Ever since my pal Tony Scalia decided in 2008 that owning a gun is a Constitutional ‘right,’ the gun violence prevention (GVP) community has been trying to figure out a strategy that will reduce the annual gun carnage, while at the same time preserving the heritage of freedom and democracy represented by guns. So it’s become kind of a standard preamble to every gun-control argument made by every gun-control group that they ‘support’ the 2nd Amendment, as if any member of the Gun-nut Nation tribe would actually believe that someone who thinks that guns represent any kind of problem at all would ever really be in favor of the 2nd Amendment. Anyway….
One of the GVP strategies that tries to neatly straddle the line between being against guns and yet being for the 2nd Amendment is something called ‘safe storage,’ which means that if you do own guns, they should be kept locked or locked away at all times. Here’s the operative statement from Everytown: “Everytown’s research on unintentional child gun deaths shows that 65 percent of these shootings take place in a home or vehicle that belongs to the victim’s family, most often with guns that were legally owned but irresponsibly stored.” The Brady Campaign says that nearly 1.7 million kids live in homes with unlocked or unstored guns, and they partner with the American Public Health Association in their ASK campaign, which tells parents to make sure their kids aren’t playing in someone’s house where there are unsecured guns.
Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting or even hinting at the idea that safe storage of guns is a bad thing. Nor do I believe for a single second that someone who locks up his gun at night is now defenseless in the face of an invasion by some street ‘thug.’ But I know a bit about how guns are used and what they represent, and I’m not sure that these issues are fully understood by the GVP organizations who promote safe storage or by the public health scholars upon whose research the GVP depends.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that every single gun in America was locked or locked away every day. According to the CDC, in 2015 there were 22 unintentional gun deaths where the victim was under the age of 15. This is 4% of all unintentional gun mortality, a number which slips to 1% when we calculate all categories of gun deaths, intentional or not. The figures change somewhat but not all that much if we increase the maximum age to 19 or 21, but most states issue hunting licenses to residents beginning at age 15, so it’s pretty hard to say that older adolescents don’t understand the risks of guns.
As to whether safe-storage counseling makes any real difference in gun violence rates, the jury is still out. An analysis in 2016 of the most comprehensive studies on the effects of safe storage showed that some programs worked, others did not. And the criteria for determining the effectiveness of these programs was comparing the use of safety devices before and after counseling occurred. In other words, we don’t have any data on whether or not rates of gun violence actually changed.
The best and most realistic approach I know to gun safety is the Advice to Parentsstated by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It goes like this: “The best way to keep your children safe from injury or death from guns is to NEVER have a gun in the home.” As far as I’m concerned, any attempt to find some alternate, crowd-pleasing message just doesn’t work.
I have sold more than 11,000 guns to 7,000 different people and not one of these customers bought a gun from me to take it home, lock it away and never look at it again. As Walter Mosley says, “If you walk around with a gun it will go off sooner or later.”
I’ve been working in the gun violence prevention field for 16 years now as a volunteer and professional. As reflected by the events at the recent Democratic National Convention, there is no doubt the movement is in the best shape it’s ever been in.
The convention dedicated an entire program to gun violence prevention (GVP) on its most electrifying night, Wednesday. DNC 2016 included emotional appearances by gun violence survivors like Mothers of the Movement (the surviving mothers of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis and Dontre Hamilton) and Erica Smegielski from the Everytown Survivor Network. It also featured riveting speeches by the likes ofReverend William Barber (a powerful nonviolence icon) in favor of an Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). “You heard, you saw, family members of police officers killed in the line of duty because they were outgunned by criminals,” saidDemocratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in her acceptance speech. “I refuse to believe we can’t find common ground here.”
It was a defining moment for a movement that has built significant capacity since the awful tragedy that happened on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
Much of that progress has been led by the movement’s two most powerful groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS). Their PACs have dramatically changed the political calculus of legislators across the country. And Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (under the Everytown umbrella) has been an ever-present grassroots force in states across the country.
