Why Did Bill O’Reilly Call For Comprehensive Background Checks?

Did I really hear what I thought I heard Bill O’Reilly say after Obama announced his agenda for additional controls on guns? So I waited until Fox posted O’Reilly’s remarks from his Wednesday night show and here is exactly what he said: “The NRA and the gun owners should be reasonable. The FBI should background check anyone buying a firearm in America. That just makes sense. If you are paranoid and believe the government is stockpiling information so they can come to your house and take your guns — that’s your problem, your problem.”

oreilly               Is this the Bill O’Reilly whose nightly talk show always leads the ratings for Fox News?  Is this the same Bill O’Reilly who has either excused or justified virtually every racist attack on Obama over the last seven years? Is this the selfsame Bill O’Reilly who, following the shooting at Umpqua CC, told Obama that he could “never change” the 2nd Amendment?  Yup, it’s the same, old Billy-boy, and while I wish I had been the first one to pick up on this remarkable statement, I have to admit that you can also see the clip on Salon and Media Matters, along with a quickie from Trump (on the Salon website) commenting on Obama’s speech by saying, “Don’t worry folks, they’re not going to take away your guns.”

So all of a sudden, after months of the most outrageous and pandering lies, the Republicans turn an about-face and decide it’s time to be reasonable as regards guns.  And don’t make the mistake of thinking for one second that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News in general can be counted on to get out in front and take a positon on any political issue that runs against the Republican grain.  If all of a sudden someone as influential as Bill O’Reilly dismisses the idea that background checks will lead to gun confiscation, if this dismissal is then repeated explicitly by Donald Trump, then what has happened is that the single, most important idea used by the NRA to block any kind of sensible gun regulation – regulation leads to confiscation – has just disappeared.

The NRA and other pro-gun organizations have been promoting this slippery-slope crap since the 1990s, if not before.  The NRA usually trots this bromide out in their fundraising pitch, but there are some quasi-serious scholars out there like the NRA counsel Stephen Halbrook whose book, Gun Control in the Third Reich, also argues that gun registration in Germany then led to gun confiscation with the utmost, tragic results. I knew that Ben Carson didn’t have the wherewithal to be a serious Presidential candidate when he stated and then defended the idea that millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust because they didn’t own guns.  But he didn’t say anything different than what has been floating around gun circles for years.

So what’s going on?  How come people who until a week ago were promoting the sine qua non of gun stupidity by warning us about how the gun-grabbers are hard at work trying to take away our guns, are now lining up on the side of reasonableness, on the side of common sense?  Should the GVP community take O’Reilly seriously?  Should Mike Bloomberg offer to appear with Trump if The Donald is willing to repeat his promise that nobody’s going to lose their guns?

What’s going on is what I have been saying is going on in the period since Sandy Hook; namely, for the very first time since guns became a public issue, the terms of the debate are no longer being set by the NRA.  I’m not saying that the playing field is exactly level.  I’m saying that the GVP movement is finally forcing the other side to consider whether what it says will continue to sell.  Because you don’t change a thirty-year public stance because all of a sudden you see the light.  You change it because otherwise your own bulb might just burn out.

 

 

 

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The NRA Thinks The Bushmaster Lawsuit Won’t Fly. They Might Think Again.

I was wondering how long it would take the gun lobby to respond to the lawsuit filed against Bushmaster by the families at Sandy Hook.  It took less than a week and the response was a video interview with attorney Stephen Halbrook on the NRA-sponsored video show, Cam & Company.  I love how shows like this are called ‘interviews’ when the guest is never asked a question that reflects anything other than his own point of view.  But I shouldn’t complain because I’ve also done my fair stint of Serius radio gigs and I can’t say that I was ever asked a question that didn’t give me an opportunity to say what I wanted the audience to hear.

And what the NRA wants its audience to hear about the Bushmaster law suit is that it should never have been filed at all.  In fact, Halbrook went so far as to call the lawsuit ‘frivolous’ and even considered the possibility that it would not only be immediately dismissed but plaintiffs might have to pay defendant’s legal costs as well.  I’m sure that Attorney Halbrook did not mean to give the impression that the horrendous deaths of 20 young kids and 6 adults was in any way a frivolous event.  Not even the most ardent 2nd-Amendment supporter would ever sanction that kind of violence just because Americans have the right to own guns, right?

bushmaster logo                Incidentally, Steve Halbrook makes his living by representing the NRA but also fancies himself as something of a historian when it comes to discussions about guns.  He recently published a book, Gun Control in the Third Reich, in which he argued that the Nazi regime consolidated their power by using pre-Nazi gun ownership lists to disarm Communists and Jews, thus giving the 2nd-Amendment supporters an alleged historical context in which they can continue to promote their ‘slippery-slope’ nonsense about how gun control leads to gun confiscation, which leads to totalitarianism and blah, blah, blah. How Halbrook could imagine that Germany’s Jews would have stood up to the organized terror of the SS even if they were riding around in Sherman Tanks is beyond me, but that’s an issue I’ve discussed in another time and place.

