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“There Wil Be Consequences”: A Senate In The Gun Lobby’s Grip

Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.

I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.

They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.

This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

 

By: Gabrielle Giffords, Op-Ed Contributor; Democratic Representative from Arizona from 2007 to 2012, a founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions; The New York Times, April 17, 2013

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Violence Problem”: Accepting Of Violent Language And Violent Behavior

As The Plum Line‘s Greg Sargent rightly points out, the Republican Party has much bigger problems than inviting a washed-up whackjob like Ted Nugent to the State of the Union. Sargent says the “problem is the perpetual winking and nodding to The Crazy.”

I would take that further and say not only does the Republican leadership condone The Crazy, but also the violent tendencies associated with this type of dangerous ideology. Whether it is refusing to back the Violence Against Women Act, fighting against every single sensible gun law, promoting military force over diplomacy or failing to condemn violent rhetoric toward President Obama — the GOP is gaining a reputation of a political party that cynically accepts violent language and behavior.

Here are a few examples of why the GOP has a violence problem.

Inviting Ted Nugent To The State Of The Union

In an appallingly insensitive move, gun-crazy congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX) invited right-wing rocker Ted Nugent to Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, where he will be joined by more than 20 gun violence survivors to watch the president talk about his gun safety proposals.

Nugent was recently investigated by the Secret Service for threatening remarks he made towards President Obama. Nugent has referred to the president as “an evil, dangerous man who hates America and hates freedom,” going on to warn that “we need to fix this as soon as possible.” But it was his ominous warning that he “will either be dead or in jail by this time next year” if Obama won re-election that got the attention of the men in black.

The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence put out a press release Tuesday condemning the Nugent invitation. ”I can’t think of any public figure less appropriate for such an occasion,” said executive director Josh Horwitz. But where are the condemnations from the Republican leadership?

Blocking The Violence Against Women Act

House Republicans are holding up reauthorization of the traditionally bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) because there are provisions to protect immigrants, the LGBT community, and Native Americans. Even some House GOPers sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), urging them to immediately reauthorize VAWA. Maybe someone checked the last election results that showed a majority of women voted for Barack Obama and Democrats. In fact, the 20-point gender gap was the largest in history and marked the sixth straight presidential election in which the majority of women voted Democratic.

In the video (http://youtu.be/AqoGTD1Mlw4), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) slams Senate Republicans for attempting to remove tribal provisions from the Violence Against Women Act.

Attacking Hagel For Not Being Hawkish Enough

Many Republicans prefer military action over diplomacy and are suspicious of people like Vietnam veteran and Obama defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel for saying military force should always be a last resort after exhausting every other method.

The New York Times quoted former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as saying that “this is the neocons’ worst nightmare because you’ve got a combat soldier, successful businessman and senator who actually thinks there may be other ways to resolve some questions other than force.”

Failing to Condemn Violent Rhetoric From The Right

The Republican leadership has failed to condemn the militant tendencies of the Tea Party movement and other right-wing sources. Examples include Sarah Palin’s electoral map that targeted Democratic districts (including that of Gabrielle Giffords) with crosshairs, and Florida congresswoman and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Republican opponent shooting at a human-shaped target with Wasserman Schultz’s initials on it.

But perhaps the most outrageous act was directed against Ms. Giffords in June 2010, only six months before her life was changed forever by gun violence during the Tucson mass shooting and three months after her campaign office was vandalized following the Palin crosshairs incident. Giffords’ Republican opponent Jesse Kelly held a gun-themed fundraiser at which supporters could shoot an M-16 rifle with Kelly. This is how the event was promoted: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Well, maybe that isn’t even the most despicable example. In 2009, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) told Politico that “we hunt liberal, tree-hugging Democrats, although it does seem like a waste of good ammunition.”

 

By: Josh Marks, The National Memo, February 12, 2013

February 13, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Madman”: NRA’s Wayne LaPierre Is The Best Witness For Gun Control

Democrats and Republicans may never come to an agreement on issues like gun control and health insurance coverage of birth control, but Democrats did show they are ahead in one department: how to hold a hearing.

