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“Beset By Condescending Outsiders”: Michael Bloomberg’s Gift To Arkansas’ Pro-Gun Sen Mark Pryor

In the unlikely event that Mark Pryor wins re-election as Arkansas’ senior U.S. Senator in 2014, he should send New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg a thank-you gift. Something like a sugary 44-ounce Big Gulp or a case of Dr Pepper. Offering His Honor a 30.06 deer rifle would be churlish.

Unlike liberal groups who scared up a primary opponent for former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010, predictably helping her lose to a cookie-cutter GOP conservative, Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has given the beleaguered Democrat, well, a target to shoot at.

Angered with Pryor’s Senate vote against broadening background checks for gun sales—one of four Democrats to do so—Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been running TV ads in Arkansas citing the murder of state Democratic Party chair Bill Gwatney by a deranged gunman in 2008.

Narrated by former Democratic Party official Angela Bradford-Barnes, the commercial expresses the disgust of just about every Arkansas Democrat I know with what they saw as Pryor’s cowardly vote. “The Caspar Milquetoast of Arkansas politics,” one acerbic columnist dubbed him.

“When my dear, innocent friend was shot to death, I didn’t blame guns,” Bradford-Barnes says, “I blamed a system that makes it so terribly easy for criminals or the dangerous mentally ill to buy guns.”

Pryor has said that he found the politicizing of his friend’s murder “disgusting.” Maybe he did.

Tactically speaking, the problem with the Bloomberg ad is that just about every Democrat I know lives either in Hillcrest, basically the Upper West Side of Little Rock, or in the college town of Fayetteville—completely atypical of Arkansas voters generally. They can be as disgusted as they like. But they have exactly nowhere to go.

Blanche Lincoln carried Hillcrest handily against Rep. John Boozman in 2010. She lost statewide 58 to 37 percent.

President Obama also carried Pulaski County (Little Rock) in 2010; Mitt Romney won Arkansas by 24 points.

So you can see Pryor’s dilemma. Meanwhile, the billionaire-coddling Club for Growth (or “Club for Greed” as former Gov. Mike Huckabee once called it) has also been hammering the Arkansas Democrat with TV ads blaming him for President Obama’s supposedly runaway spending.

But more about that to come.

Do I think Pryor’s vote against background checks was cowardly? I did then. However, Democrats like The Daily Beast’s Mike Tomasky, who cite polls showing strong majorities of Arkansans favoring universal background checks, may be overlooking the difference between a mild preference expressed to a telephone pollster and a conviction strong enough to hold against a barrage of paranoid NRA propaganda.

Can a majority of Arkansans be convinced that bogeyman Obama is coming to confiscate their guns? I wouldn’t bet against it in Arkansas or any state it borders upon—Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee or even Missouri.

Simply put, fear and loathing of President Obama has reached cult-like proportions across the region, and there’s little Mark Pryor can do about it before November, 2014. Almost everywhere you go—dentists’ offices, auto dealers, fitness centers, airports—the waiting room TV is tuned to Fox News, and people are swallowing it whole.

So more than a year early, Sen. Pryor has come out swinging against his dream opponent: Michael Bloomberg. Even though no Republican rival has yet declared, he’s begun airing a 30-second TV spot complaining that, “The mayor of New York City is running ads against me because I opposed President Obama’s gun control legislation.”

The commercial ends with the Senator striking a belligerent pose: “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do,” he growls. “I listen to Arkansas.”

Take that, limousine liberals! As much as the vote, it was the impression of weakness that may have been Pryor’s greatest liability. Months of unanswered Club for Growth ads also didn’t help.

Now the question is whether he can carry the fight to his presumptive, albeit undeclared GOP opponent Rep. Tom Cotton, the favored candidate of the aforementioned Club for Greed. Also of GOP kingmaker Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, whose greatest hits as a political prognosticator include the Iraq War and Sarah Palin.

The hand-picked selection, that is, of another passel of New York/Washington elitists. A superficially appealing candidate with impressive credentials, Cotton also appears to be a stone right-wing zealot who not only voted against federal disaster aid for storm victims, but recently proposed a law punishing relatives of lawbreakers—parents, siblings, aunts and uncles—for their transgressions. In a word, a crackpot.