But important questions hang in the air…
With so many gun violence survivors and gun violence prevention champions in elected government now aggressively calling for an Assault Weapons Ban — after having seen the Orlando gunman decimate a civilian population with the MCX rifle designed for members of our Special Forces — why are the two most powerful groups in the GVP movement, Everytown and ARS, still refusing to even mention the issue, much less support a ban? Shouldn’t the GVP “Bigs” be setting the agenda for their elected (and cultural) champions, much like the NRA does on the pro-gun side? What does the movement lose by pursuing a more moderate agenda — i.e., overwhelmingly popular policies like expanding background checks and prohibiting suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms — that fail to motivate its most ardent supporters?
We are now seeing a constellation of new individuals and groups emerging to assume a bolder posture on the issue. They are less rigid on policy and willing to embrace solutions from the ground up. They are acting aggressively to confront our nation’s degenerate gun culture. They are totally unapologetic. [And they are just the tip of the spear. With the cultural tide on the issue shifting, more will soon follow.] Among them are:
· Celebrity hairdresser Jason Hayes has crowd-funded more than $40,000 (average contribution $21) to put on a “Disarm Hate” rally on the National Mall on Saturday, August 13th. The rally will endorse a renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban.
· Po Murray and David Stowe of Newtown Action Alliance have done phenomenal work to organize a coalition of 97 different organizations that support an Assault Weapons Ban renewal. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (the third and final “Big”) is part of that coalition.
· Anonymous men and women from across the country have created “The Betsy Riot,” a social norming project with a suffragette theme that aggressively confronts gun idolatry and gun culture at large.
· Gays Against Guns has stood up in response to the Orlando massacre and is building chapters across the country. They are conducting in-your-face protests at a number of high-profile venues, such as Trump Tower.
· The National Action Network is preparing an August 27th rally at the DC lobbying offices of the NRA that will launch 72 days of action. This will involve civil disobedience.
· Actor/LGBTQ rights activist George Takei has launched One Pulse for America [I’m their director], a rapidly growing Facebook group with 70,000+ members. Members, described as “the folks who have been dying to turn up the volume and just needed to find the right muse,” are asked to take action on gun violence prevention on a daily basis.
The goal of these groups will be to close the oft-discussed “Passion Gap.” You can imagine what it looks like in practice. When a legislator hears from the pro-gun side, most often he/she is hearing the message, “I’m a single-issue voter. If you support any gun reform — no matter how modest — and fail to pass permissive gun policies, I will do everything I can to end your political career.” When they hear from the gun violence prevention side, it’s typically, “I care about reducing gun violence in our country. Please vote to expand background checks today.”
There’s no comparison. And when compromises are hammered out by legislators on gun legislation, pro-gun activists are almost invariably successful in “moving the middle” to their side and making those policies more favorable to the gun lobby.
I also think there is an opportunity to reach out to people who feel like they don’t have a home in the contemporary gun violence prevention movement. I see these folks on social media all the time. I meet them at rallies.
Remember, we’re living in an era of daily mass shootings. There are many people who would like to live in a society without guns; or at least with dramatically fewer guns and far tougher controls. Controls that you would typically see in every other free nation on the planet. They haven’t had a voice in the GVP movement since the late 1980s, when Handgun Control and the National Coalition to Ban Handguns changed their names to the Brady Campaign and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, respectively, and began arguing for more moderate policies.
Currently, there is no advocacy in the movement for the following policy options:
· Licensing and registration laws, which have proven enormously effective at denying firearms to dangerous individuals in states that have implemented such laws. Virtually all other democracies have licensing and registration laws at the national level. They have astronomically lower rates of gun death, and there has been no loss of individual freedom whatsoever. [See Alan Berlow’s excellent article on the topic.]
· Larger gun buyback programs at the state and/or national level.
· Computerizing records of gun sales maintained by federally licensed firearm dealers and the ATF (out-of-business dealers).
· Comprehensive updating of the prohibited categories for gun buyers defined in the (amended) 1968 Gun Control Act, based on the best evidence/research currently available in 2016.
· Mandated requirements for smart guns and crime-solving technologies (microstamping).
· Outright opposition to private citizens carrying firearms in public, except under “May-Issue” systems that give law enforcement discretion to deny permits to individuals with a history of violence.
Nor is any organization in the movement really challenging the legitimacy of the controversial 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision, in which the Supreme Court’s conservative wing rewrote 200+ years of judicial interpretation of the Second Amendment, declaring a newfound individual “right” to keep a handgun in your home. [Contrast this with the approach taken on Citizen United.]
