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“The NRA Has Declared War On America”: A Bleak Vision Of Exaggerated Dystopianism In Service Of Sedition

As the annual meeting of National Rifle Association members started here this weekend, the gentleman seated next to me said to settle in: “It’s mostly administrative stuff. We vote on things.” He paused for emphasis: “It’s the law.”

He’s somewhat mistaken, of course. The NRA doesn’t have any state-mandated obligation to hold an annual meeting. What’s more, the NRA has very little respect for the law. A half an hour later, at that very meeting, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre exhorted the crowd to a morally obligated vigilantism. He drew a vivid picture of a United States in utter decay and fragmented beyond repair, Mad Max-meets-Hunger Games, divided by Soylent Green:

We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping-mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all.

LaPierre’s bleak vision is exaggerated dystopianism in service of sedition, a wide-ranging survey of targets that put justice against the intrusions of the IRS on a continuum with (as an advertisement he ran during his speech put it) workplace “bullies and liars”.

Talk about mission creep. At its convention in 1977, the NRA rejected its history as a club for hunters and marksmen and embraced activism on behalf Second Amendment absolutism. Rejecting background checks and allowing “convicted violent felons, mentally deranged people, violently addicted to narcotics” easier access to guns was, said the executive vice president that year, “a price we pay for freedom.” In 2014, 500 days after Newtown and after a year of repeated legislative and judicial victories, the NRA has explicitly expanded its scope to the culture at large.

The NRA is no longer concerned with merely protecting the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms – the gun lobby wants to use those arms on its fellow citizens. Or, as the NRA thinks of them: “the bad guys”.

It is useless to argue that the NRA is only targeting criminals with that line, because the NRA has defined “good guys” so narrowly as to only include the NRA itself. What does that make everyone else?

“I ask you,” LaPierre grimaced at the end of his litany of doom. “Do you trust this government to protect you?”

This is not one of the items the membership voted upon. Indeed, Wayne LaPierre’s confidence in making this question rhetorical is one of its most frightening aspects, though of course it’s his prescription that truly alarmed me:

We are on our own. That is a certainty, no less certain than the absolute truth – a fact the powerful political and media elites continue to deny, just as sure as they would deny our right to save our very lives. The life or death truth that when you’re on your own, the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!

You cannot defend this as anything other than the dangerous ravings of a madman. LaPierre’s description of the world is demonstrably untrue, and not just in concrete, objective terms. To cite just one example: crime rates in the US have been falling for 20 years – a statistic that some gun rights advocates brandish as proof of the selectively defined cliché, “more guns, less crime.” Just as troubling is LaPierre’s internal inconsistency about what it means for NRA members to be “on their own”.

He rattled the audience with a listicle of abuses of power that included Solyndra and and Benghazi (those are Second Amendment issues now, I guess!), but consoled those gathered with the factoid that there are 100m gun owners in America – a third of the country. He railed against “the elites'” rejection of the NRA’s “more guns in schools” solution to Sandy Hook, but reassured his listeners that “city after county after school board after statehouse” adopted the strategy anyway.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot be both winning and losing, alone but united, the minority but the majority. It is almost (almost!) as if Wayne LaPierre intended to mislead his audience with this whiplash oratory, intended to dizzy them into acceptance of his underlying message, which is almost disappointingly mundane: give us money. Give the NRA money. Give us money so we can create the legal environment that allows gun manufacturers to make more money so that they can give us more money.

Conspicuously absent from LaPierre’s list of grievances was any serious consideration of the economic system that might have a role destabilizing the society for which he pantomimes such concern. He referenced losing jobs to “hypocrites”–the kind of immediate and tangible grievance about which one can imagine an immediate and tangible retaliation. (And one of the reasons waiting periods for gun ownership are such a good idea.) He did not indict the powerful machinations of capital and power that limit people’s ideas about their future to only the immediate and tangible, the system that has turned the gap between rich and poor into an ever-widening gyre. (If there’s an apocalypse coming, look in that direction.)

