Yes, We Should Politicize the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

In Newtown, Connecticut yesterday, the United States’ culture of violence flared up yet again in an especially tragic and gruesome way when Adam Lanza reportedly shot and killed 27 people, including 20 children and his mother, and killed himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School.   According to a comprehensive report by Mother Jones magazine, this killing rampage is just the latest of more than 60 mass killings that have occurred throughout the nation since the early 1980s.  And while high profile, mass killings account for only a small portion of total firearm homicides in the US, which numbered more than 11,500 in 2009.

Whenever a heinous murder spree like the one in Connecticut yesterday occurs, gun rights activists offer two responses.  The first is to argue that killings like these could have been prevented if there were more guns in our society.  For example, Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, responded to the Newtown tragedy by stating that:

Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.

This view that the solution to gun violence is more guns is a common one among gun fanatics – for example, the Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan on Thursday passed a law, which Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) is still evaluating, that would allow concealed weapons in bars, schools, child-care centers, colleges, hospitals, and places of worship.  It is also a view that is flatly wrong.   While it is hypothetically possible that a teacher could have stopped the shooting in Newtown if he or she had been armed, the far more likely result if multiple people in such a situation are armed is a shootout that could lead to even more deaths and mayhem.  And a wide array of scientific research bears that point out, by demonstrating that the higher the number of guns in a society, the higher the number of firearm homicides.

The second major response to mass killings offered by gun rights activists is to try to squelch any discussion of guns in the wake of the killing by claiming that we should not “politicize” the situation by talking about guns at a time when families and the nation are mourning the victims of yet another shooting.  But this response is utter poppycock.  To “politicize” something means to make it “political” which, in turn, means simply that the issue relates to or deals with the affairs of government, politics, or the state.  The death of 27 people, including 20 children, at the hands of an individual who was able to obtain weapons better suited for military or police work is already an issue that relates to or deals with affairs of government or the state.  In fact, as Ezra Klein has pointed out, gun rights activists are themselves politicizing the issue by trying to prevent a discussion of gun laws in order to preserve the status quo of little regulation of gun possession.  And gun control advocates can only change that status quo if they treat this as the political issue it is.  If anything, using the Newtown massacre to help get stricter gun legislation passed so that schoolchildren will be less likely to be killed by a firearm would demonstrate a compassionate understanding of the situation, not an inappropriate politicization of an already political tragedy.

To the gun rights activists who offer spurious claims of politicization to argue that now is not the time to discuss our nation’s gun laws, Winning Progressive asks when is the right time to discuss these issues?

- If the  firearm killing of 27 people, including 20 children, is not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), and killing of six others was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of eight people in a salon in Seal Beach, California in 2011 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of five people in an IHOP in Carson City, Nevada in 2011 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of seven people at Oikos University in Oakland, California earlier this year was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the killing of twelve people and injuring of fifty-eight people in a shooting spree in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the shooting deaths of 11,500 people nationwide in 2009 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

- If the firearm killing of 33 people and injuring of 23 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 was not the right time to discuss gun laws, when is?

While gun rights fanatics may not be able to answer these questions, Winning Progressive believes that the time to discuss and strengthen our nation’s gun laws is now.  Such laws should be based on the core principal that with the right to bear arms comes responsibility to make sure that guns are used safely, that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and that ownership of the most powerful weapons that are clearly meant for little else than killing people is restricted or forbidden.  Consistent with that core principal, we need common sense gun legislation that reinstates the assault weapon ban, fixes the gun checks system, closes the gun show loophole, bans ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds, and makes it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime and to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers.

In order to get such common sense gun control legislation passed, we must all raise our voices in demanding government action gun control.  You can help do that by:

- Contacting President Obama - 202-456-1111 – and urging him to show leadership on the issue of gun control

- Write a letter to your local newspaper editor in support of common sense gun control laws

- Support the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, both of which are working to establish sensible gun control laws in the US


Guns Aren’t the Problem, The NRA is the Problem

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

In the wake of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the battle over gun control has flared up again with predictable results. Gun control supporters repeat their long list of facts about how much gun violence there is in our country, where 34 Americans are killed every day with a gun, and call for stricter controls on gun ownership. The National Rifle Association (“NRA”) and other gun advocates argue that our society would be safer with more guns, and spin wild conspiracy theories about people coming to take your guns away. Meanwhile, with the exception of a few Democrats such as New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, most politicians duck the issue, and most political commentators correctly predict that little progress will be made on protecting public safety from gun violence.

The question for us progressives is how do we break this logjam? Doing so will obviously be a long, hard battle, but I would recommend that a good starting place is to adopt and consistently repeat the slogan – “Guns Aren’t the Problem, the NRA Is the Problem.” What I mean by that is our goal as progressives should not be to ban guns. Instead, it should be to achieve common sense regulations of guns in order to protect public safety. The NRA, however, has blocked such common sense regulation of gun ownership every step of the way.

On the first part of the slogan – “Guns Aren’t the Problem” – the reality is that the Supreme Court has, for better or worse, settled the question of whether there is a 2nd Amendment right to own guns. In addition, the right to bear arms is quite politically popular, so eliminating it in order to ban guns would be virtually impossible as a matter of politics. While I don’t dispute that there are some progressives who want to ban guns, the vast majority of us do not seek to do so. So, we should stop letting our opponents frame us as if we are out to get people’s guns.