This is about the time where some anxious critic stops me and says, “Fine, but Ladd — If you advocate for things like gun bans — even one as limited as the federal AWB — you’re going to be feeding into NRA confiscation rhetoric and we’ll be doomed!”
But listen. The NRA has been promoting confiscation propaganda for decades now with no provocation whatsoever. The NRA’s www.gunbanobama.comwas up and running long before President Obama ever addressed the GVP issue during his second term. And look what the gun lobby has to say about Everytown founder Michael Bloomberg, a guy politely calling for modest policies.
I’d say we’ve suffered about as much as we’re going to suffer from gun ban propaganda. And it’s not like truth is an antidote for the Trump crowd these days, either. We need to begin embracing what they consider to be a weakness as a strength. Why not start harnessing some intensity among our own base by advocating for more aggressive policies? Let’s move the middle on this issue toour side.
The result will be a win-win for everyone: a more vocal, passionate movement that will push the envelope and make space for the more moderate policies favored by GVP Bigs. And most importantly, we will create a safer America with far less human suffering.
When was the last time that gun violence was a defining issue in a national political campaign? Never. The stories still circulate about how the NRA knocked off Al Gore in the 2000 election, but whether or not that was true, neither Bush nor Gore ever went strong for or against the gun vote per se.
But this time it’s different. Hillary has used gun violence quite effectively against ‘crazy’ Bernie, and she’s evidently going to carry this strategy over to the general election against the Shlump. That is, if she’s the candidate. Which is why I referred above to the Senator from Vermont in the vernacular. Who knows? It’s been an altogether different kind of campaign.
And one of the major differences is the degree to which guns figure so prominently in the campaign rhetoric on both sides. It started with Trump who began boasting of his love affair with the 2nd Amendment following the murder of two television journalists in Virginia; the issue was then ramped up by Hillary after the killings at Umpqua CC. Trump now routinely tells his adoring fans that he’ll scrap gun-free zones on ‘day one,’ even though an Executive Order cannot be used to change Federal law (parenthetically, the failure of the ‘mainstream’ media to vigorously attack Shlump-o for his outright and endless lying is an absolute disgrace for which they should all be fired); Hillary will no doubt put expanded background checks at the top of her legislative agenda.
As might be expected, the NRA is going all-out to promote themselves and their members as the first line of defense against a new wave of gun grabbing promoted by Hillary and her friends. Do I get a daily email from Chris Cox reminding me how critical it is to donate to the NRA-ILA so that friendly, pro-gun politicians can get elected or re-elected on November 8th? Is New York a city?
I also get appeals from Brady and other GVP organizations to support their work, but the increasingly belligerent rhetoric about gun ‘rights’ employed by the Shlump campaign goes unnoticed and unmentioned. The last two fundraising communications from GVP organizations talked about conducting a ‘reasoned conversation’ and asking Congress “to take immediate action to pass commonsense gun safety measures.” Neither mentioned that Trump is going around the country saying that he’ll sign a 50-state, reciprocal CCW law.
So folks, let me break the news to you gently. If Republicans retain control of Congress and President Shlump is installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I guarantee you that such a bill will be on his Oval Office desk within 30 days. At which point, when it comes to ‘sensible’ GVP regulations, or any other efforts to reduce gun violence, no matter how politely you package it, the gig is up.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that once the nominating conventions are over, that you can use the specter of that wavy-haired jerk in the White House as a good fundraising device, because you’ll have too much competition on that playing field as well. For every GVP money request I currently receive, I get at least five from crazy Bernie and just as many or more from the Clinton campaign. And the folks running for local and statewide races both in my state and other states haven’t even started to gear up.
I don’t sit on the inside of any GVP organization so maybe I don’t really know what’s going on. But what I hope is going on is a discussion about the Trump menace not within each GVP organization but between organizations. Because if the GVP community doesn’t get together, plan and implement a united strategy that can maximize resources in the struggle against what is certainly a united effort on the other side, then the NRA might again take credit for the results of another national election and their candidate will owe them big time. Think about that.
