Both Political Parties Assault America With Their Craven Positions On Gun Control
I used to love target practice. It helped me get rid of pent up tension after work and where today my fantasies go more in a Jesus direction, back when I used to look forward to going shooting, my fantasies were more bloody-minded. Not that I would have ever even contemplated shooting an animal. Hunting is for a certain kind of person and that's a choice they make. Everyone is at a different stage of their own personal evolution and, at least to my mind, it isn't for anyone else to judge. On the other hand, as Albert Brooks quipped last week, Ted Nugent installed Apple's new operating system, Mountain Lion, and then shot it.
I never thought the real debate about gun legislation was really about hunting though. I'm sure it is for some people, for sure. And I'm sure for the gun and ammo manufacturers that prop up the NRA it's about profits. But neither of those two things are what's at the philosophical heart of the debate-- nor, of course, of the Second Amendment. That really does have to do-- and has always had to do with the ability of the citizens to defend themselves-- from Indians, marauders... and tyrannical government. Apocalyptic minded Americans on both the left and the right tend towards gun right absolutism. I'm sure the only thing that keeps them from advocating the right of a citizen to own a tank, a fighter jet, a stockpile of nerve gas, even an atom bomb is because even they know what a bad impression it would make on less obsessed, somewhat saner people.
The debate about where to drawn the line has always been pretty key to the debate over gun control. A hand gun in your home to protect you and your family from a gang break-in? I can't imagine you're going to find many people to argue against that one. How about a Kalashnikov (AK-47) for when President Obama and Congress mandate that health insurance plans include women's reproductive health? Support drops off precipitously. Here are two polls from last year-- one from CBS News and the NY Times in January of 2011 and the second from Time Magazine in June 2011. Give the apparent victory of the NRA over gun control advocates, the results may seem perplexing:
Politicians haven't always been allergic to gun control, not even Republicans.
In 1968, after the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Congress-- on a bipartisan vote-- outlawed guns sales to felons and the mentally ill. In 1993, when Congress passed the Brady bill requiring background checks for gun purchasers, former President Reagan, who narrowly escaped assassination in 1981, was among its supporters.
In 1994, when Congress passed a ban on assault weapons, 10 Republican senators supported the provision. And as recently as 2002, when Mitt Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts, he declared himself strongly in favor of "tough gun laws."
"I believe they protect us and provide for our safety," Romney said. Two years later he signed a state-level assault weapons ban that remains in force.
But that was a decade ago. This week, days after a gunman with an assault rifle killed 12 moviegoers in a Colorado theater, neither Romney nor President Obama raised the now-radical notion of reviving the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Even the ban's principal author, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), admitted that it was a lost cause for now.
Feinstein blamed the National Rifle Assn. and other gun rights groups for blocking new laws. "They pour a lot of money [into election campaigns], and some people lost office after they voted for the legislation before," she said.
But powerful lobbies and callow politicians aren't the only impediments to stricter gun laws. Over the last two decades, public support for them has collapsed. In 1990, before the assault weapons ban, a Gallup poll found that 78% of Americans favored stricter regulation of guns. But that number has declined steadily ever since. Last year, Gallup asked the same question, and only 43% of those polled said they favored stricter gun laws.
The public doesn't agree with the NRA that gun laws should be eased further-- only 11% hold that view, according to Gallup. But on the core issue-- the right to gun ownership with only minimal government oversight-- the NRA has won the debate.
Social scientists have differing opinions about why public opinion has shifted so remarkably, but one likely explanation is that crime is down. Twenty years ago, when murder rates were high, sponsors of gun control legislation billed it as a way to help get guns off the street and reduce the murder rate. It's not clear that gun control got many firearms off the street, but violent crime has declined sharply and, with it, some of the impetus for more laws.
Another probable reason for the shift is a precipitous drop in citizens' confidence in the federal government. In 2011, Gallup found that only 43% of Americans said they trusted the federal government to handle domestic problems, the lowest ever recorded; 49% said they considered the federal government "an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens," the highest ever recorded. When people are that suspicious of federal power, they're wary of federal gun laws too.