The members of the NRA who cheered LaPierre, I’m quite sure, don’t think that they’ve turned against their country; they believe the country has turned on them – a distinction that the seceding states of the south made as well, but the distinction only really matters after the war is over and someone gets to write the history.

I could scare you with a sketch of what America might look like in a world where LaPierre’s urging leads to concrete and lasting political change. I think it would be grim and dangerous, though not as dangerous to LaPierre’s allies as it would be to everyone else. But that dystopia is beside the point, because I don’t believe LaPierre and his cronies actually want an armed uprising, or complete political supremacy. Arms dealers are never interested in victory, just eternal war.

On some level, the NRA is correct when it turns the problem of gun violence into the schoolyard litmus test of good guys and bad guys. Maybe firearms, as objects, aren’t the problem, or they’re not the problem with the NRA. Anyone backing with full faith the argument made by LaPierre likely made up their minds long before they ever stepped on a target range or fired a round. The problem with the NRA lies with the people who lead it.

I was somewhat undercover at the convention this weekend. And being among people who believe they are surrounded by other members of their tribe does mean that they say things they might not otherwise say – but to be unguarded, to be vulnerable, doesn’t always reveal the worst in people. It can reveal the best.

I’m not sure if I opened any door other than the one to my room the entire weekend. People smiled and scooted over to make room on seats. Strangers said “howdy.” I was instructed in the proper stance for shooting a Glock by a former police officer that saw my interest (and ignorance): “Just so you don’t look like a beginner once you get to the range.” One middle-aged woman let me take a picture of her garter belt holster, an act of the kind of stunning bravery and intimacy one usually only sees on the battlefield.

And throughout, I marvelled: these are friendly, apparently prosperous people, surrounded by physical evidence that their belief system is thriving – Over 9 Acres of Guns and Gear! – both economically and culturally. Why are they so incredibly frightened?

I sat in on a lecture on home defense, expecting a more localized version of LaPierre’s speech. (HOME INVASIONS!) But the instructor was impressively subdued and sober about his subject, emphasizing that he taught defense, which ideally does not include using a gun. Evasion is an honorable outcome, he told us. Have a safe room. Know the routes out of the house. “Legally and morally,” he said, “Shooting someone is always the last resort.”

Afterward, I told one of the sponsoring company’s instructors how impressed I was by the conservativism of the presentation. I admitted I hadn’t expected that; I thought anyone teaching a home defense workshop would probably rattle off as many scary scenarios as possible. He disagreed. People who are really paranoid about home invasions aren’t going to take a class, he observed. They’ll just buy a gun. “And who knows if they ever learn to use it.” If they do take a class, he continued, they won’t absorb the lessons very well – they’re too busy being afraid.

“Of course, there is such a thing as just the right amount of paranoia,” he smiled. “But any instructor who tries to scare people into taking his class is just trying to ramp up business … or pump up his ego.”

I don’t think he realized he was describing the business model that surrounded us that very minute.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, April 29, 2014

April 30, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Yet Again, Money Influencing Politics”: How The Gun Lobby Became A Threat To Public Safety

Just a generation ago, the NRA was a nonpartisan and relatively non-ideological organization that advocated for responsible and safe gun ownership in addition to defending gun rights.

But in its 20 years under the leadership of chief executive Wayne LaPierre the organization has become another cog in the broader conservative advocacy machine.

At the same time, with gun ownership declining, the organization has come to rely less on its members’ dues and more on firearm manufacturers, which now account for over half of the NRA’s revenues according to Walter Hickey at Business Insider.

The gun lobby also lost a key element of what had long been its defining mission: Guns remain a hot-button topic for political debate, but in the courts the issue has largely been settled. Gun rights won.

In 2010, the Supreme Court settled a long-standing debate about whether the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to bear arms or only applied to, as the Constitution reads, “a well-regulated militia.” The court ruled that the right to own firearms, while not without limits, is as integral as the right to free speech or the free exercise of religion. Since then, a number of municipal bans on firearm ownership have been overturned — most recently when a federal court struck down a California law that allowed counties to restrict the concealed carry of guns.