There has been a lot of back and forth between the Clinton and Sanders camps about the gun issue, with Clinton claiming that Sanders has been less than honest about his take on guns, and Sanders responding by touting his D- rating from the NRA as proof that he’s as much of a gun-grabber as Hillary wants to be. I have to say from the gitgo that there would be no talk about gun violence in this campaign if we had waited for Bernie to bubble the issue up. This was Hillary’s impressive response to the shameful pro-gun pandering of the Republican candidates and her response alone; I’m not saying that it makes her a better candidate overall than Sanders but I am saying that she deserves all the credit on this one, bar none.
Be that as it may, I watched the Bernie-Hillary debate from Flint because I assumed that the gun issue would loom large, and loom it did about midway through the program when the father of one of the Kalamazoo victims had the following to say: “The man who shot everyone, including my daughter, in Kalamazoo, had no mental health issues recorded, and had a clear background. What do you plan to do to address this serious epidemic? I don’t want to hear anything about tougher laws for mental health or criminal backgrounds, because that doesn’t work.”
And Clinton, to her credit, went right to work first pushing for more comprehensive background checks, and then moving into a discussion of the immunity that gun makers have thanks to the 2005 law, known as PLCAA, which basically protects the industry from class-action suits. I don’t know if it was coincidence or what, but the day before this debate, the New York Times ran an editorial on wrongful-death suit that the Sandy Hook parents have brought against Remington/Bushmaster, and while the text was a bit garbled, the bottom line is that the PLCAA law does not immunize the gun industry if they knowingly produce a product that is dangerous to the consumers who purchase the item, whether the product is acquired legally or not.
Everyone knows that Bernie voted against the 2005 law, claiming that it wouldn’t stop anyone from committing violence with a gun. He also voted against the original Brady bill, basically for the same reason. But this past January he signed on as a co-sponsor of the Schiff bill that would repeal the PLCAA, which is why the Brady Campaign just issued a press release wanting to know exactly where Sanders stands. Which brings us back to the comments he made in his debate appearance in Flint.
And basically what he said isn’t going to leave the GVP community feeling all warm and fuzzy when it comes to the Sanders approach to guns. Because on the issue of immunity for the gun industry, the Senator from Vermont basically believes that as long as a gun is acquired legally, that whatever the owner then does with that gun should not result in any liability for the manufacturer at all. Otherwise, according to Sanders, holding the industry liable for how its products are used would “end gun manufacturing in America.” He then went on to say that if the manufacturer of a gun was held liable if that gun fell into the wrong hands and someone got shot, then “essentially you are saying that there should not be any guns in America, period.” To which, incidentally, the NRA this morning tweeted that Bernie was “spot on.”
Let me break the news to you gently, Bernie. There happen to be a lot of people in America who actually do believe that we’d all be better off without guns. And I thought that the whole point of your ‘revolution’ was to say and do things differently from the way they are usually said and done. Mind telling me what’s so new and different about pushing a view on guns that the NRA has been promoting for the past twenty years?
If you want to prove you’re a real gun nut, the way to do it is to refer to yourself as a “Second Amendment absolutist.” Now in fact that phrase has no real meaning at all, at least not in any legal sense, but it’s a way of identifying with the group that went nuts at the 2000 NRA meeting when the words ‘not from my cold, dead hands’ were intoned by then-NRA President Charlton Heston, whose movie career was just about over except for a bit part in Bowling for Columbine where Michael Moore tried, unsuccessfully, to pester him to death.
As far as I can figure out, to be a Second Amendment absolutist means that government cannot pass any law that would keep American citizens from getting their hands on guns. Which means bye-bye background checks, bye-bye permit-to-purchase requirements, bye-bye waiting periods and, most of all, bye-bye to any restrictions on walking around with a gun. It also goes without saying that there wouldn’t be any attempts to restrict the types of guns. Well, maybe we’d let the government continue to regulate full-auto guns, if only because these items fall into the category of military, rather than civilian small arms. Otherwise, if you can pull the trigger and the gun goes bang only once, you can own and carry anything that you want.
What the gun nuts really want is a legal system which, when it comes to small arms, really doesn’t operate at all. Which is why I find a new effort to abolish the 2nd Amendment a very interesting response to the absolutist point of view. Because while the absolutists want the amendment ignored, the abolitionists want it to disappear which, to all intents and purposes, amounts to the same thing. The difference, of course, and the difference is crucial, is that the absolutists want limitless Constitutional protection for their gun-nuttery; the abolitionists know that getting rid of the 2nd Amendment will go a long way towards getting rid of the guns.