Political polarization is also a factor. Gone are the days when the two parties could find middle ground on gun control. Pew Research Center polls found that from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of Americans who believed that controlling guns was more important than protecting gun rights fell from 59% to 45%. But most of that change occurred among Republicans; only five years ago, the GOP was closely divided on the issue, but now only about one-fourth of Republican voters call gun control a higher priority than gun rights. Among Democrats, by contrast, about two-thirds want gun control, and their views have hardly budged in 20 years.
...Like other Republicans, Romney has taken note of the NRA's muscle. The presumptive Republican nominee signed his state-level assault weapons ban in 2004, but as soon as he began contemplating a run for president, he moved to the right. Romney quietly joined the NRA in 2006 and campaigned for the Republican nomination in 2008 as an unbending supporter of gun owners' rights, a position blemished only by his awkward statement that he was merely an occasional hunter, and then for "varmints."
"I do not support any new legislation," Romney said that year. This year, the issue has hardly come up.
That absence of debate is the best evidence that the NRA has won the argument, at least for now. Obama represents a party whose voters are, on this issue, dissenters from the American majority. Most Democrats, especially urban Democrats, say they still want tougher gun laws, such as a renewed assault weapons ban that would outlaw the 100-round magazine that James Holmes allegedly used to kill the moviegoers in Colorado. But Obama wants to carry independent voters too, and he can read the polls.
Last week two progressive Democrats running for Congress, both of whom own hand-guns and both of whom support the Second Amendment, happened to mention to me that that had received copies of the NRA endorsement questionnaire. Both of them were mortified by how partisan and over-the-line it is and both tossed it into the garbage. Last month the NRA sent out a questionnaire to candidates for sheriff in Florida counties.
It includes 14 questions and not an ounce of nuance. Typically, sheriffs have two potential answers-- either a) No, I would never dream of questioning the Second Amendment, or b) Yes, I would like to be your clay pigeon.
Here is an honest-to-goodness snippet of text from one of the questions:
" … anti-gun agitators, who oppose self-defense, are working to destroy the freedom and rights of innocent victims in favor of protecting violent criminals.''
Word is, they were going to spell that out in bullet holes, but someone suggested this far more subtle and even-handed phrasing.
When Feinstein (and Obama) said that the political climate isn't going to be conducive to gun control legislation right now-- not even to control assault weapons like most Americans would like-- they seemed to blame Republicans. And it's true, the GOP is like a Western version of a weapons market in northwest Pakistan. But the NRA has found dozens and dozens of Democrats to endorse as well-- Democrats who have perfect scores against gun control-- and almost all of whom wind up as priorities for allocating expenditures by the DCCC. For a Democratic candidate looking for support from the DCCC, standing in lockstep with Ted Nugent and Wayne LaPierre is much more likely to get you big TV ad buys than a position favoring a ban on assault rifles.
Our political elite is craven, cowardly and hopelessly sold out to the NRA and the arms industry. So, if a rational gun policy is going to be enacted, it will only be enacted by citizen action and by shoving it down the throats of the two political parties. CREDO, for example, has asked both Obama and Romney to urge Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Romney? Whatever.
The shock and trauma from the images and stories from Aurora are still very much with us, and it is impossible to put into words the pain being felt by families and friends of the victims.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak out. In the wake of this massacre, it's time to put aside politics and reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons.
Urge President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney to ask Congress to reinstate the expired federal assault weapons ban today.
After the news broke last Friday, President Barack Obama said that "there are going to be other days for politics, this I think is a day for prayer and reflection." Governor Mitt Romney said, "I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband, and American." Both of their campaigns asked networks to pull their negative advertisements.
The gestures from the two men who are running for President were welcome steps. But, we need more than sympathetic words. We need real leadership to start to address the senseless gun violence that holds our communities hostage.
One of the principal weapons used by the shooter in the horrific Aurora massacre was an AR-15 assault rifle. This weapon features a magazine that holds 100 rounds of bullets, and its trigger is capable of firing 50-60 rounds per minute.
The federal assault weapons ban which was passed in 1994, banned the sale of guns like the AR-15. Unfortunately, that ban expired in 2004 as a result of fierce lobbying by the NRA. It's long past time to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons like the AR-15.
