With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the gun lobby’s biggest fear was the dimunition of the power they have enjoyed since well before the days of Charlton Heston. But, to the contrary, not only has gun ownership surged in the past year, according to the Christian Science Monitor, but the Supreme Court has even sidled up to the gun lobby by conferring constitutional entitlement.
Even President Obama, during his campaign, acknowledged what he posits to be a Second Amendment right to bear arms. Ironically, the amendment that speaks of bearing arms also reinforces the need for a civilian militia, a frightening prospect when one considers that guns are as American as apple pie for the Tea Party.
Their darling, Sarah Palin, has even encouraged her flock to “reload,” and take their country back. The former governor of Alaska was, of course, speaking figuratively; the National Rifle Association is not.
And, when newly appointed Attorney General Eric Holder intimated that he’d like to bring back the ban on assault weapons that was instituted, back in 1994, by then President Bill Clinton, he received a protest letter from dozens of House Democrats urging him to kill the idea. Mr. Holder quickly complied.
Those House Democrats who signed that letter to Holder must have been the same bunch who, back in June, agreed to omit the NRA from key portions of legislation designed to mitigate the effects of Citizens United , a Supreme Court ruling that appears to grant First Amendment rights to corporation, but really authorizes complete, and anonymous corporate takeover of elections. With that ruling, groups like the NRA, General Electric, AIG, E-Bay, News Corp., and any other company that wants to influence elections can do so with impunity, and without having to divulge their identities.
Patrick Leahy, the senator from Vermont’s “Disclose Act” would have essentialy counteracted the damage of Citizens United by requiring organizations to reveal their top contributors if they sponsor political campaign commercials, or mass mailings in the months immediately preceding an election. A sane idea, and a prudent one.
Over the summer, the seeds of discontent appeared. The NRA managed to finagle an exemption from disclosing, claiming their size alone merits exclusion. The lobby managed to pull off this maneuver with a little help from one of their Democratic friends, Rep. Heath Shuler from North Carolina in exchange, no doubt, for future endorsements in the red state.
Senator Leahy’s proposed legislation that would have forced campaign contributors to unmask about their involvement was handily defeated in the Senate in September. Gun Owners of America is among the groups that openly applauded the bill’s demise.
No doubt, Democrats in Congress scored points bigtime with the NRA by defeating the “Disclose Act,” so it should come as no surprise that, as the Washington Post reports, the NRA now endorses more than 50 incumbent House Democrats, 10% of whom hold seats that are thought to be crucial to maintaining a Democratic majority.
Why is the NRA suddenly smitten with Democrats? They’re not really. It’s reportedly a tradition for them to be “incumbent friendly,” especially when incumbents are friendly to them, so in closely contested races in states like South Dakota, Virginia, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Florida, North Dakota, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, the gun lobby has openly endorsed Democratic incumbents trying to hold on to their House seat. Some might call that “quid pro quo,” or one hand washing the other unless, of course, there is blood on one’s hand.
Speaking of which, remember, too, that it is the same Supreme Court that brought you Citizens United that also recently affirmed the so-called Second Amendment right to bear arms, striking down Chicago’s ban on handguns. Back in 2008, the Court struck down a similar handgun ban in Washington, D.C., so like it or not, the lobby effectively owns this White House.
Pretty soon, it may be said they own your neighborhood bar, too. It’s now perfectly legal to walk into a bar carrying a loaded handgun in Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia, and other states, like California, are chomping at the bit to join the crowd. This, despite the omnipresence of handgun violence. If you are black or Hispanic, and living in the inner city, you are more likely now to die from a handgun than from a cigarette.
Don’t tell the FBI that. They’re proud to report that, in the first six months of 2009, violent crime in America dropped by 10%, but consider last year, too, the United States ranked 4th, out of 46 countries, behind Thailand, Colombia, and South Africa in deaths from firearms with just over 9300 fatalities, more than twice as many as American lives lost in the war in Iraq.
In this era of mass gun violence exemplified by the shooting of more than 40 at Virginia Tech, and Columbine before it, guns are to blame for mass casualties in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Texas. Just last week, in Gainesville, Florida, there was a shooting spree.
One can hardly go a day without reading about a gunman who opened fire at an elementary school in southern California, a disgruntled employee who shot three to death at the Discovery Channel, or the gunman who killed a doctor at Johns Hopkins then turned the gun on himself.
One can hardly go a week without hearing about a desperate family man, helpless in his hour of need, who turns the gun on his wife, and children, then on himself.
Where is the Disclose Act that will address this?
Before we accept mob rule, must we not first ask who is the mob that rules? Is it made up of those who speak of “reloading,” and “grizzly mamas?” Is it comprised of those who shoot deer, wolves, and moose from close range or from 20,000 feet? How to rationalize brute force, or to confuse it with free speech?
The Supreme Court has effectively enabled corporate bullies, and legalized giving steroids to lobbies that pose a clear, and present danger to families instead of family values.
Members of Congress were careful not to let many key provisions of the USA Patriot Act sunset, and stay up nights worrying about whether to let George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy expire, but no one lost any sleep about letting the ban on assault weapons go the way of all dust back in 2004 nor is anyone in Congress in a big hurry to bring it back. That is, in itself, a crime.
If it is possible to perform an autopsy on a person, why not on a nation? Those who insist on their right to civilian weaponry, those who think of the president as a figure head, and a puppet for the military, are ultimately cut from the same cloth as those who see arming themselves as their constitutional entitlement. When an autopsy of this democracy is performed, it is they who may be listed as the official cause of death.
JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.