Who Saved The Gun Industry? The Answer May Surprise.

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The good news is that you don’t have to pass an IQ test to be a member of Congress. I wrote a column about one of the dumbest members of the House, Rob Bishop, who has introduced a bill that would strip the ATF of its authority to determine whether a gun can be imported into the U.S. based on whether it’s a ‘sporting’ weapon or not. And since the ATF has decided, lies from the gun industry notwithstanding, that AR and AK-style guns aren’t sporting weapons, those kinds of guns manufactured overseas can’t come in.

clinton             As you might imagine, the moment Bishop introduced his bill, Gun-nut Nation immediately began beating the drums to get the bill turned into law. But if Bishop’s an idiot, the NRA isn’t far behind, because if foreign gun makers can begin selling assault rifles and other ‘non-sporting’ guns in the U.S., you can kiss the domestic gun industry goodbye.

Back in 1989, George H. W. Bush issued an order which prohibited the import of Chinese assault-style rifles, in particular the SKS. The ban was temporary but was made permanent and expanded by Bill Clinton in 1993. The expansion of the ban meant that no gun of any design that had a grooved barrel could be sent from China over here.  Shotguns, yes. Rifles and handguns, no.

I owned one of those Chinese handguns. It was made by a Chinese company, Norinco, which employs more than 200,000 people and makes just about everything, including ammunition and small arms. The gun I owned was a copy of the Colt 1911 pistol in 45acp caliber, and when I say ‘copy,’ I don’t mean some cheap piece of junk.  I mean an exact copy, up to and including the traditional, Colt-style checkered grips.

Did the gun function as well as the original Colt?  Yes.  Did the gun sell for 30% less than the Colt? Yes. Can you still find the pre-ban Norinco 1911 floating around on gun auction sites here and there? And the good news is that if you need a part or another barrel, you can always pick it up from Colt.

I don’t think there’s a U.S. President who is hated more by Gun-nut Nation than Clinton because, as opposed to Obama, he actually got some gun-control legislation done. And he’s no arugula-eating elitist, Billy Boy’s just a good ol’ boy right out of a Southern trailer park, so he should have known better and just kept his mouth shut. But his 1994 assault-weapons ban didn’t just mean that gun makers had to change the AR design; it was also the first time that the government told the gun industry what kinds of products they could and couldn’t make. That’s not just regulating an industry – that’s telling an industry what it can and cannot do.

But the truth is that for all of Clinton’s attempts to hurt the gun industry, his ban on Chinese guns has probably done more to help the gun industry than any pro-gun effort being bandied about by the supporters of our current President, even though #45 may be on his way down the tubes. Because if Chinese gun manufacturers entered the U.S. gun market, by now they would be over here in force; building factories, producing ARs and polymer pistols and underselling every current brand.

Back in the 1980’s, another iconic American brand, Harley-Davidson, found itself unable to compete with Japanese bike makers and was only saved by a high tariff that Reagan slapped on imported Japanese bikes.  The company continues to limp along, its stock price climb since 1911 is about 30% less than similar-sized companies tracked by Standard and Poor’s. Trump loves to talk about how this tariff is a great example of protecting American jobs, but as usual he’s lying because the tariff didn’t ultimately help Harley at all. But at least the company’s still in business, which is more than what would have happened to S&W and Ruger if Billy Boy hadn’t stopped those Chinese guns from coming our way.

 

Come To D.C.’s National Cathedral For Wear Orange Day.

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I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and when I was a kid, my mother used to take me to the National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue and while she was inside listening to a concert I would run around on the beautiful grounds. Anyone who has lived in DC for any period of time will sooner or later have some connection to this remarkable edifice, which calls itself “a catalyst for spiritual harmony in our nation, reconciliation among faiths, and compassion in the world.”

2008_05_cathedral6             The Cathedral will certainly embody those words in the event that is being planned for the Third Wear Orange Day, which is coming up on Friday, June 2. And what the Cathedral will do that evening is bathe this remarkable House of Worship’s  West front in orange from 8 P.M. until midnight as a symbol of the Congregation’s support of the Wear Orange day.

