Saturday, March 3, 2018

Editorial: Common Sense Not Enough

Survivors of the massacre at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., might teach their elders something with their crusade to break the easy access to assault weapons by potential mass murderers in the United States. But there are plenty of obstacles in the crusaders’ way.

Democrats did the right thing in September 1994, when they passed a federal ban on the manufacture and transfer of semi-automatic assault weapons and large capacity bullet magazines.

It seemed like a good idea. Efforts to restrict “assault weapons” at the federal level had been growing since 1989, after 34 children and a teacher were shot and five children killed in a Stockton, Calif., schoolyard with a semi-automatic AK-47-style rifle, and a man crashed his pickup truck into a Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, in October 1991, and fired two semi-automatic pistols in the crowded dining room, leaving 23 people dead and 27 wounded. Former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan supported the banning of “semi-automatic assault guns,” citing a 1993 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll that found 77% of Americans supported a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of such weapons.

In an earlier era, the National Rifle Association would have embraced such a ban on weapons of war being put in the hands of civilians. The NRA was formed in 1871 by Civil War veterans who were alarmed at the poor marksmanship of Union troops. It started organizing the creation of rifle clubs. Until the middle 1970s, the NRA mainly focused on gun safety for sportsmen, hunters and target shooters, and downplayed gun control issues. The NRA supported the National Firearms Act of 1934, the first federal gun-control law passed in the US, which stopped the widespread legal availability of fully automatic “Tommy guns,” silencers and sawed-off shotguns.

Karl Frederick, NRA president in 1934, testified during a hearing on the bill, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. ... I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

The NRA also went along with the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), which created a system to federally license gun dealers, banned mail order sales of guns and established restrictions on categories and classes of firearms.

But passage of the GCA galvanized a growing number of gun rights activists who pushed the NRA to focus more on politics and establish its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action in 1975, with Harlon Carter as director. The next year, its political action committee, the Political Victory Fund, was created in time for the 1976 elections.

At the NRA’s 1977 annual convention, gun rights activists defeated the incumbents, elected Carter as executive director, established its new motto, “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed,” and took advantage of the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision in 1976, which ruled that that limits on election spending were an unconstitutional limit on freedom of speech, to flex its political muscles.

The NRA provided a conduit for gun manufacturers to tap the civilian market for semi-automatic assault weapons, such as the AR-15, with magazines carrying 30 rounds or more. Ronald Reagan in 1980 was the first candidate the NRA endorsed for president and by 1986, the NRA’s new interpretation of the Second Amendment was incorporated in the Firearms Owners Protection Act, which repealed parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act by invoking “the rights of citizens … to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.”

The Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 challenged the NRA’s new political power, and the polls said it was popular, but in the November 1994 mid-term elections, gun owners punished the Democrats, who lost 54 seats, including House Speaker Tom Foley of Washington state, Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks of Texas and Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, as Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Democrats lost 10 Senate seats as Republicans gained a 53-47 majority in that chamber and President Bill Clinton spent the next six years working with a Republican Congress.

Dan Glickman was in his 18th year as a congressman from Kansas when he voted for the assault weapons ban in 1994. “A few months later, my time as a member of Congress was over,” he wrote in The Hill Feb. 22. “After 18 years in the House, I lost largely because of that vote. I would vote for that bill again in a heartbeat. But for those fighting for gun restrictions now, especially the kids from Marjery Stoneman Douglas High School, let my experience be a lesson.”

Glickman recalled that, during his last term in Congress, he managed to pass a bill to protect small airplane manufacturers in product liability lawsuits, which saved thousands of jobs his constituents. “I thought I would be greeted as a hero when I went out on the campaign trail. But that wasn’t the case. Many of the people in my district were avid gun owners, and the NRA … had made sure its membership knew how I voted on the assault weapons ban.

“I will never forget when I was out knocking on doors and I stopped by the home of a worker at one of those aircraft plants. He shook my hand and said, ‘Dan, you saved my job.’ So you can imagine my surprise when the next thing he said to me was, ‘I can’t vote for you in the coming election.’

“Shocked, I asked him why and his answer was simple. ‘Guns,’ he said. He went on to tell me, in so many words, that using firearms to hunt and shoot targets was his favorite hobby. But more than that, it was part of his cultural identity. He said he felt that my vote was the first stop on the way to confiscating all guns and banning future sales…

“Over the next several weeks, I met many other constituents just like him. After the election was over, the results showed that my support had tanked in areas with high gun ownership.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sponsored the 1994 bill, tried unsuccessfully to renew the ban before it expired in 2004 and she made several more attempts since then. She introduced a new assault weapons ban in the Senate, along with 22 Democratic colleagues, after the shooting in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 and wounded 20 Nov. 4.

A number of surveys again show that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are popular among the general public. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that 68% of adults favor banning assault weapons, and 65% support a ban on high-capacity magazines. A CNN conducted Feb. 20 to 23 found that 70% of those surveyed now back stricter gun laws. That’s up significantly from 52% who took that position in an October survey shortly after the mass shooting in Las Vegas killed 58 people. Just 27% opposed more stringent laws, CNN found in the poll.

