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 Day 19

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Helping to Keep America Wacky and Violent

The Bloody Legacy of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA

by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.

Listening to NRA chief Wayne LaPierre lash out at any notion of gun control during that staunch gun advocate’s first public appearance in the wake of the horrific Connecticut school shooting triggered flashbacks to defiance I once heard from 1960s-era segregationist George Wallace.

Wallace rode a racist declaration from his 1963 governorship inauguration in Alabama to campaigns for the U.S. presidency years later: “Segregation now…Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever!”

LaPierre’s refusal to embrace any reform of America’s gun laws exhibits defiance similar to arch-segregationist George Wallace — interestingly a man forced from the public political arena in 1972 by a gunman whose unsuccessful assassination attempt left Wallace paralyzed from the waist-down.

The bluster and bullshit of both LaPierre and the late Gov. Wallace are/were astounding in the extreme, each evidencing a pathological inability to accept the fact that their respective defenses of the indefensible were and are not acceptable.

George Wallace waged war against extending full civil rights to blacks while NRA head Wayne LaPierre continues to wage war against any gun control regardless of how moderate the proposed control measures are.

LaPierre and the NRA have even opposed moderate, civil measures like simply requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen weapons.

LaPierre bolsters his bluster about placing more armed guards in schools as a massacre-minimizing measure with a sophistic contention that other public buildings, like courts, have armed guards for protection.

Yet, on reporting lost/stolen weapons, LaPierre reverses his logic seeing no symmetry between government requirements to report stolen automobiles and proposed government requirements to report a stolen weapon.

As a life-long gun enthusiast/owner I don’t think a requirement to report stolen weapons is onerous or an assault on the Second Amendment as LaPierre proclaims when shooting off his mouth.

And, this more-guns advocate apparently ignores the fact that an armed guard assigned to Columbine High School didn’t stop the 1999 massacre there that left 15 dead and 23 wounded. That on-duty policeman shot at but missed one of the two Columbine teen shooters.

LaPierre and his conservative lobbyist/legislative confederates are responsible for such stupid laws as allowing students to carry guns on college campuses.

As a university professor who has received explicit death threats from students disgruntled about their failures to perform academically, I think putting guns into the hands of often emotionally-charged and/or immature students is dangerous…comparable to NRA-sanctioned laws in some states allowing persons to carry guns into bars awash with fight-inducing alcoholic beverages.

The day the university where I work allows students to carry concealed pistols – as permitted by law in some states – is the day I start toting a tactical shotgun to my classes.

Yes, my carrying a shotgun to class would be stupid, but so are the laws legally endorsing such stupidity.

Surely the NRA and the cowering elected officials who do its bidding to defend my right to heavily defend myself irrespective of the stupidity embedded in that armed-classroom scenario.

Wayne LaPierre’s recent press conference displayed both cowardice and a lack of creativity. Showing a yellow streak, he ran off from his own press event immediately after firing barbs at politicians and the press, refusing to answer any questions from reporters.

And, LaPierre’s ‘only-good-guys-with-guns-can-stop-bad-guys-with-guns’ railing during that press event was a well-worn NRA script. As far back as 1911, more than a century ago, an NRA president , objecting to a New York State law requiring police permission for purchasing pistols, La Pierre declared, “Such laws have the effect of arming the bad men and disarming the good ones.”

The impetus for that 1911 police approval requirement was the August 1910 attempted assassination of a New York City mayor by a gunman who shot the city’s mayor in the throat with a pistol.

Months after George Wallace’s 1963 defense of segregation, during his gubernatorial inauguration, a gunman assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy with an imported military-surplus rifle purchased through an ad carried in a NRA publication.

The NRA bitterly battled against post-Kennedy assassination gun reform efforts then led by a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, Thomas Dodd.

After the 1968 assassinations of Noble Peace Prize winning Martin Luther King Jr. and former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy – both by gunmen – the U.S. Congress finally approved some gun control measures including banning mail order sales of rifles and shotguns to private citizens.

As a pre-teen/teen during the 1960s I remember reading the hunting-&-fishing magazines my father received monthly. They were filled with ads featuring mail-order guns and supplies.

Minutes before live television spilled Wayne LaPierre’s press appearance into my living room I had completed a commentary article about my attending and participating in a gun buy-back program in Camden, NJ the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

In that commentary I concluded that more gun control legislation without companion attention to addressing America’s visceral culture of violence constituted yet another futile exercise in dealing with symptoms not causes.

That culture of violence in this country includes the budget cutting austerity pushed by right-wing conservatives who receive political support from the NRA and like-minded entities.

Budget slashing austerity starves local governments of needed federal and state funding resulting in local governments eliminating essential services. Earlier this year the City of Camden laid off most of its police force due to lack of funding.

I took a few old firearms to that gun buy-back in Camden. And, like the majority of the mainly middle-aged to elderly, non-Camden residents who surrendered weapons that day, I eagerly took the cash offered for giving up my guns during that government sponsored/financed program.

The rifle I surrendered was my first gun as a child, a Winchester .22-caliber pump commonly called a “gallery gun” because of its wide use at carnivals and county fair target-shooting booths.

One of the police officers working at that buy-back event expressed amazement at the pristine condition of my rifle, which had been in my possession for over 50 years. He said he wanted my “gallery gun” for his personal collection, but buy-back rules required him to put it in the tub with the other weapons bound for disposal.

Wayne LaPierre’s brazen responses to the post-Sandy Hook School shooting did contain a few accurate points, one being the frequent inaccuracies in the media concerning gun-related matters.

A good example was news coverage of the Camden, NJ gun buy-back, with many reports saying how gun owners came in record numbers because they were “touched” by the Connecticut shooting.

Now that tragedy may have motivated some folks to attend that buy-back, but for many, like me, the attraction was clearly getting money for unwanted weapons to defray holiday related expenses, or in some cases to buy new guns.

I saw one woman uttering a muted shout while counting her cash as she left the buy-back. It was evident that she was reacting to getting the cash, not to the shooting that had occurred two states away.

Meanwhile LaPierre is right in railing that current gun laws are not stopping massacres. A society that has proudly stoked violence for centuries is not suddenly going to turn totally peaceful with passage of gun restriction recommendations from yet another presidential commission on violence.

A few years ago a clerk in a shop in London told me about his long-standing desire to visit America. He said he was deeply fearful of becoming a victim of violence here –- like the violence he saw regularly on television shows and movies from America.

I assured this 20-something guy at the time that the violence triggering his fears was just fictional TV and movies — an assurance I doubted even as I uttered it.

Minutes before I started writing this article I received an email from a colleague/friend in Germany.

My friend said public resistance in the US to gun reform in the wake of that Connecticut school shooting, like that oozed by the NRA, is baffling to Germans, both pro-gun and anti-gun. She said the dominant thinking across Germany is that “Those Americans are far outlandishly crazier than anybody thought possible.”

Thanks go to Wayne LaPierre and his Arm-America cohorts. Thanks for helping America retain its whacky image in the world and the gun-triggered chaos threatening lives across this nation.

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.