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“From Their Cold Dead Hands”: When You’re In The Business Of Arming Murderers, Murder Is Good For Business

This Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting, and it’s remarkable where we’ve come in that time. In the weeks that followed, everyone said that now we could finally pass some sensible measures to stem the river of blood and death and misery that is the price we pay for America’s love of firearms. President Obama proposed some extraordinarily modest measures: enhanced background checks, limits on the kind of large-capacity magazines mass murderers find so useful, perhaps even a new ban on new sales to civilians of certain military-style weapons. Not a single thing that would keep a single law-abiding citizen from owning as many guns as he wants.

So here we are, a year later, and what has happened? First of all, at least 30,000 more Americans have had their lives cut short by guns; tens of thousands more were shot but survived. Around 200 children have been shot to death in that time—another 10 Newtowns. There was no federal legislation on guns. It died, because there are a sufficient number of Republicans (and a couple of Democrats) who, quite frankly, looked on one hand at a child getting murdered, and on the other hand at some armchair Rambo having to go a whole mile to the police station to get a background check before buying an AR-15 from his neighbor, and decided that the latter would be a greater moral outrage than the former.

And in the states, 109 new gun laws have passed, 39 of which restricted gun ownership in some way, and 70 of which expanded gun rights. While it’s true that the restrictive laws tended to be passed in larger states, no one could plausibly argue that the result of this seemingly once-in-a-generation moment for a new approach to guns was anything more than the same old approach to guns.

There’s a lengthy new report out from the American Psychological Association with lots of recommendations for what we can do to reduce the death toll, things like early interventions for those at risk of committing acts of violence and some modest (of course) policies restricting people with violent histories or certain kinds of mental illness from buying guns. All the recommendations are sensible, and if we did them all we’d certainly reduce the level of gun violence. By how much? It’s hard to say—maybe 5 percent, maybe 10 percent, maybe, if we’re being absurdly optimistic, 20 percent. Which would still mean tens of thousands of Americans killed every year with guns.

So it’s hard not to be cynical, to believe that there’s just nothing that can be done. I know that a lot of people I admire don’t like to hear that, but it’s how I’m feeling at the moment. If 20 elementary school kids getting mowed down wasn’t enough to make half of the country take a look at its insistence that everyone be armed to the teeth and say this is crazy, what would it take? A hundred kids murdered at one time? A thousand?

Not even that, I suspect. It’s their “culture” and they’re sticking to it. My dad took me hunting, and we bonded! And obviously, there’s no other way for a father and son to bond. I guess the majority of American fathers that don’t shoot with their kids aren’t bonding. Pity the fathers and sons in every other industrialized country in the world (all of which have more restrictive gun laws than we do), unable to bond at all.

So it’s hard to see when things are ever going to change except in tiny ways that don’t make much of an impact at all. Maybe I’m wrong, and real change could still happen. After all, rates of gun ownership are on a steady decline. Gun deaths have declined somewhat too, simply because there’s been an overall decline in crime over the last two decades.

But they’re still selling them as fast as they can make them. In fact, if you’re a gun manufacturer, you probably look back at Newtown as one of the best things that ever happened to your business. Sure, there’s some bad publicity, but what else follows a horrific mass shooting? Some futile talk of gun control, which makes it easy to convince your customers that owning four or five guns just isn’t enough—they need ten or twenty or thirty, because they could be outlawed any day! Sales go through the roof, but no meaningful legislation passes, and you pocket the profits. When you’re in the business of arming murderers, murder is good for business.

Again, maybe I’m wrong about the future. But with the Second Amendment—the Founders’ second-worst mistake, behind only the constitutional enshrinement of slavery—under no threat, nothing will change the fact that there’s a gun for every man, woman, and child in America. And the bodies will continue to pile up by the thousands, year after year after year.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 12, 2013

December 13, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Impervious To Logic”: Congress Betrays Our Dwindling Faith

The way to stay sane in this city is never to expect too much.

So the soothing mantras of the capital involve admonitions about the art of the possible, the perfect and the good, the zen of baby steps.

Incremental, incremental, incremental.