The NRA’s response to the suit against Bushmaster is that the gun used by Adam Lanza was sold legally at every step of the way; hence, under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, the industry is shielded from this kind of a suit.  The 2005 law was aimed at preventing lawsuits that held gun makers liable if a gun that had been used in a crime moved from ‘legal’ to ‘illegal’ hands, even though there was nothing preventing a law-abiding gun owner from selling one of his guns to anyone he wished.  And why should a gun maker or any manufacturer be responsible for how his product is used downstream if he has met all the requirements for getting his product to the market in a lawful way?

But the complaint against Bushmaster doesn’t take issue with the legality of the sale, and Halbrook’s attempt to characterize this lawsuit as ‘frivolous’ from that perspective is grandstanding at best.  The plaintiffs are arguing that this type of weapon, because of the lethality of its design, shouldn’t be made available to civilians at all, and here they actually get support from the 2008 Heller decision, in which the Scalia’s opinion clearly gave the government the right to withhold ‘military’ weapons from civilian sale. But isn’t there a clear difference between the full-auto M-16 carried by our troops in Iraq and the semi-auto AR-15 that Adam Lanza carried into the Sandy Hook Elementary School? Halbrook goes out of his way to make this point except that he and all the other black gun apologists are wrong.  Most of the troops in our military carry semi-auto versions of the M-16, a few carry guns set for 3-shot bursts, hardly anyone in the U.S. military is using a full-auto gun.  If that’s the basis upon which Bushmaster’s going to defend itself, the gun industry’s hope for a quick dismissal just isn’t going to fly.

 

Gun Control Then And Now. Does History Repeat Itself?

It’s a standard argument among pro-gun advocates that gun control is antithetical to the norms and traditions of a free society.  And the proof that is usually thrown up consists of vague references to the efforts by dictators like Stalin, Mao and Hitler to disarm their own populations as a way of consolidating their repressive regimes.  Now we finally have a serious book on the subject written by Stephen Halbrook, an attorney whose resume shows him to be one of the most active, pro-gun litigators in the United States, including serving as Counsel to the NRA.

Halbrook’s book, Gun Control in the Third Reich, details the efforts byhitler the Nazis to disarm the German population, in particular the German Jews, between the advent of the regime in 1933 and the widespread anti-Jewish violence known as Kristallnacht that broke out in November, 1938.  It was the latter event that escalated anti-Jewish persecution from legal statutes to organized violence, and paved the way for a much wider consolidation of repression and dictatorial authority. The author shows how the Nazi government used gun control measures promulgated under the democratic, Weimer government, to identify and arrest Jews and other political undesirables, thus effectively frustrating the ability of anti-Nazi elements from resisting the growing tyranny of the National Socialist regime.

While Halbrook’s well-researched and balanced narrative is a significant contribution to modern European historiography, it is also, despite his claims to the contrary, an argument against current efforts to expand gun controls in the United States.  The author notes: “A disarmed population that is taught that it has no rights other than what the government decrees as positive law is obviously more susceptible to totalitarian rule and is less able to resist oppression.”  [Page. 218] If anyone believes that this statement is anything other than a thinly-veiled reference to the anti-gun ‘dangers’ of the Obama Administration, I refer you to a recent statement, among many others, made by Jim Porter, current President of the NRA, who argues that Obama’s attacks against the 2nd Amendment are just another example of his “usurpation” of Congressional authority.  Isn’t that exactly how Germany slid from the democracy of Weimar to the tyranny of Hitler?

It’s a nice and simple way of viewing the world to assume that one government’s attempts to disarm its own population is no different from any other attempt.  Unfortunately, it’s not true.  The original gun control measure passed by Weimer in 1920, and then refurbished by the Nazis in 1938, came about as the government’s response to organized, armed political violence from political movements both on the Right and the Left.  The extension of gun control by the Nazis was motivated by a similar desire to disarm groups that posed a political threat to the government, insofar as these populations, including Jews and Communists, were considered “enemies” of the State. At no time did either Weimar or the Nazis ever consider or even discuss gun control in response to non-political violence of any kind.