Basically, Pryor’s got to portray himself as an advocate of the Arkansas Way—a moderate Democrat like his father, former Sen. David Pryor, like Dale Bumpers, and Bill Clinton—a just-folks pragmatist beset by condescending outsiders, and one who’ll fight for you as hard as he fights for himself.

A longshot? Definitely. But it’s been done before.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 5, 2013

June 6, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Counting On Public Confusion”: Sen Jeff Flake Hopes Dissembling Will Solve His Gun Problem

A month after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) joined his GOP colleagues in killing a bipartisan background-check bill, the rookie senator is still struggling with the political fallout. This ad from Mayors Against Illegal Guns is the latest to put Flake on the defensive. Watch on YouTube

Flake’s strategy, at least for now, is built entirely on dissembling.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is pushing back against attack ads that say he broke his promise to support passing new gun laws.

“If you are anywhere close to a television set in Arizona in the coming days, you’ll likely see an ad about gun control financed by NYC Mayor Bloomberg,” Flake wrote Friday on his Facebook page. “Contrary to the ad, I did vote to strengthen background checks.”

I can appreciate why the ads have gotten Flake’s attention, but this “vote to strengthen background checks” rhetoric is exactly the sort of thing that rankles. Flake must realize how misleading this is, but is counting on public confusion to make his political troubles go away. It’s cynical, and the public deserves better.

Indeed, it’s apparently become the standard strategy for every Republican senator facing pushback from his his/her constituents — Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) is pulling exact same stunt.

Let’s set the record straight once more.

Flake’s pitch — “Contrary to the ad, I did vote to strengthen background checks” — is technically true. It’s also true that Flake filibustered the Manchin/Toomey compromise on background checks that enjoyed broad public support. So, Flake is relying on semantics games as a defense for doing the wrong thing? Yes, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

As we’ve discussed before, conservatives are relying on specific definitions of words and phrases that don’t quite line up with what everyone else is talking about. As Sahil Kapur explained recently:

There’s a critical distinction to be made between universal background checks, a robust policy that would require criminal checks for virtually all gun purchases — and a more milquetoast proposal to beef up mental health information in existing databases. The former is championed by gun control advocates and experts who say it would have a significant impact. The latter is supported by the NRA and does nothing to make it harder for criminals to buy firearms at private sales or gun shows, where background checks are not required by law.

It’s obviously an important clarification. The right is generally comfortable with improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, by integrating mental health records, for example. When Flake endorses stronger “background checks,” this is what he’s talking about, not closing the gun-show loophole.

Flake is counting on voters losing sight of the distinction.

Just as important, though, is the unstated concession: Flake is feeling defensive, which gives away much of the game. Under the NRA’s worldview, which Flake supports and defends, there’s nothing for conservative senators to be embarrassed about — by crushing expanded background checks, Republicans are taking a stand against tyranny. Voters love freedom and need not fear electoral consequences for voting the way the NRA demands.

Or so the argument goes.

But Flake’s cynical defense suggests that below the surface, he knows the NRA’s boasts about the political landscape aren’t true.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 20, 2013

May 23, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control | , , , , , , , | 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

“The NRA’s Pyrrhic Victory”: Why The NRA’s Manchin-Toomey Senate Vote Win Is Really A Loss

Congratulations, National Rifle Association. Once again, you flexed your unparalleled political muscle and managed the rare political feat of defeating a proposal supported by 90 percent of the American people. Are you familiar with the concept of a Pyrrhic victory? It’s the kind that comes with an unsustainable cost. It’s the kind you just scored.

What’s the cost? There are three critical losses rolled into yesterday’s NRA win. For one thing, as I noted Tuesday, this round of the fight over guns has produced a new infrastructure opposing the gun lobby. Neither Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by my old friend Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, nor Mayors Against Illegal Guns are likely to go away any time soon.

If you doubt it, read Gabby’s heart-wrenching op-ed in today’s New York Times. “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,” she writes. And understand that the mayors group is launching a new NRA-style scorecard to keep senators accountable for the votes they cast.