When the Obama administration announced it would require insurers to cover birth control—a basic health cost for many women, and much cheaper than dealing with an unwanted pregnancy—conservatives went batty. They said it was religious persecution to require religion-based schools and hospitals to adhere to the rule, since the host institutions oppose birth control. Mind you, the institutions don’t oppose the federal student aid, Medicare, and Medicaid that ends up supporting their universities and hospitals. But they didn’t think they should have to play by the government’s rules on health.

House Republicans held a hearing on the issue, and invited no women to testify. The glaring omission not only detracted from the credibility of the hearings, but ended up buttressing the other side’s case. Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke complained, and ended up becoming a media star. Rush Limbaugh’s description of her as a “slut” and prostitute merely brought fence-sitters over to Fluke’s side.

Democrats made no such mistake when they held hearings on gun violence Wednesday. They invited the very vocal, unapologetically anti-any-kind-of-gun-restriction executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, to testify. They invited a woman who opposes gun control and who described it as something of a feminist issue. They also invited powerful witnesses in favor of gun restrictions and background checks, and their testimony (especially that of former representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, who talked emotionally about the day Giffords was shot in the head by a deranged gunman). Had the committee followed the path of the House panel on contraception, it would have limited its witness list to pro-gun-control voices alone. Their statements might have been moving, but alone—without the controverting comments of LaPierre and others—they would have seemed more manipulative.

Further, LaPierre’s absolutist stance on any kind of restrictions or background checks ended up helping the progun control side. He may well have ginned up his base and fundraising (which may well have been the point), but he did not appear to the general public as someone interested in pursuing a reasonable accord. He had his say, and had his day in the court of public opinion. And that ended up creating a more powerful case for the committee Democrats than if they had held a show trial.

 

By: Susan Milligan, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, January 31, 2013

February 1, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Straight From Central Casting”: Wayne LaPierre Tries To Manhandle Facts And Logic

Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s chief executive, arrived for his hearing on Capitol Hill in the organization’s trademark fashion: violently.

When he and his colleagues stepped off the elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday morning and found TV cameras waiting in the hallway, LaPierre’s bodyguards swung into action. One of them, in blatant violation of congressional rules, bumped and body-checked journalists out of the way so they couldn’t film LaPierre or question him as he walked.

“You don’t have jurisdiction here!” a cameraman protested as an NRA goon pushed him against a wall. After the melee, congressional officials informed the NRA officials that, in the halls of Congress, they had to follow congressional procedures — which prohibit manhandling.

This must have come as a surprise to the gun lobbyists, whose swagger seems to suggest that they are, in fact, in control of Congress. In their world, nothing trumps the Second Amendment — not even the First Amendment.

From beginning to end, LaPierre’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a study in vainglory. The written testimony he submitted to Congress came with a biography describing him as a “Renaissance man,” a “skilled hunter,” and an “acclaimed speaker and political force of nature” as he preserved freedom. “There has been no better leader of this great cause than Wayne LaPierre!” the bio boasted.

After his decades with the group, LaPierre is the public face of the NRA, and the man gun-control advocates most love to hate. His unsmiling manner, his snarling statements and even his memorable name are from villainy central casting. “Mr. LaPierre, it’s good to see you again,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said from the dais, recalling bygone fights with her nemesis. “We tangled — what was it? — 18 years ago. You look pretty good, actually.”

Usually, LaPierre comes out the victor in these tangles, and on Wednesday he was so confident of another win that he boldly declared that the NRA would oppose the most innocuous of proposals to reduce gun violence: criminal background checks.

Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) reminded LaPierre that the NRA once supported checks with “no loopholes anywhere, for anyone.” So does the NRA favor closing the “gun-show loophole” that allows people to avoid background checks?

“We do not,” LaPierre replied.

His reasoning, as always, is that existing gun laws aren’t being enforced — but he seems to have pulled the evidence out of his gun barrel. “Out of more than 76,000 firearms purchases supposedly denied by the federal instant check system, only 62 were referred for prosecution,” LaPierre declared in his opening statement.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) looked up the actual statistic. “In 2012 more than 11,700 defendants were charged with federal gun crimes,” Whitehouse said, “a lot more than 62.”

LaPierre had been caught. “So those — the 62, Senator, statistic, was for Chicago alone,” he clarified, a salient fact omitted from his original testimony.

His logic failed him as badly as his facts. “My problem with background checks is you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks,” he argued, unwilling to admit that deterring criminals from buying guns is a good thing, even if some eventually get theirs on the black market.