This event started as a community response to the shooting death of 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago, but has now grown to national and even international proportions. The list of supporters, including media influencers, entertainers, non-profit agencies and organizations, municipalities and others just goes on and on down a website page and more than 150 landmark buildings and sites will be adorned by some kind of orange embellishment to mark this auspicious event.

cathedral             But I want to get back to what the National Cathedral is doing on Friday because it could serve as a symbol about what reducing gun violence should really be about. Back in 2008, as part of the Centennial celebration (the construction actually began in 1897 but cathedrals have a funny way of taking a long time to be built) the Cathedral mounted an outside exhibition by the Swiss lighting artist Gary Hofstetter, of which a picture of one of the exhibition displays accompanies this text. The exhibition was called ‘Lighting to Unite,’ which flowed directly from the Centennial address delivered the year before by Bishop Desmond Tutu entitled, Reconciliation: Hope for a Troubled World.  And in his address, the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner said, “Reconciliation is not an easy option. It cost God the death of his son.”

When I started thinking about writing a column on Wear Orange Day, I had to ask myself what I would be really expressing when I walked around on Friday sporting one of my hunting vests. Because don’t make the mistake of thinking that Mike the Gun Guy is going to traipse around in a little piece of orange plastic that you can pick up at Wal Mart for ten bucks. No, my vest is part of a jacket ensemble made by Laksen of Denmark, and as J. P. Morgan used to say, “If you have to ask what it costs….”

But the point is that if I’m participating in this important event, I want to understand what it really means. And I don’t think this event should only be seen as a way to raise consciousness about what happens to people who get injured with guns. Because the truth is that the only way we will ever see a real decline in gun violence is if we figure out a way to make people understand that everyone involved in a shooting is a victim of violence caused by a gun. And the only way we can do that, the only way we can make our entire society share in the tasks which must be accomplished to reduce gun violence, is to follow what Bishop Tutu said.

Whether you point a gun at yourself or at someone else, gun violence is the most shattering way to deprive us all of the joys and benefits of reconciliation whose everlasting values are embodied in the presence and spirit of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Which is why we should all go to see the Cathedral bathed in an orange glow come Friday night. Go to the Cathedral, stand there in meditation or in prayer, it’s the right thing to do.

 

If You Smile On Amazon You Can help Reduce Gun Violence.

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One of our really good friends in GVP-land sent around a message the other day alerting us to the fact that the Amazon Smile website has become a location for organizations which raise money to help promote guns. And in this case the organization that was using the crowd-sourcing fundraising venue of Amazon was a group called Gun Owners of America (GOA), which is a particularly aggressive outfit that claims to be the strongest supporter of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ anywhere in the land.

NDVH             To understand GOA, you have to know something about its founder and now Chairman Emeritus, Larry Pratt. When all is said and done, GOA is a fundraising organization with an email list which probably includes just about every hard-core, radical-right, militia member in the United States.  You can join the group for $20, which makes their claims of having one million members absurd since their annual revenues on 2014 were less than two million bucks.

smile             What gets Pratt and his group headlines isn’t the so-called lobbying efforts they claim to make, but the fact that they describe themselves as being an anti-establishment organization, in this case the establishment being the NRA. And if we’ve learned anything from Donald Trump, it’s that the moment you say you’re ‘against’ the establishment, even if you’re obsessively trying to become the establishment, you’ll get some support and pick up a few bucks.

But I want to get back to the question of how GVP could use Amazon Smile, because when all is said and done, Larry Pratt and GOA are really small potatoes, in the world of gun politics they just represent the chump change. On the other hand, Amazon isn’t chump change at all. In 2015 they had overall revenues of $100 billion, and revenues for Q4 of 2016 were $47 billion alone.  Revenues for Q1 2017 ‘dipped’ to only $35 billion – my revenues should be so low. The point is that Amazon has become a cash-generating machine (nine years ago their annual revenue was ‘only’ $9 billion bucks) and I don’t see why GVP shouldn’t try to get in on this flood of dollars as best they can.

Take me, for example.  In the past 6 months I have done 36 Amazon orders that total about $670 bucks, I’m a member of Amazon Prime because otherwise the shipping would really add up.  And in addition to the emails which I receive every time I buy a book, a CD, a DVD or a gift card for family and friends, I also get at least one email every day telling me about the latest and greatest that I should immediately buy.

Am I a big Amazon buyer with purchases which average about $100 a month?  I don’t really know, but I do know this: I never heard of Amazon Smile until I received the email last week from a good friend in GVP. And I immediately went to the Smile website and chose her organization as the one I’m going to support. And I did it first of all because she took the trouble to let me know about Smile and it’s a simple, seamless and no-nonsense way to send a few bucks to the right place.