But the gun makers’ lobby remains strong and well-financed, and it has an institutional imperative to keep lobbying. It is now in the business of selling guns by promoting the idea that we can never have too many, nor should there be any public places where firearms aren’t welcome — and by spinning conspiracy theories about various imagined plots to disarm law-abiding Americans.

Today, the NRA and its political allies promote such policies as allowing concealed weapons in bars, allowing the blind to carry firearms (“Blind gun user Michael Barber said: ‘When you shoot a gun, you take it out and point and shoot, and I don’t necessarily think eyesight is necessary’”), making it a felony for doctors to discuss gun safety with their patients (never mind the First Amendment) and barring private firms from telling their employees to keep their guns at home.

Pro-gun lawmakers have gotten the message. Last month, five Republican legislators in Washington State introduced a bill that would exempt all firearms and ammunition from the state’s sales tax. Now in theory at least, one reason for tax breaks is to encourage some social good. For example, 20 years of tax credits have played a role in the exponential increase of wind energy production in the US. Yet here was a proposed tax break that would only encourage the sale of more guns in a country that’s already bristling with them.

These laws are predicated on the belief that more guns make a society safer. One of the cosponsors of the Washington State bill, Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) told a local conservative talk radio host, “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt: More firearms in a society cuts crime in that society.” (In fact, according to the UN, the US is believed to lead the world in private gun ownership and has the highest total crime rate among wealthy countries.)

Kentucky lawmakers proposed a similar measure back in December, and in Kansas, the belief that more guns mean more safety forms the basis of a law that only permits local officials to bar firearms from public buildings if they install costly metal detectors or hire security guards. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley is backing a law that would allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit or any safety training.

The problem is that this faith in guns for security, like global warming denialism, flies in the face of a mountain of serious, peer-reviewed research.

Last month, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study conducted by epidemiologists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) finding that access to a firearm makes an individual almost twice as likely to become the victim of a homicide and three times more likely to commit suicide.

Previous studies had found that countries with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun deaths and that states with more guns have higher homicide rates. But gun advocates dismissed those studies because they didn’t account for illegal gun sales. (The National Rifle Association’s side of the scholarly debate rests largely on the discredited and allegedly fraudulent work of economist John Lott.)

The UCSF study took a different approach, starting with a dead body and working backwards to see whether that person owned or had access to a firearm, legal or illegal. The study was a meta-analysis combining data from 15 previous, peer-reviewed papers.

It also found a significant gender gap in terms of homicide: Men with access to a gun were 29 percent more likely to be a victim of homicide, while women with a gun close at hand were almost three times more likely to be murdered. The report cited previous studies that found that most female murder victims knew their assailant, and three-quarters of women killed with a gun died in their own homes. Researchers concluded that the presence of guns may make impulsive killings during domestic disputes more common.

Another soon-to-be-published study may provide the most compelling evidence to date that looser gun laws lead to more bloodshed. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health were able to conduct a natural experiment in Missouri after the state repealed a law requiring handgun purchasers to get a license and pass a background check in 2007. According to the study’s authors, repealing the law “contributed to a sixteen percent increase in Missouri’s murder rate.”

That translated into 55 to 63 more murders per year in Missouri between 2008 and 2012, despite the fact that during the same period, “none of the states bordering Missouri experienced significant increases in murder rates and the U.S. murder rate actually declined by over five percent.” The increase in murders began in the first full year after the state’s licensing requirement was repealed, and the researchers “controlled for changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study period that could affect violent crime.”

The conclusions presented in these studies, along with previous research, fly in the face of the persistent claim that more guns make a society safer. But this is as much a story of money influencing politics as anything else. With supporters like Springfield Armory, Inc, Pierce Bullet, Seal Target Systems, Beretta USA Corporation, Sturm Rugar & Co and Smith & Wesson, public safety simply isn’t a high priority for the gun lobby.

