Gun Control

I have a friend who was director of a gun violence prevention organization, Cease Fire Pa. She told me she stood outside of malls passing out Cease Fire literature. Women, she said, would tell her in low voices that they agreed with her movement, but couldn’t support it – because they were afraid. I asked my friend if the reason they were afraid was that they thought some gun rights fanatic would find their homes, ring her their door bells and shoot them, they said “yes”.

I am reminded of that conversation discussing among my colleagues at the Woman’s National Democratic Club what we should do about the March gun rights fanatics are planning for July 4. An ex Marine, Adam Kokesh, wants to bring his group, with loaded rifles slung on their backs, to march around the Capitol and the White House. The point, he is quoted as saying, is “to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated.” To do this he would have to break a number of laws and DC Police Chief Lanier has said they won’t be let into the District.

Still, maybe they would get into the District. We thought about how we would push back and protest the protest. We thought of going up to the marchers wearing placards saying “I am a teacher, I work for the government….I am a diplomat, I work for the government… I am a fire fighter…. I work for the government….why are you threatening ME?” Then, finally, what about putting flowers into their rifle butts?
Elizabeth Spiro Clark


Former congressman Asa Hutchinson appeared at the National Press Club on April 2 to present a plan, “National School Shield,” that came out of a NRA funded task force, but was supposedly independent of the NRA. The only significant distance from the NRA’s previously announced proposals was to back off plans to protect schools with armed vigilantes. Otherwise, the pro gun agenda called for training and arming paid guards and school staff, at least one in every school. Assault weapons, high capacity magazine clips, background checks, and even making gun trafficking a federal crime are all assumed to be off the table by Hutchinson and the NRA.

More appalling than the plan, however, was reporting on the boot stomping atmosphere surrounding the press conference. At least 20 NRA security men, some with visible guns in holsters, patrolled the room, ordering photographers not to take pictures, and reporters to get out into the lobby. They inspected reporters’ brief cases. Clearly the gun friendly medium was the message.

When asked about common ground with gun control advocates, Hutchinson said his plan was it. If so, columnist Dana Milbank said, “American school children may grow accustomed to the sort of scene Hutchinson caused Tuesday protected by more armed guards than a Third World dictator (WP op-ed, 4/2).”

We must think about what the school environment Hutchinson wants means concretely. What kind of a “scene” are our children going to get accustomed to? Picture kids talking about the latest variety of assault weapon as “cool”. Look to social pressure on kids to join gun clubs. Assume kids will be afraid to take unpopular positions. Assume a world where critical thinking is dangerous.

A gun culture, which we already have, implies you can only get your way if you back it up with lethal power, and must have the lethal power to protect yourselves. You are a target of disrespect otherwise. People, in this worldview, who say they admire the tradition of non violent protest must be weaklings.

We must fight back against pro gun plans, not only to stop our horrific gun homicide rates, but in order to live in a society based on ethical principles and in a democracy.

We live in political times of extreme intolerance for the views of others. The media increasingly negotiate the resulting political minefields and dodge the  sniper fire by framing what they are doing as reporting on “the debate” or “conversation” or on calls for “having a conversation”, “having a debate”.  The implication is always clear that “having a conversation” is a practical way to reach a middle ground, solve problems, find a compromise that both sides can agree on.

But is it? Is there any middle ground between the NRA and advocates for the regulation of firearms, for example? Where is the conversation when, following the Newtown massacre,  NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre stated that getting more guns in the hands of individuals was the solution to gun violence.

Where is the middle ground when Larry Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, says that the main reason for owning guns is to defend ourselves against the government.  In this thinking, the American government is not America. For Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) the US doesn’t  have a gun problem, it has a people problem.  Anyone who disagrees (in this “debate”) is pushing a political agenda. Huelskamp says he doesn’t exactly approve of children playing video games, but “I am not saying to pass a  single law about that because it would be politicizing the issue.”

