe.” He added: “We will have to change.”
And his initial statement Friday pointed to his exasperation. “We have been through this too many times,” he said, reciting our national litany of unspeakable events, and insisting that we will “have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
“Regardless of the politics.” That is what it will take. This phrase comes easily to a president who just fought his last election, but he and the rest of us must change the politics of guns for those who will face the voters again. We cannot just be sad. We must be angry. We cannot just shake our heads. We must wield our votes and declare that curbing gun violence is one issue among many, but a paramount concern for our country.
And we will have to avoid the paralysis induced by those who cast every mass shooting as the work of one deranged individual and never ever the result of flawed policies. We must beware of those who invoke complexity not to further understanding but to encourage passivity and resignation.
Yes, every social problem and every act of violence have complicated roots. But we already know that it is far too easy to obtain guns in the United States and far too difficult to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. And we already know that weapons are available that should not even be sold.
What, minimally, might “meaningful action” look like? We should begin with: bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons; requiring background checks for all gun purchases; stricter laws to make sure that gun owners follow safety procedures; new steps to make it easier to trace guns used in crimes; and vastly ramped-up data collection and research on what works to prevent gun violence, both of which are regularly blocked by the gun lobby.
After mass shootings, it’s always said we must improve our mental-health system and the treatment of those who may be prone to violence. Of course we should. But this noble sentiment is too often part of a strategy to evade any action on guns themselves.
Not this time. Americans are not the only people in the world who confront mental-health problems. We are the only country that regularly experiences horrors of this sort. The difference, as the writer Garry Wills has said, is that the United States treats the gun as a secular god, immune to rational analysis and human intervention.
We must depose the false deity. We must act now to curb gun violence, or we never will.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 16, 2012