The last time that anyone in the United States took up arms against the U.S. Government was the bombing of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861.  And while the initial impetus for the first federal gun control law in 1968 was the assassination of JFK, nobody ever imagined that Lee Harvey Oswald was spearheading an all-out assault on our political institutions or laws.  Whether it takes the form of crimes (homicide, assault) or mental illness (suicide), gun control initiatives in this country always flow from concerns about gun violence perpetrated by citizens against themselves or others, not violence either for or against the State.  In fact, data gathered by the United Nations shows that we are the only country in the entire world whose level of gun violence rises to levels found only in Third World countries where the use of small arms is still a destabilizing political or economic force.

Don’t get me wrong.  Halbrook’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on the organization and consolidation of the Nazi regime.  But what this country needs is a serious and sober discussion about how to limit and ultimately eradicate gun violence, and this discussion will not take place if either side continues to justify their positions by taking historical events out of context and pretending that they somehow apply to the present day.

Want To Read A Good Book About Guns? Here It Is And I Didn’t Write It.

Philip Cook and Kristin Goss have published a very important book which deserves everyone’s attention for two reasons: First, the authors are without doubt two of the best-informed and serious gun scholars publishing today, and second, they have written a very balanced and well-documented essay that objectively summarizes the state of the gun argument on both sides of the debate.  The Gun Debate is a book that needs to be read and then discussed seriously, which is what I am going to do right now.

cookWhat I like most of all about the book is that the authors, as they cover each and every point, are careful to demonstrate that there’s a kernel of truth in every argument presented by both sides regarding the good news and bad news about guns.  Whether it’s the pro-gun position that guns protect us against crime, or the anti-gun position that more guns equals more violent crime, Cook and Goss are careful to show that there’s at least some data that either side can use to bolster their point of view.  In other words, what we finally get in the gun debate is a book that sets out to be balanced in the hopes, according to the authors, “that there’s still a possibility of a reasoned discussion based on the best available information.”  The foregoing is how the book ends and there’s no question that by the time you get to that closing sentence, you will have been treated to the best available information.  The book really is that good.

But here’s the bad news.  In aspiring to produce a work that treats both points of view seriously and objectively, the authors assume a degree of parity in terms of the motivations and objectives of both sides in the gun debate which simply isn’t true.  The tip-off in this respect is the frequent use of the words like ‘scholar’ or ‘scholarship’ when referring to articles and books published by authors whose positions on issues can be basically described as pro-NRA.   For example, they refer to the “terrible oversight” committed by historians who paid little attention to gun control policies as an aspect of the consolidation of Nazi power after 1933, an omission now thankfully corrected by the “scholarship” of a self-proclaimed expert on Constitutional gun law named Stephen Halbrook.  He has been peddling this Nazi nonsense for years, and it is brandished about by the NRA as part of their ‘slippery-slope‘ strategy to shoot down gun control regulations of any sort.  The reason why historians have ignored this aspect of the Nazi regime is that it is of no consequence in explaining how and why the most educated and advanced society in Western Europe could embrace a government that was based on such savagery and hate.  One doesn’t become a ‘scholar’ simply by writing about something that real scholars have decided doesn’t need to be discussed.

The strength of the NRA lies in the fact that they represent a constituency which, when it comes to gun control, has something tangible to lose; namely, their guns.  You can dress it up any way you choose – fighting for America’s freedoms, fighting for civil rights, fighting for family values.  But none of those fights would engage even a fraction of the current NRA membership if behind all those battles wasn’t the possibility that their guns would be taken away.  And to the author’s credit, they understand why this tangible loss faced by gun owners far outstrips the theoretical gains that gun control would yield for the other side.

The NRA and its pro-gun allies has absolutely no interest in supporting real scholarship or coming to the table for a ‘reasoned’ debate. Because abandoning their hard-core, extremist position would mean they were perhaps willing to admit the possibility that the other side had something worthwhile to say.  In which case, what’s the point of being a pro-gun advocate at all?  If only 25 percent of Americans own guns, then the job of the NRA and its ‘scholar’ allies is to figure out how to get guns into the hands of the other 75 percent. Isn’t that what the gun debate is really all about?