Don’t underestimate the power of these groups having concrete, potent issues to rally around: the indelible horror of Newtown, a bipartisan proposal to help prevent the next one, and a stark example of a fanatical special interest triumphing over the overwhelming will of the American people.

The second cost to the NRA in winning this fight is opening a clear, chasm-like gap between its position and the American people’s position. Poll after poll has demonstrated overwhelming support for universal background checks. The Huffington Post recently crunched the numbers and found that universal background checks are more popular than – I’m not making this up – apple pie, kittens and baseball.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that even in gun-owning households 86 percent of people support universal background checks. By opposing the proposal, the hoary National Rifle Association (and its even more radical brethren like Gun Owners of America) has created a wedge issue which smart activists and pols can use to cripple the organization. The NRA will be nothing once its members realize how inflexibly radicalized it has become.

And Americans for Responsible Solutions isn’t the Brady campaign. The NRA is no longer in a struggle with flat out opponents of the Second Amendment. “I’m very in favor of gun rights, and so is our organization,” Kelly said Tuesday, noting that he and his wife are both gun owners. “When you look at the polling data, most of the country stand with Gabby and I on this issue, that you can be pro-Second Amendment and pro-gun-rights; you can also be against gun violence and realize that there are certain things we can do to try to reduce violence in this country.”

Finally, as Greg Sargent pointed out yesterday, the history of gun control is rife with setbacks followed by victories:

Congress has repeatedly been spurred by shootings to act on proposals that originated in the wake of previous shootings. It has repeatedly taken years to pass gun control legislation. The Gun Control Act of 1968 passed in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, but it originated in the wake of the assassination of JFK five years earlier. The Brady Law passed in 1993, many years after the shooting of Jim Brady. Six years later still, after the 1999 Columbine massacre, the Senate passed a bill closing the loophole in the law (it failed in the House).

The NRA didn’t need to make this a fight. Given that the NRA used to support them, universal background checks can’t be that radical a threat to the Second Amendment. They could have read the polls and given a little ground. They could have accommodated the overwhelming will of the American people. Instead they chose the maximalist position and they scored a victory.

King Pyrrhus, who gave his name to the type of victory, is said to have commented after his signature event that “one other such would utterly undo him.” I somehow doubt NRA chief Wayne LaPierre made a similar comment yesterday, but time will remind him of King Pyrrhus’s lesson.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, April 18, 2013

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Easy Scapegoats”: Guns, Not The Mentally Ill, Kill People

After a year of violent tragedies that culminated with the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, America is finally having a conversation about gun control. For the many who want to decrease access to firearms in the wake of several mass shootings, new laws being proposed around the country to limit and regulate guns and ammunition represent a momentous first step.

But running through the gun-control debate is a more delicate conversation: how to handle mental-health treatment in America. Among both Democrats and Republicans, in both the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies, there’s a widespread belief that mental-health treatment and monitoring is key to decreasing gun violence. Shining more light on the needs and struggles of the mentally ill would normally be a positive change; mental-health programs and services have been cut year after year in the name of austerity. But in the context of gun violence, those with mental illness have become easy scapegoats. Rather than offering solutions to the existing problems that patients and providers face, policymakers instead promise to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. The trouble is, that often means presenting policies that are actually detrimental to mental-health treatment—threatening doctor-patient confidentiality, expanding forced treatment rather than successful voluntary programs, and further stigmatizing people with databases that track who’s been committed to hospitals or mental institutions.

The National Rifle Association has led the charge to blame those with mental illness. “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters—people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them,” NRA executive vice president Wayne Lapierre said at his December 21 press conference. “How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” Ann Coulter was more succinct: “Guns don’t kill people, the mentally ill do.”

It’s not just the NRA and the right wing who are turning mentally ill Americans into political pawns. See, for instance, New York’s new gun-control law, the first passed after Newtown. In addition to banning assault weapons and semiautomatic guns with military-level components, the legislation requires therapists, nurses and other mental-health-care providers to alert state health authorities if they deem a patient is a danger to self or others. That would then allow the state to confiscate the person’s guns. The measure broadens the confiscation powers to include those who voluntarily seek commitment to a mental-health facility—in other words, the people who get help without being forced. Finally, it strengthens Kendra’s Law, which allows the courts to involuntarily commit the mentally ill.