 

By: Joshua Holland, Moyers and Company, Bill Moyers Blog, March 4, 2014

March 5, 2014 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lives In The Balance”: Smoking Guns, The Deafening Silence Of The Assault Weapons Makers

When I hear about another military-style assault-weapon tragedy, I can’t help thinking about cigarettes.

It’s faded a bit into history now, but it was roughly 20 years ago that the heads of seven major tobacco companies were called before Congress to testify in hearings about regulating their products.

History was made when, one by one, they testified under oath that they, personally, did not believe nicotine is addictive – even though their scientists had generated box cars of data showing that creating addiction was precisely the point. One by one, the CEOs willfully deceived Congress in a roll call of commercial infamy: Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, U.S. Tobacco, Lorillard, Liggett, Brown and Williamson, American Tobacco.

By the time the hearings were over, the CEOs were being called “The Seven Dwarfs.”

So, from cigarettes to guns: Where is that public debate with the makers of hollow point bullets, high capacity magazines, and weapons designed to harm and kill human beings as quickly as possible?

(By the way, if you want to wade into these waters, keep your facts straight. A fully automatic weapon fires bullets as long as you hold down the trigger. They’re not illegal, but they are highly regulated.  A semiautomatic weapon fires as fast as you can pull the trigger. You can get one at Walmart. There is no technical definition of assault weapon, but it generally refers to both automatic and semiautomatic rifles.  In fact, the very complexity of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban riddled it with so many exceptions that it proved largely ineffective.)

I’ve posed that question of the cigarette maker-gun maker connection in various forums, and I get some interesting, angry, and often logic- twisting responses.

Among my favorites:

– You can’t compare cigarettes and assault weapons. Cigarettes harm and kill a lot more people. Accountability for these two product-related deaths tolls, then, is a matter of degree.

– Why not regulate blunt instruments? More people are killed by hammers each year than by guns – including assault weapons. The fact is: if you torture the data long enough you can make it confess to anything.  And there is no doubt that there is a cottage industry on both sides in making statistics fit arguments.

But missing in those arguments: of all the implements used to kill people — knives, fists or a handy vase – only guns are created to do exactly that, and only assault weapons are manufactured expressly to do that as quickly as possible. Seriously – could Adam Lanza have dispatched 26 innocent souls in Newtown in five minutes with anything but an assault weapon?

And of course, there is the second amendment. I won’t try to imagine what was in the minds of the Founding Fathers. But I’m going to guess their thinking did not include high-capacity magazines (the ones Lanza carried held 30 bullets each) that serve up a new bullet as soon as the previous one is fired, and bullets designed to explode inside your body.

Still, as we debate statistics and parse definitions, the public is largely unaware of the companies that are making the weapons that are the subject of the debate. And that is exactly as intended.

Who can come up with the names of the top makers of semi-automatic weapons: like Bushmaster, Sig Sauer, Colt, Smith & Wesson, ArmaLite, DPMS and others?

The reason most people can’t name these companies is because of a very slick sleight of hand – executed flawlessly by NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, the gleefully belligerent face of the NRA who expertly draws attention away from the industry he represents.

LaPierre is very good at a job he is paid a lot of money to do. As long as we’re talking about his outrageous bluster, we’re not talking about the people who make a lot of money from the products he wants to keep on shelves of the local sporting goods store and laid out at gun shows.

His ability to do that is increasingly important to the industry. As hunting declines, so do rifle sales – even with periodic spikes driven by fears of gun restrictions. Long term, how do you replace that? A report from the Violence Policy Center argues that selling military-style assault rifles – re-branded as “modern sporting rifles” – to civilians has been a key part of the industry’s marketing strategy since the 1980s. Women, say gun control advocates and the industry alike, are a high marketing priority. The gun makers insist it’s for their protection. The lethal AR-15 (used in both the Aurora and Newtown killings) comes in pink. (Available now at Gun Goddess.com)

As the debate over assault weapons rages on, the deafening silence of the gun makers reminds me of  a lyric in the Jackson Brown song – “Lives in the Balance.” “I want to know who the men in the shadows are. I want to hear somebody asking them why.”