Surely LaPierre understands that, but much of his performance was about concealing inconvenient realities. When former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords made a brief and emotional plea for gun control at the hearing, LaPierre was hidden away a few rows back, in the last seat of the row. This minimized the chance that he’d be in the camera shot with the popular Giffords, who lost much of her ability to speak and walk when a gunman with a history of psychiatric disorders shot her in the head.

The NRA chief made all the well-known arguments against gun laws; he reminded senators that the founders didn’t want Americans to “live under tyranny,” and he agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) that the proposed ban on assault weapons merely targets “cosmetic features” of guns. LaPierre also added the novel idea that people may need guns if they are “abandoned by their government if a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits.”

Most people don’t have such apocalyptic paranoia. But LaPierre’s job is to stir up the active minority who are frightened and resentful. “If you’re in the elite, you get bodyguards,” he told the senators. “You get high-cap mags with semiautomatics protecting this whole Capitol. The titans of industry get the bodyguards.” He said it’s only “the hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying American that we’re going to make the least capable of defending themselves.”

Minutes after that denunciation of the well-protected elites, LaPierre rejoined his bodyguards, who were waiting in a back room.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 30, 2013

 

 

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Complete Reversal”: Wayne LaPierre Flip-Flops On Background Checks During Contentious Hearing

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre strenuously opposed new gun laws — including expanding the background check system — during a contentious Wednesday morning hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) pressed LaPierre on his opposition to the universal background check, LaPierre repeatedly placed blame on the law currently in place that fails to prosecute individuals who are denied to purchase and own guns. “None of it makes any sense in the real world!” LaPierre said of background checks, after arguing that they would only impact “the little guy,” while criminals continue to buy guns illegally.

LaPierre’s reasoning drew a sharp rebuke from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who heatedly told LaPierre, “criminals won’t go to purchase the guns, because there will be a background check! We’ll stop them from the original purchase,” adding, “You missed that point completely!”

LaPierre’s position is a complete reversal from his 1999 testimony, when he told the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, “We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.”

Despite LaPierre’s bluster, a majority of gun owners actually disagree with him on background checks. According to a Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy and Research survey conducted in October 2012, “82 percent favored mandatory background checks for all firearms sales, not just for those by licensed dealers.”

Under the current laws, the federal government has prosecuted 44 individuals out of the 80,000-plus who have lied about their criminal histories in an effort to obtain a gun. Despite the fact that the federal government has prosecuted few, there is no doubt that it has in fact kept guns out of the wrong hands.

Testimonies also came from Captain Mark Kelly, husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords, victim of Jared Loughner’s Tucson, AZ shooting rampage in 2011, Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at Denver University and policy analyst for the Cato Institute David Kopel, Police Chief James Johnson of the Baltimore Police Department, and Gayle Trotter, attorney and Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

The hearing began with an emotional appeal from Giffords, who still struggles with her speech as a result of her injuries. “Too many children are dying. We must do something,” Giffords said. “It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”

Kelly maintained that as a gun owner, that “right demands responsibility,” a responsibility that the U.S. is failing to uphold in allowing dangerous individuals to obtain dangerous weapons.

Like Kelly, Chief Johnson — who has over 30 years of experience in law enforcement — spoke out in full support of expanding background checks to private gun sellers and gun shows, declaring, “The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.”

Other individuals on the panel, like David Kopel and Gayle Trotter, chose to focus on the proposal to place armed guards in every school and guns in the hands of teachers, rather than amending the law to assure that the wrong individuals can’t obtain guns in the first place. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), agreed with them, warning that because of America’s fiscal situation, “there will be less police officers, not more, in the next decade.” For Graham – who has received contributions from the NRA — the solution to this problem is not increasing funding for trained professionals like Chief Johnson, but having more Americans to arm themselves (a goal that universal background checks would hinder).

Although he largely opposes gun control, Kopel did argue that gun control does not violate the Second Amendment, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of responsible Americans. This raised the question of why he opposes the proposed reform efforts; after all, common-sense restrictions on unnecessary guns and magazines and a repair to the current federal background check system would pose no discernible threat to any responsible gun owners.

Even as the senators were debating gun violence on Capitol Hill, another mass shooting was taking place in Phoenix, Arizona.

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, January 30, 2013

 

 

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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