Ironically, this was somewhat the state of affairs after the SCOTUS handed down its previous 2nd Amendment decision known as United States vs. Miller in 1939. In this case, which involved transporting a sawed-off shotgun across state lines, the Court held exactly the opposite from the way it ruled in 2008, namely, that the Constitution did not protect the private ownership of guns. But interestingly, for at least fifty years following Miller, there was little, if any legislative activity involving gun ownership, and even the landmark GCA68 law which got the Feds into gun regulation big-time, didn’t really touch on Constitutional issues at all. It wasn’t until the Clinton Administration passed two gun laws (Brady and Assault Weapons) in 1994 that arguments over the 2nd Amendment began to heat up, leading eventually to the 2008 decision – a history that is covered thoroughly by Adam Winkler in his well-written book.
The reason I am so taken with this new effort to abolish the 2nd Amendment is that the gun-control community has always been somewhat ambivalent about the statute and, if anything, has found it necessary to defend the amendment from a liberal point of view. In fact, the debate that led up to the 2008 decision was inaugurated by a pro-2nd Amendment article written by a liberal legal scholar, Sandy Levinson. His 1989 article, “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” called upon liberal legal circles to support the amendment because, like free speech supporters who argued in favor of the Klan, the Constitution protected the bad along with the good.
Ever since Levinson, liberals have fallen over themselves to proclaim their devotion to the 2nd Amendment while, at the same time, invariably calling for more regulation of guns. But I don’t see how the constitutionality of gun ownership has anything to do with the 100,000 people injured and killed each year with guns. Sorry, but the kids and teachers in Sandy Hook would be alive today if Adam Lanza had to leave his gun ‘rights’ at the front door.
A few days ago, Everytownpublished a detailed and serious research report with recommendations to President Obama who wants to issue an Executive Order curtailing private gun sales by defining gun dealers in more realistic ways. Until now, the definition of a gun dealer makes it quite easy for anyone to transfer lots of guns without holding a dealer’s license, hence, such transfers fall outside the regulatory system controlled by the ATF. By defining more realistically what really constitutes being in the business of selling guns, the intention is to close a major loophole which now exists both in face-to-face and internet sales.
There would be no need for such executive action if every gun transfer required a NICS background check and a Form 4473. But the possibility that such a law would be passed is a faint hope at best, hence Obama’s willingness to consider curbing some unlicensed sales by expanding the definition of gun dealer, hence the report by Everytown which follows a similar set of recommendations put forth by the Center for American Progress last month.
This report is a solid and convincing piece of work. But the problem with recommending a more stringent definition of ‘gun dealer’ is that it will only make a difference if the regulatory environment in which all dealers have to operate is managed with aggressiveness and dedication by a regulatory agency – the ATF – which has shown a notable lack of diligent performance in the past.
But if the President is really serious about curbing the underground gun market as a way of keeping guns out of the wrong hands, I would like to make two very simple proposals that I believe would profoundly change the regulatory landscape without requiring the ATF to get off their collective rear ends and do anything at all.
First and most important, the ATF itself could simply issue a directive requiring all federally-licensed dealers to record acquisitions and dispositions of their firearm inventory in an online spreadsheet program such as Excel. The ATF actually suggests that dealers follow this practice, because it makes it easier for them to conduct an inspection when they visit a store. But it’s not required, although there’s nothing in the current regs that would prevent such an order from being carried out. What this would allow the ATF to do is drop the nonsense they have been peddling for years about how they are ‘handcuffed’ from learning more about how guns move from legal to illegal hands because they can only trace up to the first sale.
That’s simply not true and it’s not true because the ATF has total authority to examine every notation in the Acquisition & Disposition book, whether it represents the first sale or the subsequent sale of a gun which a purchaser traded in or otherwise returned to the shop. The average dealer sells 30-40% used guns; which means by definition there are multiple entries for that gun in his A&D book or the A&D of another dealer close by. And since when was the ATF required only to send a trace request to the dealer who first sold the gun? There is no such requirement, but in the absence of same, what the hell, make it up.