Those who have been killed and injured by weapons made expressly for that purpose deserve no less.

 

By: Peggy Drexler, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University; Time Magazine, January 17, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

“Slow-Motion Mass Murders”: Raising The Political Heat On Opposition To Gun Control

Public officials are very selective about when violence and death matter.

Massacres and terrorist incidents cannot be ignored, but the day-to-day toll from gun violence is often swept aside. Politicians who tout themselves as advocates of law and order don’t want to be unmasked as caring even more about their ratings from gun lobbyists.

And opponents of the most moderate gun reforms engage in a shameless game of bait-and-switch. Because measures such as background checks would not stop every murder, they’re declared useless even though they’d still save lives. Then the gun lobby turns around and opposes other measures, such as a ban on high-capacity magazines, which could prevent some of the killings that background checks might not.

The lack of coherence doesn’t bother those who are willing to tolerate all manner of violence to keep the gun business free of inconvenient restraints. Their goal is to exhaust supporters of sane gun laws and get them to give up until the next big tragedy strikes.

Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee has never given up and never given in. One of the earliest members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group spearheaded by New York City’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Tom Menino, he has made curbing urban bloodshed a personal cause.

Every year between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, he organizes a “Cease-Fire Sabbath” that enlists clergy around the city to preach against violence. “The ministers and other clergy can reach people that I can’t,” Barrett said in an interview in his office last week. Here’s a faith-based initiative that everyone can believe in.

Barrett has paid a price for his steadfastness on guns. In his rematch last year against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s recall election (he lost to Walker in 2010), gun groups spent more than $800,000 to defeat him. Such sums are designed to have a chilling effect on other politicians who might take on the gun lobby. “It hasn’t chilled me,” Barrett says with a smile, “but obviously I’m not the governor.”

Since late last year, Barrett has made the case for extending background checks to online and private purchases as well as gun show sales by pulling out a large cardboard blow-up of a request sent through an online gun market on Oct. 20, 2011.

It reads in part: “Looking for a handgun that is $300 obo [or best offer]. … Looking to buy asap. … Prefer full size. Prefer .45, .40. … I constantly check my emails. … Also I’m hoping it has a high mag capacity. … I’m a serious buyer so please email me asap. Have cash now and looking to buy now. I am mobile.”

As The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, the ad was posted by Radcliffe Haughton days after his wife Zina Haughton “was granted a four-year restraining order against her husband because she said she feared for her life.”

“The couple had a volatile relationship,” the paper explained. “Police had been to their Brown Deer [WI.] home on 20 different occasions. These red flags should not have been ignored, but they were.”

The day after the ad went up, Radcliffe Haughton gunned down Zina and two other women at the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield, WI.

The Journal-Sentinel noted (and Barrett also makes this point) that Radcliffe Haughton “may well have found another way to get a gun. But that doesn’t mean that such legislation would not keep guns out of the hands of others who buy them every year without undergoing a background check.”

The slaughter in Newtown decisively shifted the nation’s discussion on guns, and Barrett says he’s still hopeful that a background check bill will eventually pass. The law is needed, he said, not just because of gruesomely spectacular killings but also to stop “what my police chief calls slow-motion mass murders in the cities around our country.”

But can the politics be overcome? At a recent talk at Georgetown University, former president Bill Clinton spoke of how politicians draw warnings from past political fights even when those lessons have become obsolete. He used the analogy of the cat that gets burned on a hot stove, and will never jump on the stove again, even after the stove has cooled.

As of May 8, according to Slate magazine, there had been at least 3,947 gun deaths since Newtown. The political heat is now coming from those who have lost patience with slow-motion mass murders. Will Congress notice the temperature change?

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 12, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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