...Massacres on the scale of the tragedy in Aurora happen in part because our federal gun laws make it easy for civilians to obtain military-level firepower. We need to pass and enforce sensible federal gun laws restricting ready access for civilians to assault weapons. Reinstating a strong version of the federal ban on assault weapons known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act is where we should start.
We're not so naïve as to think that sensible gun laws are all that's needed to stop the killings. There are many things that need to change in American culture to stop the next Aurora-like massacre. But we do know, one thing we should put at the top of the list-- keeping military-level assault weapons like the AR-15 with a high capacity clip out of the hands of civilians.
On March 2, 2004 the Senate voted 52-47 for Feinstein's bill to extend for 10 years the assault weapons ban. But it wasn't just the usual suspects like Baucus, Ben Nelson and Landrieu who voted with the GOP against the ban. So did anti-gun control fanatic Russ Feingold (who was later stabbed in the back by the NRA which, ironically, helped defeat him) and so did Harry Reid. Bush said he favored extending the ban and said he would sign the bill, although many observers at the time said he was being duplicitous. So what happened? NRA allies in the House, particularly Tom DeLay, refused to bring it up for a vote... and it died. Jim VandeHei, writing for the Washington Post on May 13, 2003:
The Republican-controlled House will not renew the federal ban on Uzis and other semiautomatic weapons, a key leader said today, dealing a significant blow to the campaign to clamp down on gun sales nationwide.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said most House members are willing to let the ban expire next year. "The votes in the House are not there" to continue the ban, DeLay told reporters.
His spokesman, Stuart Roy, said, "We have no intention of bringing it up" for a vote.
As majority leader, DeLay decides which bills get voted on in the House. Because the 1994 assault weapons ban expires next year, the House and Senate must pass legislation renewing it by Sept. 13, 2004. If Congress fails to act, the AK-47 and 18 other types of semiautomatic weapons that were outlawed by Clinton and a Democratic-controlled Congress a decade ago would be legal again, handing a major victory to the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups.
Past votes and an NRA survey of lawmakers before the 2002 elections suggest that a majority of House members oppose the ban's renewal, GOP officials said. But several Republicans, who requested anonymity, said some pro-gun GOP leaders worry that if members are forced into a rollcall vote, they might switch under pressure from gun control advocates.
President Bush, whose support of the assault weapons ban dates to his 2000 campaign, has drawn rebukes from NRA members and some GOP lawmakers on the issue. But several Republicans close to the White House said Bush has no plans to lobby lawmakers aggressively to extend the ban. That would allow him to officially oppose the NRA without completely turning against the powerful gun lobby by fighting hard to maintain a ban on semiautomatic weapons.
"The White House seems to think that the bill will never reach the President's desk," said a recent alert sent to members of the Gun Owners of America, a pro-gun group with close ties to Republicans. "At least that is what top officials are counting on. In pursuing this strategy, they are trying to please both sides and are playing a very dangerous game."
Congressional Republicans said Congress will renew the ban only if Bush publicly and firmly insists. "If the president demands we pass it, that would change the dynamics considerably," said a House GOP leadership aide. "The White House does not want us" to vote.
And then, as now, the NRA was backed by plenty of Democrats as well.
UPDATE: I Asked And I Got An Answer
Dangerously deranged right-wing fanatic Antonin Scalia was pontificating on Fox News Sunday this morning, when he claimed the Second Amendment guarantees ther ight for all Americans to have... rocket launchers. Anything hand-held, he says, is protected under the Second Amendment. The man has clearly lost his way and should be eased into retirement, hopefully sometime this week.
Scalia’s across-the-board defense of weapon-carrying laws is not new, having been at the heart of his majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, which protected an individual’s right to possess firearms. However, his nonchalant suggestion that private citizens could legally carry rocket launchers so long as they’re “hand-held” suggests just how willing he is to protect an armed nation.
Such originalism is a dangerous distortion of 21st-Century reality. There is no conceivable way to apply the Founding Fathers’ understanding of a ”well-regulated militia” armed with slow-to-load, hard-to-aim muskets to today’s weapon technology. Arguably, the full extent of alleged gunman James Holmes’ munitions could have easily decimated an entire brigade of musketeers before they’d even loaded their first ball.