Still, it is hard to remain calm in the face of the Senate’s failure — its failure as the parents of children murdered in Newtown, Conn., looked on from the gallery — to pass the most modest of measures to curb gun violence.

We tend to speak easily here of how Washington is broken and gridlocked.

But those of us whose day jobs sit at the intersection of politics and public policy don’t completely buy it. We retain ragged shreds of faith that Washington, despite its maddening imperfections, remains capable of rising to at least some occasions.

Except on Wednesday, it didn’t, as the Senate fell six votes short of the 60 required to expand background checks for gun buyers. It is an indication of the perennially warped politics of guns that politicians can more safely support same-sex marriage than background checks. Indeed, what passed Congress in 1994 — an assault weapons ban and strict limits on magazine sizes — is now unthinkable.

The background-check measure proposed by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey is — I’ll refrain from the past tense, because Wednesday’s loss was not the final chapter — so sensible, so pared-down, that the stronger argument against it is that it failed to go far enough, not that it ran roughshod over the Second Amendment.

To review: Under current law, individuals who want to buy guns from licensed dealers must pass background checks. Manchin-Toomey would expand that requirement to in-state gun sales over the Internet (interstate sales are already covered, because the guns can be sent only to licensed dealers for transfer to the buyer), to gun shows and to other commercial transactions.

It would not apply to sales or transfers between family members and friends — notwithstanding the National Rifle Association’s claim that it would “criminalize the private transfer of firearms by honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution.”

As Manchin said on the Senate floor, “That is simply a lie. . . . You can loan your hunting rifle to your buddy without any new restrictions. . . .You can give or sell a gun to your brother or your sister, your cousin, your uncle, your co-worker without a background check. You can post a gun for sale on the cork bulletin board at your workplace or on your church bulletin board without a background check.”

Another criticism of the measure — that it “would put us inexorably on the path to a national gun registry,” as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) put it — is even less moored to reality. A national registry is banned under existing law; Manchin-Toomey would layer on a 15-year felony sentence for anyone who tries to implement one.

That leaves an array of other arguments against the measure that fail the simplest tests of logic.

Felons and others ineligible to buy weapons aren’t being prosecuted under the current system. Also, the existing system fails to list numerous individ­uals already prohibited from having guns. Okay, prosecute the ineligible would-be buyers and fix the list.

Expanded background checks wouldn’t have prevented the Newtown shootings. Okay, but expanded checks might prevent another killer. No single change is going to prevent every episode of gun violence.

Expanded checks would impose a burden on law-abiding citizens without preventing criminals from obtaining guns. Under the existing system, more than 2 million people have been barred from buying guns. Did some of them go on to obtain weapons illegally? Of course. But others were deterred — and in any event the expanded checks would narrow the currently huge loophole that lets felons buy guns without background checks. That some criminals will always break some laws is not an argument against having those laws in the first place.

The depressing aspect of Wednesday’s vote is that the change was so small and the senators so seemingly impervious to logic.

Wednesday’s vote will not end the gun debate. After nearly two decades in which Democrats barely dared whisper about gun violence, the notion of new restrictions has become safe again — to broach, if not to enact. In the aftermath of Newtown, this time was different.

It just wasn’t different enough.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 18, 2013

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Sales And Profits”: Why The NRA Is Scared Of The New Manchin-Toomey Background-Check Compromise

The NRA may end up regretting the “A” rating it gave to Pat Toomey. Minutes after the Republican senator from Pennsylvania and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) revealed their new bipartisan background-check bill on Wednesday morning, the NRA released a statement denouncing background checks as ineffective and unfair to gun owners.

Gun-control proponents have been watching Toomey and Manchin carefully to see if they’d be able to reach a compromise. Now that they have, the NRA faces one of its most daunting challenges yet.

Why is this announcement such a big deal?
Because this political coalition actually has a fighting chance of passing this piece of gun-control legislation. Manchin’s home state of West Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in gun ownership, according to Guns and Ammo, so his support for the bill might just convince reluctant gun owners to get behind the measure. Toomey, for his part, is thought to bring with him the votes of 13 House Republicans from his home state of Pennsylvania. He did carefully note, though, why he supports the checks: “I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun-control,” said Toomey. “It’s just common sense.”

