COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Can Congress stand up to the gun lobby?

When I first returned to journalism with a few published commentaries, I complained that I didn’t get any reader responses to my email address in the tagline. My editor recommended I write about gun control if I wanted to rile up readers.

Oops. I meant to say “gun security,” as I am advised not to use the word “control” in reference to guns. That’s the button that gets gun people into a fighting temper.

So, here I am expecting to have members of the National Rifle Association disagree with me at the least, and maybe a fanatic threaten to gun me down at the worst. Obviously the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre just before the Christmas holidays pushed my buttons, along with most Americans. The initial silence from the NRA and other firearm-rights advocates and manufacturers has now erupted into their customary rhetoric about constitutional rights and the need for citizens to defend themselves.

Well, both excuses for possessing guns are valid claims. But is it really right to make assault weapons available to any gun-toting discontent person? Those weapons were designed for warfare, not for civilian use. An advocate for the Violence Policy Center speaking on PBS radio accused Congress of the militarization of the civilian gun market by defeating legislation for sensible gun-security laws.

The federal government even goes so far as to restrict public access to records defining what weapons were used for the frequent massacres in public places and other murders, according to Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst for the Violence Policy Center. The data is there in official records. Who do you suppose is behind that kind of censorship?

The national movement to strengthen gun-security laws after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy and attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan shifted the NRA emphasis from law-abiding gun owners to major support of the firearms manufacturers. That’s where the big bucks come from. The lobby was strong enough in Washington to let the modest gun-restriction law of 1994 expire in 2004. This allowed the sale of assault weapons, designed for military use and capable of instant multiple deaths, to be back in civilian hands. For what purpose?

As the blame game develops, gun advocates have focused on movie violence, video games and even lack of mental health care for the numerous massacres that have struck society over the last 20 years. The United States has more mass shootings than the rest of the democratic world combined, according to Lawrence Hinman, a professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego. Not a surprise considering there are more than 300 million guns owned by private citizens, one for every man, woman and child.

President Barack Obama has stepped up to the plate on the Sandy Hook killings. But Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson observed that like many of his Democrat colleagues, the president has taken a pass on gun control in the past. Why is that?

Politicians are not afraid of backlash from law-abiding hunters. They are worried about the power of the NRA and other gun advocates backed by the firearm manufacturers. Rather than take action after a massacre, politicians let it blow over, which works well for the NRA.

Even the threat of legislation on sales of assault weapons works well for the manufacturers. The public has made a run on gun stocks, especially semiautomatics while they can be purchased over the counter. Prices are surging on eBay while the major retailers like Walmart continue to sell guns similar to the one used at Sandy Hook.

As expected, The Economist this week criticized the United States' obsession with guns. It reported that the murder rate in the United States is four times higher than Britain and six times higher than Germany. Only an idiot could possibly pretend that no connection exists with the 300 million guns out there, the news magazine observed.

Once the silence of gun lobbyists was broken after a period of “respect for the families of slain children and educators,” the defensive rhetoric became ugly, if not absurd. Most defying was the demand by Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, that every school in the United States have posted armed guards.

Even more revealing about the mindset of gun-control opponents was the widely quoted response of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R–Texas) to the Sandy Hook massacre on a Fox News broadcast. If the principal of the school had been armed with an M4, she could have confronted the gunman and blown off his head, Gohmert said. That’s a reassuring way to prevent school massacres.

Is that the kind of lessons we want to teach our children? Will they really feel safe walking past armed guards to enter school? The proposal by the NRA will only produce more guns and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. That will make the firearm manufacturers happy so they will put even more pressure on Congress to keep gun-security legislation off the agenda.


Ford is a freelance writer located in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com.

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