The President could also require that every law enforcement agency report lost or stolen guns to the ATF. He issued such an Order after Sandy Hook, but it only applied to federal agencies when, in fact, just about every stolen or missing gun is reported by its owner to the local police. The national missing/stolen list which the ATF claims is a valuable tool in the fight against crime is a joke, but it could make a difference if it was brought up to speed and combined with trace data which really showed who was the last person to legally buy a certain gun.
I don’t have any special or non-special entrée to the Oval Office. Here’s hoping that someone better connected than me might pass these recommendations along.
All of a sudden it seems like the pro-gun gang is taking it on the chin. I am referring to a spate of lawsuits that have pushed back gun ‘rights’ in favor of gun ‘controls.’ And while I don’t want to assume that the trend will continue, it’s a basic shift in the legal landscape involving guns and may foreshadow more gun-control victories to come. It certainly promises that there will be more legal battles and here is why:
Last week the 2ndCircuit upheld the Connecticut and New York laws that were passed after Sandy Hook, laws which effectively gave both states the right to closely regulate assault-style guns. The plaintiffs (NRA, etc.) of course argued the same old, same old; namely, that the little ol’ AR-15s were just like any other kind of semi-automatic hunting gun, even though I don’t believe anybody ever went into the woods looking to pop Bambi with a rifle that could shoot 60 rounds in three minutes or less. Which is basically how the Court saw the case, noting that taking this type of weapon out of civilian hands did not deprive consumers from buying any other type of semi-automatic gun. The Court agreed that the 2nd Amendment protected the right of gun owners to have semi-automatic rifles but didn’t protect any particular sub-group of same. Bye bye modern sporting gun.
A jury in Milwaukee found a local gun shop guilty of aiding and abetting a straw sale which eventually led to two police officers being shot with the illegally-sold gun. The gun shop argued that they had no way of knowing that the buyer was actually fronting for someone else; the jury had trouble swallowing that cock-and-bull story when they were told that the jerk who bought the gun mistakenly wrote down his buddy’s address on the 4473.
Another lawsuit was filed in Milwaukee, this one against Armslist, the website that allows unlicensed individuals to advertise, buy, sell and trade guns. In this case someone sold a 40-caliber handgun to a dope who promptly walked into a health spa, shot seven women and killed three of them including his own wife, and then went down in a blaze of glory by putting the gun against his own head. Last year another liability suit against Armslist was dismissed in Illinois because the owners of the website claimed that they required all users to agree to follow relevant gun laws. But the suit filed in Milwaukee sidesteps the issue of user responsibility entirely, arguing instead that the website’s user terms are “a ruse and a fraud intended to create the illusion of legal compliance” with the laws covering gun sales.
Then the big news is out of Connecticut, where the District Court sent the suit by the Sandy Hook parents against Bushmaster back to state court. In this case the defendant – Bushmaster – had originally moved the case from state to federal court, evidently hoping that the suit would then bump up against the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act and get thrown out. The case might eventually wind up in the federal courts on appeal, but as of today it must first be heard in the state where the massacre took place.
All in all it’s been a rough month for the guns, made even more difficult by the fact that after the Republicans decided the 2nd Amendment trumped Benghazi as a campaign issue, Hillary shot right back and said that she was ready, willing and able to take on the NRA. So the question has to be asked: How come, as Brady’s Dan Gross says, we seem to have reached a “tipping point” in the debate over guns?
Here it is short and sweet. Everyone’s sick of the NRA. Sick of the killings, sick of the loss of life, sick of the blind devotion to the 2nd Amendment and sick of all those sacred gun ‘rights.’ Wayne-o is going online today to remind his members that Obama wants to take away their guns. It’s a hollow argument falling on increasingly deaf ears.
On Tuesday, November 3, Washington’s National Cathedral will hold a special event on gun violence and if you can make it, I urge you to attend. This won’t be the first time that people have gathered at the Cathedral to talk about gun violence and it certainly won’t be the last. But the event is taking place at a time when the debate about the place of guns in American society seems to have hit a fever pitch, which is exactly why having a gun event at the National Cathedral is a good thing.