Greg Sargent of The Washington Post marvels at the political power of “two ‘gun rights’ Senators — one a Republican, and one a red state Democrat, both with A ratings from the NRA — jointly calling for real action on guns, and describing it as a moral imperative on behalf of our children.”

What’s in the bill?
It’ll expand background checks to gun shows and online sales. As of now, only sales from licensed gun dealers require background checks, which leaves out 20 to 40 percent of all gun sales, according to The New York Times. The senators’ proposal does not, however, include a background-check requirement for private sales and transfers of firearms between family members.

The bill also mandates record-keeping of background checks by licensed dealers, which law enforcement officials say “are needed to ensure that the rules are followed and to help trace weapons used in crimes,” according to Bloomberg.

Why does the NRA hate it?
Here’s what the group said in opposition to the legislation:

Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools … The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone. [via TPM]

While it’s difficult to say whether this new proposal would thwart the next shooter, what is pretty clear is that, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, 91 percent of Americans (and 88 percent of Americans in gun-owning households) do favor universal background checks. John J. Donohue, a law professor at Stanford, argues on CNN.com that the NRA continues to oppose the measure because they “don’t want anything that interferes with total gun sales and profits.” The organization also has insinuated that universal background checks are “a first step toward a more sinister goal,” namely the confiscation of firearms by the U.S. government, which, as The Week columnist Paul Brandus points out, is illegal.

What’s probably most worrisome to the NRA, though, is that the Toomey-Manchin bill could be the most serious push to expand current laws that the U.S. has seen in a long time.

By: Keith Wagstaff, The Week, April 10, 2013

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Stop Scaring People”: Karl Rove Is Arguing, “You Need To Stop Scaring People So I Can Start Scaring People”

The Senate fight over measures to reduce gun violence will begin in earnest when members return to session, but the challenge for Republicans will be to identify a way to condemn a universal background check provision that enjoys overwhelming public support.

On ABC yesterday, Karl Rove offered a terrific example of why the upcoming debate is likely to be exasperating. Here’s what the Republican strategist said about the background-check proposal:

“Let’s be very careful about quickly trampling on the rights of people who — and look, you want to get something done? Then stop scaring people.”

Right, scaring people is bad. Let’s have a debate, but leave the demagoguery out of it. Anything else, Mr. Rove?

“If there’s one thing that scares a lot of people who believe in the Second Amendment, it’s the federal government keeping a national registry of gun sales and gun purchases and gun owners.”

This is what makes Rove such a special person in our contemporary discourse. Mere mortals wouldn’t be able to pull off rhetoric like this with a straight face, and probably wouldn’t even try.

First, note the hilarious hypocrisy — Rove wants gun-safety proponents to “stop scaring people,” and in the next breath, warns that the federal government intends to trample on the rights of citizens and create a national gun registry. Rove is effectively arguing, “You need to stop scaring people, so I can start scaring people.”

Second, as a substantive matter, Rove has no idea what he’s talking about. The proposed background-check system doesn’t create a registry and doesn’t “trample” on anyone’s rights. Either Rove hasn’t bothered to get his facts straight or, in the hopes of scaring people after denouncing scaring people, he lied on national television.

What’s more, this fits into a pattern that has fascinated me for years. Rove has a remarkable ability to rely on some of the most ironic political attacks imaginable.

As I noted a couple of years ago, Rove has spent his professional life engaged in political sleaze, so he’s accused Democrats of adding “arsenic to the nation’s political well.” Rove ran a White House that embraced a “permanent campaign,” so he’s accused the Obama team of embracing a “permanent campaign.” Rove embraced the politics of fear, so he’s accused Democrats of embracing the politics of fear. Rove relied on “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted ” political events, so he’s accused Obama of relying on “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted” political events. Rove looked at every policy issue “from a political perspective,” so he’s accused Democrats of looking at every policy issue “from a political perspective.” Rove snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan, so he’s accused Obama of snubbing news outlets that he considered partisan. Rove had a habit of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons, so he’s accused Obama of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons.

And now Rove wants gun-safety advocates to “stop scaring people,” while he makes bogus charges intended to scare people.