It is unacceptable to say that passing laws is “politicizing” an issue.  “Passing laws” is why our founding fathers created an elected legislative body. That is democracy.  At its heart Republican extremism is an authoritarian movement. It is no accident that neither Wayne LaPierre nor the NRA President David Keene would take  questions at their press conferences. Accountability is a core value of democracy, not authoritarianism. A debate shouldn’t be about whether we want to be a democracy.

For the media endless talk about “debate” it is a way to cover themselves. They don’t have to expose that one side, and one side only, is incapable of moving off an extreme agenda.  We shouldn’t, however, avert our eyes from the clear meaning of what is being said just because it exposes the limits of “conversation” and “debate”.

“Having the debate” also means getting out of calling the facts.  The Violence Policy Center conducts research that finds “states with low gun ownership rates and strong gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths”: The NRA says that “gun free zones” have higher gun death rates. For the NRA, gun free zones are the problem.  It’s presented as a debate, except it isn’t.

It is important to follow other stories that just follow the facts. For example, the profit gun manufacturers (and hedge fund mangers) make off weapons sales.  LaPierre, in effect, opened a new business opportunity when he said the NRA would finance and fund a program called the “National Model School Shield Program” to train school guards.  This at a time when the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has no workable data base of gun owners and registered guns because NRA will not let Congress pass the necessary appropriations.  The NRA doesn’t want to make Americans safer, it wants to make them less safe – for profit.

We don’t need a “conversation” with far right extremists, we need to talk about what they are saying.  What does it mean to say you need guns to defend yourself against (your) government? What is sedition? What constitutes incitement to violence? What is treason? And finally, what about exposing a right wing conspiracy to change America through cover organizations, funded by right wing billionaires, that push anti democracy laws in state legislatures and gett them passed. The American Legislative Exchange Council may drop pushing “Stand Your Ground” legislation after the killing of Trayyvon Martin last year and Stephen Feinberg of Cerberus hedge fund may drop Freedom Group Inc. gun manufacturers after Newtown.  But how many more are still out there pulling strings? We need information, not “debate”.

There has been a gratifying deluge of shocked commentary on the killing of Trayvon Martin by the Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. The picture that is emerging is getting scarier and scarier, and we don’t seem to be at the end of the stream of revelations and explanations.

Columnist Paul Krugman filled in some pieces of the puzzle in his March 26 opinion piece in the Washington Post. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law is not unique but is from templates of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Krugman explained. ALEC’s billionaire backers have the same familiar names that support right wing Republican causes and candidates. “ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.” ALEC doesn’t want small government but privatized government where taxpayers support, among other things, the outsourcing of criminal justice. Corporations such as the American Bail Coalition, for example, profit from a larger prison population.

The National Rifle Association works closely with ALEC. This is not surprising given NRA interests in keeping its millions in donations coming, even when, to the objective eye, all its extreme goals have not only been achieved but dangerously exceeded. Chris Tutko, Director of the Neighborhood Watch Programs in the National Sheriff’s Association, has been asked about the guidelines for Neighborhood Watch organizations and has responded that the guidelines prohibit the carrying of weapons. But what do the guidelines matter when a Neighborhood Watch volunteer has a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon? (Note: in Florida the body charged with overseeing the concealed weapons law is the Agriculture Commission!)

Connecting laws on concealed weapons and Stand Your Ground provisions, which require only that the individual taking action believes he is being threatened, creates a perfect storm. Under Stand Your Ground it would not be possible to prove that Trayvon Martin did not threaten George Zimmerman because there were no witnesses and one of the two protagonists is dead. One can make inferences from Zimmerman’s 911 call, when he was told not to follow the “suspicious” person, but enough to convict him? The conclusion is stark. Homicide is no longer prosecutable. States with Stand Your Ground laws have “legally” sanctioned lawlessness.

Rule of law is an essential element of democracy. How many individual states have to grind away the core of democracy before America succumbs.