The debate started heating up when all the Republican Presidential candidates discovered how much they loved the 2nd Amendment. Not to be outdone, Hillary and the Democrats volleyed back with an equally strong gun-control retort. The current political divide on this issue reflects, if nothing else, a polarization that has always existed between the two sides. According to the NRA, guns make us safe and protect us from crime; according to groups like Brady and Everytown, guns create risk. Not only do the arguments appear incapable of compromise at any step along the way, I also don’t recall another time that the arguments were as loud and continuous as they are right now.
This brings me back to an event held at the National Cathedral on December 11, 2013 – a memorial service for Nelson Mandela who died the previous week. I was a high school senior when Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly attempting to overthrow the South African apartheid state. I witnessed the civil rights movement in the 60s, the anti-War movement in the 70s, the gender equality movement in the 80s, and Mandela still languished in jail. He was finally released in 1990 because otherwise the de Klerk government would have collapsed. It disappeared two years’ later anyway and Mandela was elected President of the Government of National Unity in 1994.
In my wildest dreams I never imagined the racial breach in South Africa would ever be healed. I also never believed that Mandela would come out of prison after 27 years and immediately talk about reconciliation and peace. Which made it altogether fitting that the United States memorialized his death at the National Cathedral, a site consecrated by the commitment to finding ways for people to occupy common ground, speak in language that everyone can understand, promote commonalities instead of differences about the important issues of the day.
Nelson Mandela came out of jail after 27 years of incarceration and didn’t speak about hatred or violence, but about unity, love and respect. In the same way, the United To Stop Gun Violence event at the Cathedral on November 3 will take place in an atmosphere of understanding, fellowship and grace. You’ll meet advocates, policymakers, influencers, social media and messaging experts, folks who just want to get involved and folks who are already doing their thing. It’s a chance for you to decide how and what you can do to help hasten the end of gun violence, as well as to learn what you can say to others who then might be persuaded to get involved.
I am hopeful that everyone who comes to the meeting, including myself, will leave with a renewed sense of optimism about the daunting task that lies ahead. But I’m also hopeful about something else, which is that we will all not just learn better ways to enlist more people in the crusade against gun violence, but better ways to talk about gun violence to folks who own guns. If Nelson Mandela were alive, he would say that the problem of gun violence can only be resolved by bringing everyone to the table who has a stake in the game. We need to invite the other side to join us in the discussion; if they refuse, we need to invite them again and again. That would exemplify the true spirit of Nelson Mandela and again denote what Washington’s National Cathedral is really all about.
One of the big changes in the gun debate is the degree to which advocacy organizations like Moms Demand Action and Brady have started moving into the safety space. Shannon et les filles have launched a program called Be Smart, Brady wants to cut gun deaths in half by 2025 with their ASK campaign, suddenly a field that the NRA and the NSSF had all to themselves has attracted a new and vigorous group of gun safety campaigners who have the money and the experience to make their views count.
But if Moms and Brady are going to level the safety playing field, I think they need to really understand what the current gun safety problem is all about. Because both groups seem to be looking at gun safety in a way not much different from how gun safety has been defined and taught by the NRA, and I happen to think that the NRA approach ducks the biggest safety problem of all.
Shannon’s program asks parents to try and keep their guns secure, keep the guns out of the hands of vulnerable people like those suffering from depression, keep the guns locked up or locked away at all times. Brady focuses on one issue, also promoted by Moms, that parents should always ask other parents whether there is an unlocked gun where the kids are going to play. The NRA would never endorse the idea of parents communicating with other parents about guns ownership, but locking guns up or locking them away, what the NRA calls storing guns “so they are not accessible to untrained or unauthorized persons” is a standard M.O. announced in every NRA course.
Keeping guns secure in the home, making sure that kids can’t access guns under any circumstances is all well and good, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Shannon’s gals and the Brady Campaign are now engaged in safety programs as an aspect of their involvement in the gun debate. But all that notwithstanding, I still don’t believe that ‘lock ‘em up, lock ‘em away’ is either sufficient or necessary for responding to the safety risk posed by guns. Because as long as the gun industry and its supporters continue to promote gun ownership primarily as a means of self-defense, by definition you can’t defend yourself with a gun if it’s locked up or locked away.