Other states will very likely follow suit. Legislatures in Ohio and Colorado will both consider measures to make it easier to commit people. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley wants to broaden the range of people banned from owning guns to include those who have been civilly committed to mental institutions at any time. Policymakers in Louisiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah have also proposed measures aimed specifically at keeping the mentally ill from getting guns.

The new rules and proposals perpetuate the assumption that people with mental illness are dangerous; instead of making people safer, the requirements may hurt efforts to get the mentally ill treatment. For instance, the expanded reporting requirements mean mental-health providers must alert officials if a patient may harm herself or others. Law-enforcement officials can then show up and confiscate any guns the patient owns. Mental-health providers are already supposed to report if a patient seems in imminent danger of doing harm, but the new law broadens that rule. It could easily chip away trust between therapists and their patients. The threat of gun confiscation may make it less likely that folks like policeman and veterans suffering from trauma to get help, since many are gun owners. “It’s very hard to get people to come forward and get help,” says Ron Honberg, the national director for policy and legal affairs at the mental-health advocacy group National Alliance on Mental Illness. “If they’re aware that by seeking help they’re going to lose their right to have a gun, we’re concerned it’s going to have a chilling effect.”

It’s also not likely to slow down the violence. Predicting murderous behavior is extremely difficult and most of the time, the providers can’t do it accurately. “We’re making an assumption that violence can be predicted,” Honberg says. In fact, it’s lack of treatment, combined with substance abuse and a history of violence, that tend to be the best predictors of future violence. Yet many of New York’s new laws—like the reporting requirements and the push to put more mentally ill people in government databases—target those who are already getting help.

The issue is not that mental-health advocates want to arm more people, but that those with mental illness are being singled out by often well-intended gun control measures, which could increase the stigma around getting help. By focusing on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill specifically—and not those who have histories of substance abuse, domestic violence, and other predictors of violent behavior—these laws perpetuate the idea that the mentally ill are an overwhelming threat. So did a recent report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which highlighted the gaps in reporting mentally ill people to the NICS database; in red pullout text, it prominently displayed examples of mentally ill people responsible for violence.

The stereotype that the mentally ill are very violent is simply incorrect. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, people with severe mental illness, like schizophrenia, are up to three times more likely to be violent, but “most people with [severe mental illness] are not violent and most violent acts are not committed by people with [severe mental illness.]” On the whole, those with mental illness are responsible for only 5 percent of violent crimes.

“People with mental illness are so much more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators that it’s almost immeasurable,” says Debbie Plotnick, the senior director of state policy at Mental Health America, an advocacy group for mental-health treatment. According to one study, people with mental illness are 11 times more likely to be the victims of violence.

Fortunately, the national conversation hasn’t been entirely negative. Advocates see an undeniable opportunity to get more funding and attention to mental-health services. For the first time in recent memory, governors and lawmakers across the political spectrum are pushing for more dollars to help those with mental illness. That’s particularly important because over the past four years, $4.35 billion was cut in funding for Medicaid mental-health funding, substance abuse, housing, and other mental-health programs at the state and federal level. Now, even Kansas’s ultra-conservative Governor Sam Brownback is pushing for $10 million more for mental-health care. South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley, a Tea Party favorite, has also argued for an increase in funding. In Oklahoma, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, legislatures will very likely consider investing more heavily in treatment of mental illness.

The investment is badly needed. Over the years, most states have cut back to only providing emergency and crisis care for mental illnesses. That’s both expensive and ineffective. Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitative Services, says the most successful programs are those that focus on getting a patient help wherever they are, while providing other necessities like housing. For instance, the “housing first” model provides housing to people who might not otherwise qualify and then layers on services like mental health and substance abuse treatment. Such programs, like New York’s Pathways to Housing, have an astounding 85 percent retention rate, and according to Rosenthal, they’re successful because they tailor to a person’s specific needs rather than telling patients “you’re mentally ill and you need medicine.”

More attention to the cracks in care for the mentally ill is a good thing. While it may not have much to do with gun violence, there is a serious mental-health-care problem in the country.


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, February 7, 2013

February 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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