If this is indicative of how the debate over background checks is likely to proceed, it’s probably wise to invest in some antacids now.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2013

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taking Aim”: On Virtually Every Measure, The N.R.A.’s Messaging Is Off

This week the president aimed high in the gun debate, and the National Rifle Association aimed low, despicably low.

On Wednesday, the president outlined a broad range of measures — including universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazine clips, as well as improved data collection and sharing about backgrounds of potential gun buyers. It was all intended to increase public safety over all and make an honest effort to prevent mass shootings and lessen the carnage in the event that there are more

The N.R.A., for its part, released on Tuesday an ad called “Elitist Hypocrite” that invoked the Obama children and their Secret Service security as evidence of a president who values his children above those of average Americans.

It was an outrageous, unnecessary and ultimately stomach-churning ploy to pit the value of some children against others while completely ignoring the longstanding and very real threats that presidents and their families face.

As the Christian Science Monitor reported in November, “Since 2007, the Secret Service has disrupted several assassination conspiracies — including some involving white nationalists — and arrested dozens of people who have made less-than-idle threats against the president.”

Most of us don’t have to worry that our children live under the constant threat of harm. Heads of state do. Feigning ignorance of that distinction for political expediency only suggests that you may not be feigning at all.

Furthermore, the president hasn’t voiced opposition to more school security. He has, however, said that he doesn’t believe that that’s the sole solution. In a recent interview on “Meet the Press,” the president said, “I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools.”

Lastly, as the White House pointed out in an e-mail to me last month, the administration proposed money for “Secure Our Schools” policing grants, which provide funding to improve school safety, “however, Congress zeroed out the program in 2012.”

In fact, the president’s proposal as presented on Wednesday specifically states:

“We need to enhance the physical security of our schools and our ability to respond to emergencies like mass shootings, and also create safer and more nurturing school climates. Each school is different and should have the flexibility to address its most pressing needs. Some schools will want trained and armed police; others may prefer increased counseling services. Either way, each district should be able to choose what is best to protect its own students.”

And one of the president’s executive orders reads: “provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.”

On virtually every measure, the N.R.A.’s messaging is off.

The president’s proposals, on the other hand, are very much in step with public opinion, which has shifted toward more restrictions, according to a number of polls reported Monday.

A poll by Gallup found that dissatisfaction with America’s gun laws has “spiked” to 38 percent after the Newtown shooting and the public discussions that followed. As Gallup points out, “this is up from 25 percent who held this set of views a year ago, and is the highest since 2001.” That’s an increase by more than half in one year — reversing a trend of continuous decline.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that “most Americans support tough new measures to counter gun violence, including banning assault weapons and posting armed guards at every school” and that “[m]ore than half of Americans — 52 percent in the poll — say the shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has made them more supportive of gun control.”

And a Pew Research Center poll found that most Americans now support a federal database to track gun sales, background checks for private sales and sales at gun shows, preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns, and bans on semiautomatic weapons, assault style weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips and online ammunition sales.

But as Pew pointed out, “there is a wide gap between those who prioritize gun rights and gun control when it comes to political involvement.”

The report continued: “Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of those who say gun rights should be the priority have contributed money to an organization that takes a position on gun policy, compared with just 5 percent of those who prioritize gun control. People who favor gun rights are also about twice as likely as gun control supporters to have contacted a public official about gun policy (15 percent vs. 8 percent).”

This is where gun control advocates — those who believe that a society can be safer and more civil with fewer rather than more high-powered, high-capacity killing machines — must have their mettle tested. This is where they must take a stand, become vocal and active, and demand accountability from elected officials, not just now but also in the future.

One of the most profound lessons to emerge from the Newtown tragedy is the power of voice. Americans refused to cede the discussion to the N.R.A. and other gun interests. They refused to buckle to fear or be swayed by propaganda.

Yet too many politicians still quake at the mere mention of the N.R.A. They are more interested in protecting their jobs than protecting society.

The public must make them quake at the idea of doing nothing on this issue.

We must never forget what happened in Connecticut last month and we must never forget what happens in Washington in the coming months.

The tragedy of Newtown must herald the dawn of a new America.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 16, 2013

January 20, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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