I didn’t do a very exhaustive search but I quickly found a number of GVP organizations who are listed on the Smile site.  But the fact that someone who is as hooked into GVP as I am didn‘t know about Smile until last week makes me believe that I’m hardly the only GVP activist who didn’t know that this GVP crowd-sourcing fundraising vehicle exists.  How many GVP-related emails do I receive from GVP-world each day?

So come on, GVP.  Let’s get with the program.  Every GVP group should be soliciting donations through Amazon, every group should be reminding its friends and members to open a Smile account every time. And now that I’m sending some money to an important GVP group every time I buy a record, a movie or a book, I suspect I’ll probably buy more products from Amazon just because it’s a good thing to do.

[Thanks Rob Valente.]

HEY – June 2 – Wear Orange!

Celebrate Memorial Day With A Wilderness Walk.

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Yesterday I celebrated Memorial Day by sitting in a five-hour traffic jam on I-93 between Manchester and Concord, NH.  I was coming back from a graduation at a high school in Wolfeboro, as far as I could tell everyone else was driving to Lake Winnipesauke to eat soft ice cream at a drive-in, take the kids to a water park, or maybe just enjoy being inside their car instead of sitting in their backyard.

wilderness              The more our society becomes urbanized and suburbanized, the more we all want to find a way to get back to the rustic delights of the out-of-doors and nature, even if we can only do it when everyone else is trying to do it too. But as I was sitting on the highway, I kept thinking of what Jane Goodall once said, “I don’t give two hoots about civilization. I want to wander in the wild.” But how do you wander in the wild when you can’t find any wildness anywhere around?

I’ll tell you how to do it.  Download this national map from the U.S. Census and you’ll discover that wilderness may be closer than you know.  Because we have always defined wilderness as any place with less than 2 permanent residents per square mile, and this map shows that there are still plenty of such areas within easy driving distance of just about everyone in the Lower 48. Here’s a couple of examples from wilderness zones thgat I know:

New York: Franklin County – The population density is 31 per square mile, but that’s only because you’re in the Lake Saranac region where tourism abounds. But drive along State Route 30, look for Travers Road about three miles south of the town of Malone and drive east about 500 feet. The road crosses a small creek – park your car there and walk alongside the stream. As soon as you can no longer see the road you’re all alone.  As you walk along the bank of the stream, the larger prints are moose.

Virginia: Highland County – Take I-81 through Shenandoah, get off in Winchester and go west on U.S. Highway 50, go left on Route 614 and now you’re in what is called Shawnee Land. Which is a big trailer park with a street actually called Geronimo Lane. But if you drive past that mess and then make a right turn on Route 612, follow the power lines for about half a mile and you’re completely in a wilderness zone.

Georgia: Echols County – In the olden days before they built all those interstates, one of the main routes down to Florida was U.S. Highway 441.  You can still take it all the way through the middle of Georgia (it runs between Miami and Tennessee) but figure you want to stop just before you hit the Florida line, just out of Fargo, and walk along the banks of the ol’ Suwanee.  Some places you’ll find a few folks, many places you won’t.

So here are three spots that are within a day’s drive of the 112 million people who live on the East Coast. And I could easily extend this list to every part of the Lower 48.  The point is that wilderness still exists all around us and a wilderness adventure doesn’t have to be a big deal. The only thing you need to take with you is a little water if it’s a warm day and some sunscreen even if you’re going into the woods.

And the one thing you don’t need to take along in order to enjoy your walk is a gun. Because a gun is heavy, it’s a pain in the neck, and you don’t need to protect yourself or anyone else from the animals or the people you might meet along the way. And that would be just as true if you were walking down a city street except the only animals you’d probably see in New York or Boston are a few dogs or a stray cat.

Take a walk this weekend and think about what Jane Goodall said.

 

A New Law That Will Make Assault Rifles Easier To Own.

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I want to make a suggestion to my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community and it goes like this. I think that every year on the anniversary of Sandy Hook, or maybe on the Wear Orange day, or maybe on the Concert for America day, the GVP should get together and give an award to the public figure who has done the most that year to promote gun violence. Maybe the award would go to a President, maybe to a Detroit police chief, maybe to someone who heads a pro-gun advocacy group, the usual suspects list is obviously quite long.

AR2              But for the inaugural award I want to nominate Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) who has just introduced a bill called – get this – the “Lawful Purpose and Self Defense Act,” which has to rank as the single most dangerous piece of federal legislation which has ever been crafted to increase the violence caused by guns.  The bill is H.R. 2060, and I’ll get serious now and tell GVP that they better get their sh*t together and start working against this measure right now. Because if GVP doesn’t shove this bill up you know where and it becomes law, what happened at Sandy Hook and The Pulse will look like child’s play compared to the violence that a statute like this could cause.