The problem becomes even more vexing because the 2008 Heller decision, which proclaimed a constitutional right to private ownership of guns, was based on what Scalia called, the “tradition” of keeping a handgun in the home for self-defense. In fact, the Court’s Number One Gun Nut invented this so-called tradition out of whole cloth, unless he really believes that a cynical marketing ploy to compensate for the decline in hunting after the 1980s constitutes some kind of traditional belief. Be that as it may, if you’re going to walk around in the daytime with a concealed weapon and then leave it out on the end-table when you go to sleep at night, you can’t lock it up or lock it away.
And this is where I think Shannon’s ladies and the Brady folks need a message that more clearly distinguishes their notion of safety from the nonsense being peddled by the NRA. And why do I call the NRA safety message nonsense? Here’s a quote from the 2011 edition of Home Firearm Safety, a book the NRA has been selling for twenty-five years: “A gun stored primarily for personal protection must be ready for immediate use. As a general rule, a gun stored for any purpose otherthan personal protection should never be loaded in the home.” My italics and thanks a lot.
One week after Sandy Hook, Wayne-o belligerently reminded America that a bad guy with a gun could only be stopped by a good guy with a gun. Which means we need a lot of good guys walking around and lying down to sleep with their loaded, unlocked guns. Sorry, but that doesn’t sound all that safe to me.
Since I truly believe in the Mafia adage, “keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” I tend to watch Fox chat shows from time to time. And I have to admit that in all my wildest dreams I never believed I would see Sean Hannity being as polite and well-spoken to someone like Dan Gross who, as head of the Brady Center, must rank pretty high on the Fox Top Ten Enemies List. After all, in addition to being an outspoken gun-rights advocate, Hannity promotes gun products on his radio show and by putting his face and name on various gun websites. But there he was last night introducing his “personal friend” Dan Gross for a five-minute chat on where they agree and where they disagree about guns.
Well it turns out that Sean and Dan don’t seem to disagree, or at least I didn’t hear much last night that struck me as any real difference of opinion about the ownership and use of guns. Both stated that they supported the legal ownership of guns, both stated that they wanted everyone to lock their guns up or lock them away, and both stated that they wanted to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Of course the devil’s always in the details, and if you got Wayne-o to calm down for a minute and stop worrying about Obama’s secret plan to disarm America before January 20, 2017, he’d be happy to come on the Hannity show and basically say the same thing.
But nice-sounding platitudes aside, I find it interesting that someone as pro-gun as Hannity would give Dan Gross an opportunity to appear before a large Fox audience to prove, if nothing else, that he’s not Lucifer in disguise. Because although Hannity threw in a couple of red-meat comments that are de rigueur on Fox when anyone mentions guns, such as his fear of the ‘slippery slope’ of gun control, he basically let Dan tell the audience how much gun owners had in common with supporters of the Brady Campaign, which is entirely contrary to what usually erupts from the NRA.
Ever since the Brady law was voted in 1994, the NRA and other pro-gun groups have kept up a steady drumbeat of anti-Brady commentary designed to convince gun owners that any expansion of background checks is nothing short of a conspiracy to take away all guns. Here’s a typical comment from the NRA in 2013 after Brady mounted a video to mark the 20th anniversary of the original background-check law: “The Brady Campaign’s proposed expansion of federal background checks would force even many family and friends to get government permission for firearm transfers amongst each other and subject all lawful gun transfers to federal paperwork and recordkeeping requirements, the prerequisites for a national registry.” Of course this statement is simply untrue, but it plays directly into the old slippery-slope gun control nonsense that Hannity found necessary to mention on the show.
I have been saying recently that the smartest thing Brady and Everytown have done is to move into the safety space which until now was owned lock, stock and barrel (pardon the pun) by the NRA. But while everyone’s in favor of safety, there’s one safety issue which puts the two sides as far apart as the Brand Canyon’s rims, and Hannity gave it away when he said that no matter how many laws were passed to prevent guns from getting into the ‘wrong hands,’ criminals wouldn’t obey laws anyway, so what was the point of passing more laws?
The pro-gun community falls back on this argument every time that any new measure is proposed that would increase regulation of guns. The problem is that if we only passed laws that criminals would obey, there wouldn’t be any laws at all. Which is actually what the pro-gun community would prefer as regards gun ownership, particularly when a Democrat happens to be renting living space at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.