Instead, we progressives should be arguing that with the right to bear arms comes responsibility to make sure that guns are used safely, that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and that ownership of the most powerful weapons that are clearly meant for little else than killing people is restricted or forbidden. And that is why we advocate for mandatory background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning cop-killer bullets and bullet clips that hold 100 shells, making it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime and to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers, and making sure people on the terrorist watch list cannot buy guns. These are all common sense steps to protect public safety that can be achieved while not infringing on the right to own a gun that the Supreme Court found in the 2nd Amendment. And large majorities of Americans, even gun owners, support such common sense efforts to protect public safety.

The blocking point on these issues, however, is the NRA, which refuses to accept that with rights come responsibilities. Instead, the organization uses its $200 million per year lobbying budget to defeat even the most benign gun control regulations, and to falsely accuse even the mildest supporters of common sense gun control of being out to take away everyone’s guns. The NRA even goes so far as to use its lobbying power to muzzle efforts by government agencies to fund research into violence and ways to prevent it.

A fight against the right of Americans to own guns is one that almost certainly can never be won. But a concerted effort to make gun ownership safer by enacting and strengthening common sense efforts to protect public safety through, for example, closing the gun show loophole and banning bullet clips that hold 100 shells, can and must be won if we want to reduce gun violence in the US. And the way to win that fight is to paint the NRA, which takes advantage of its own members in order to promote a reactionary and dangerous agenda of turning the US into a version of the old Wild West, as the out-of-control villain that it is.

Questions for Mitt Romney on Guns and the NRA

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

The National Rifle Association (“NRA”) held its annual convention in St. Louis over the past three days (Sunday morning they held a prayer breakfast, because nothing says “god” like the NRA’s obsession with guns!) and Mitt Romney was, of course, there to continue demonstrating that reactionary conservatives, not moderates, would be running the show if Romney were to be elected President.  In a speech full of platitudes about “freedom,” Romney fed into the NRA’s conspiracy theory that President Obama is somehow planning to take away everyone’s guns after the 2012 elections by repeatedly accusing President Obama of attacking or minimizing gun rights, and raising the specter of Obama appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn recent decisions that found a Constitutional right of individuals to bear arms.

Romney and the NRA’s fear mongering about President Obama and guns is, of course, utter poppycock.  Much to the dismay of progressives such as myself, President Obama has been completely absent in efforts to enact sensible gun legislation.  As the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence explained in giving an “F” rating to the first year of the Obama Administration:

President Obama signed legislation letting people carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked luggage on Amtrak trains, adopted the gun lobby’s empty rhetoric about just “enforcing the laws on the books,” muzzled Cabinet members who expressed any support for stronger gun laws and failed to appoint permanent leadership at the agency that polices the gun industry. This White House even voiced no objection to people carrying guns near Presidential events

It is true that President Obama has not genuflected to the folks who run the NRA, and that the NRA is able to raise tons of money falsely attacking President Obama as somehow “anti-gun.”  But the claims that the President, or anyone else with any semblance of power in our society, is planning to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens are the rantings of delusional conspiracy theorists, not a serious concern that Mitt Romney should be flirting with.

The legitimate debate we should be having regarding guns is how we balance the interest of law-abiding individuals to bear arms with the need for common sense gun laws that helps reduce gun violence and accidents, limit mass killings such as what happened with then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011,  and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally unstable people.  And with regards to that debate, the NRA has been completely absent as it has pursued a maniacal opposition to even the most sensible gun laws.

A good question for Mitt Romney is now that he has pledged his fealty to the NRA, how much of that organization’s agenda does he support?   A recent article in the Guardian identified 10 areas where the NRA has worked to weaken or prevent common sense gun laws.  The media should be asking whether Romney supports the NRA position on these laws.  For example:

* Does Romney share the NRA’s opposition to legislation that would prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns?

* Does Romney share the NRA’s opposition to efforts to remove armor-piercing “cop-killer” bullets from the market?

* Does Romney support the NRA’s concealed carry reciprocity legislation, which tosses out supposed conservative support for states rights by requiring states to honor concealed weapons permits issued by other states?

* Does Romney share the NRA’s opposition to legislation that would close the gun show loophole, which allows unlicensed gun sellers to sell guns without performing background checks?

* Does Romney support the NRA’s “Stand Your Ground” laws that far too often give a green light to a “shoot first” approach to public confrontations?

* Does Romney support the NRA’s efforts to allow for the carrying of concealed weapons in bars, college campuses, the workplace, and restaurants?

* Does Romney support the NRA’s advocacy for legislation that would make it far more difficult for law enforcement to trace guns used in shootings or to revoke gun dealer licenses from corrupt dealers?

The simple reality is that the NRA is so focused on fighting non-existent conspiracies to take away law-abiding citizens’ guns that the organization has abdicated its responsibility to support common sense efforts to balance interests in public safety against interests in gun ownership.  The question for voters is how beholden Romney would be to the NRA’s agenda and whether, as with so many other issue areas, the available evidence shows that the rabid reactionaries at the NRA would run the show in a Romney Administration.