What this bill basically does is prohibit the ATF from determining what kinds of weapons can be imported from overseas based on whether any particular gun meets the criteria for being ‘sporting’ or not. And if the ATF determines that a gun isn’t a ‘sporting’ arm, then it doesn’t come in. And what this means is that AR-style rifles, a.k.a assault rifles, don’t come in. You can import some foreign parts and assemble the gun over here, but those weapons can only be sold if they also contain a certain number of US-made parts.  Here’s the bottom line: if this bill becomes law, we will be flooded with cheap AR-15s and AK-47s, along with any other type of gun that could be used for ‘self defense.’

Now you might think that the attempt by Gun-nut Nation to pass a national concealed-carry law is a more serious threat to community safety and peace. But I actually tend to agree with the Gun-nut gang that there really isn’t a connection between gun violence rates and the fact that someone who has a clean background record is walking around with a gun. The connection is a little more incidental than whether CCW-holders commit crimes, because what’s really behind the push to validate national CCW is the expectation that such a law would increase the overall sale of guns. And the more guns that are out there, the more that get stolen or lost, the more that wind up in the wrong hands, you know the drill.

Which is exactly what would happen if every Tom, Dick and Harry manufacturer of assault weapons anywhere in the world could ship their products over here. Domestic ‘black gun’ manufacturers like S&W, Rock River and Bushmaster would drop their prices even further, dealers would discount both the guns and the ammo (and by the way, the bill also prevents ATF from deciding whether imported ammunition is ‘sporting’ or not) and the idea that an AR-15 or an AK-47 is a ‘defensive’ weapon would gain the upper hand.

Leave it to my friends in Fairfax, of course, to push this terrible piece of legislation by saying something which simply isn’t true, namely, that the ‘core’ purpose of the 2nd Amendment, as stated in the 2008 Heller decision, is self defense. What Heller says is that Americans have the Constitutional ‘right’ to keep a handgun in their homes to defend themselves; there’s not a single word about keeping an AR around the house.

I meant what I said that H.R. 2060 is the worst piece of pro-gun legislation ever introduced. Let’s not wait until a bunch of NRA toadies in the People’s House put it up for a vote. It needs to be stopped now.

There’s A Right Way And A Wrong Way To Talk About Guns.

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Remember back in 2011 when everyone’s alt-right darling, Sarah Palin, adorned her Facebook with a map of the United States containing cross-hairs over states with gun-control Democrats that she wanted to defeat? One of her targets was Gabby Giffords, who was shot down the same week.  In case you’ve forgotten the pictorial assault by Palin on decency and common sense, here it is again:

SARAH-PALIN-TARGET-LIST

Of course it hardly came as a surprise that someone as dumb, hateful and vicious as Palin would stoop so low as to try and generate political (and financial) support by appealing to the twisted minds of some folks who enjoy thinking about inflicting violence with a gun. But don’t assume that using a gun for political messaging is just a ploy for the Right. Because we now have a Democrat who claims to be a real liberal and is doing exactly the same thing.

I’m referring to the Democratic candidate in Montana’s election today to replace Ryan Zinke. The man who’s running, Rob Quist, is a well-known country song writer who says he wants to go to Washington to fight for jobs, health care, all the usual Democratic stuff, but he’s also a strong 2nd-Amendment supporter who believes that coming out as a gun guy could tilt things his way.

Actually, it was his opponent, Greg Gianforte, who ran an attack ad against Quist because he once made an offhand comment to a reporter about the need to ‘register’ guns. Since he was just defending universal background checks, Quist had no idea what he was talking about at all. But once Gianforte began pushing the idea that Quist was anti-gun, sooner or later the Democrat needed to respond in kind. And his response has taken the form of television ads in which he stands there with what he calls a rifle that has been in the family for a ‘long time,’ even though the gun actually looks brand new. And at the end of the ad he raises the rifle and shoots out a television set that’s playing an anti-Quist ad, saying that by shooting the gun, he’s ‘defending your rights.’

quist

              Using a gun to defend anything, in particular political rights, is to stoop to a level that is just as malicious and uninformed as Sarah Palin’s Facebook page.  And the stupidity of this ad is now matched by an op-ed which appeared today in Politico Magazine by a writer named Bill Scher, who may be the last word on politics but doesn’t know anything about guns. Scher  criticizes Progressives because they haven’t come out against one of their own who is talking pro-gun. And this is a big problem for the Blue Team, according to Scher, because Democrats at the national level sometimes find themselves in opposition to Blue candidates who need to shore up local support by hiding or soft-peddling their opposition to guns.

Gee, what a surprise that a majority of the guns in this country happen to be located in 13 Confederate states, 4 border states and the rural sections of 5 Midwestern states, all of which contain populations that consistently vote red. Gee, what a surprise that the NRA ran most of their ads in these regions because this is where NRA members mostly live.

If Bill Scher really believes that he’s discovered a new fault-line which makes gun rights a toxic issue for the Blue Team, he’s actually exposed a much bigger problem for the Reds because while the DNC has kept quiet about the pro-gun messaging by Quist, can you imagine what the RNC would do and say if any Republican politician came out and questioned the validity of beloved 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ What Quist’s ad team should have done was consult with one of the gun-sense organizations to help craft a message that would disarm the pro-gun opposition but still properly raise the issue of guns and risk. Even Donald Trump used the phrase “responsible gun owners’ when he came to the NRA.

Can You Be Pro-Life And Pro-Gun? Some Try To Be Both.

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The night after Thanksgiving, 2012, a man named Michael Dunn gunned down an unarmed, 17-year old kid in the parking lot of a mini-mart because the kid was sitting in an SUV that was blaring music which pissed Dunn off.  At his trial (he was tried twice before being convicted of Murder One) Dunn claimed that he saw a gun, which turned out not to exist and in fact he drove off after the shooting, went back to a motel room he was sharing with his fiancée, went out for a pizza and drinks but didn’t mention what had just occurred. For all I know Dunn was going to tell his girlfriend what happened, but perhaps the issue simply didn’t come up because he wanted to make sure that the pizza had the extra anchovies that they both liked on their pies.

bible             The other night I finally got around to watching the documentary The Armor of Light, which begins with an appearance by a woman named Lucy McBath, a veteran flight attendant who appears at public events for Moms Demand Action, that gun-hugging gang led by Shannon Watts and supported by you-know-who, the former Mayor of New York.  So I’m watching Ms. McBath as she shows some cute pictures of a young child named Jordan Davis, and all of a sudden I realize – hey! – that’s the kid who was shot by Michael Dunn.  And right as I realize what the film is all about, the scene switches to a monologue from Reverend Rob Schenck, whose journeys through the gun-owning Evangelical heartland is what the movie is really all about.

Reverend Schenck has been a major force in the pro-life movement and runs an organization, Faith and Action, which calls itself the ‘missionary to Capitol Hill,’ but basically promotes pro-life policies in the Senate and the House. Back in 2013 following the September 13 at the DC Navy Yard, Schenk decided that it was time for him to speak out against gun violence and to line up support for gun-control regulations in the wider Evangelical community as well.  In this regard, Schenck was treading on unsteady ground, because white Evangelicals happen to be the most pro-gun religious group around. Not only are white Evangelicals the only religious group with gun ownership registering more than 50%, but they often lead the charge for the expansion of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

Much of the movie, directed flawlessly by Abigail Disney, moves back and forth between harrowing testimonies from Lucy McBath to polite confrontations with other Evangelical ministers whose requests by Schenck for a more liberal view on gun control invariably fall on deaf ears. It’s to Schenck’s credit that he has embarked on this lonely crusade to spread gun-control views throughout the Evangelical fold, but I’m not sure that a scripture-based argument for gun control gets to what the gun violence argument about is really all about.

One thing which unites most Evangelicals is that the Bible represents the immutable word of God. And while you can find Biblical texts that endorse both unarmed (Matthew 5:39) and armed (Luke 22:35-36) responses to threats, the one word you won’t find anywhere in the Bible is the word ‘gun.’ The debate about whether you should or shouldn’t use a gun to defend yourself and your family is a false one because there are many ways to defend yourself from a threat, and anyone who says that guns are more of a protection than a risk is saying something which simply isn’t true.

Every time Schenck talks about gun control with other Evangelical ministers, the first contrary words out of their mouths are the falsehoods and bromides about armed self-defense that come not from Scripture, but right from the playbook invented by the NRA. Schenk might believe he’s talking to men of God, but when it comes to guns, he’s talking to the self-same crowd that stands up and cheers whenever someone dares Obama, Hillary or Bloomberg to take the guns from my ‘cold, dead hands.’

 

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