Still, gun control Republicans are practically extinct in Congress. In December the House passed a measure that would allow gun owners with concealed carry permits in one state to carry their semi-automatic weapons in every other state.

The country may finally be reaching a tipping point on the gun debate, but it will take the defeat of scores of NRA-beholden Republicans in the mid-term election, particularly in suburban swing districts, to clear the way for common-sense gun reform.

Take it from a former member of Congress who lost the vote of a man whose job he helped save, Glickman said. “Supporters of gun restrictions need to become more like the NRA if they wish to beat the NRA.” — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2018

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Selections from the March 15, 2018 issue

COVER/George Kimbrell
Farmers, enviros sue EPA over Monsanto’s disastrous dicamba pesticide

Common sense is not enough


Motel culture

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Who will pay for the new economy?

Looking grim for organized labor at the Supremes;
Dreamers win a stay as Supreme Court tells Trump to get in line;
Hopes to save NAFTA dwindle;
Author: 1994 assault weapons ban cut massacres;
Estimate: GOP health care sabotage will increase premiums;
Dem rebuttal tears Nunes memo apart;
States join forces to build background check system;
Trump approval drops to record lows;
Dems won't endorse Lipinski:
Eric Holder, Dems sue Wis. Gov. over lack of special elections ...

Who actually cares about our workforce?

Mass shootings shouldn’t be the only time we talk about mental illness

Turn the corner against gun-culture politics

The real reason workers can’t get a raise

An American obsession

Forecasting midterm elections in the West

Trump’s big infrastructure con

A pledge to transform the Resistance, and America

Oh, snap! Trump has ideas about fixing welfare

Trump’s presidency a tragedy for the commons

We are drowning in plastic, and fracking companies are profiting

Tips are for servers, not CEOs

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A guide to Chimera-Land

Budget cuts drive people crazy

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Staying alive in the age of Trump

Trump’s goldilocks economy

Beyond crackpot realism

Sex, age and video games: What to blame for school violence

Teamsters declare sanctuary union

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Poor demented Uncle Sam

Get to know songwriter Paul Kelly

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Pan African Film Fest offers cinema’s other ‘Barrow Gang’

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Few care that Trump dodged the draft, but saying he’d run towards gunfire without a weapon is bombastic hypocrisy masquerading as moral high ground

By Marc Jampole

I’m reluctant to throw stones at Donald Trump for his gratuitous but certainly mendacious comment that with or without a gun, he would have stormed into Majory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) to protect the high school students being mowed down by Nicholas Cruz’s AR-15 assault weapon. My hesitation to condemn Trump comes because I would never do such a thing, as I am at heart a coward, afraid of guns and of death. I would certainly intervene in a knife fight or if thugs were threatening someone with words or fists in the subway or another public place. My confidence that I would help the victim in a gunless situation derives from having done so in the past.
Once a gun appeared or a shot rang out, however, I would run for cover. I admit my cowardice and therefore appreciate those willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect society, as long as they treat everyone they encounter with respect and without illegal brutality. The failure of a security guard to perform his job at MSD is disappointing, as he was a professional (not a civilian) paid to intervene and protect. But it’s no more disappointing than the countless instances of racial profiling or unnecessary violence to subdue a suspect.
Trump’s reference to imagined bravery is particularly odious, even for the master of the inappropriate, for a few reasons. First of all, as virtually all mainstream media stories about his bold declaration point out, is Trump’s inherent hypocrisy. He did, after all, use a medical deferment for bone spurs to avoid serving in the military during the Viet Nam war. Now let’s be clear, I’m not condemning his use of a minor and temporary injury to avoid military service. To avoid military service, I documented a case of migraine headaches and as a back-up compiled a dossier supporting that I was a conscientious objector to all war in case I did end up classified as physically fit to serve. Turns out all that work was unnecessary, as my congenital flat feet disqualified me from military service except, as the desk sergeant told me, “after a nuclear war and then, only in a desk job.” So I have no problem with Trump’s having documented a physical ailment to avoid the draft. I’m even okay with the fact that his father’s riches gave him easy access to physicians to document the agony of bone spurs. After all, there was a war going on, one that was obviously a senseless exercise in imperialism.
It’s not that Trump was a draft dodger then. It’s that he’s now making self-serving and self-gratifying statements about his imagined bravery, an obvious hypocrisy.
More disgraceful than the hypocrisy is the fact that Trump has tried to set a moral bar for action. He has used the bully pulpit that all occupants of the oval office have to advocate that civilians should engage in suicide missions. He tried to promote sacrificing one’s life pointlessly as the first and logical choice that most people would make in the given situation—outside a building, armed or unarmed, it doesn’t matter—and you know an active shooter is getting off round after round of rapid fire. He tried to make the audience of state governors complicit in setting this standard by saying, “but I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon and I think most of the people in this room would’ve done that too.”
Of course, that’s a false assumption: Most people would seek cover and then use their cell phone, first to call 911 and then to try to contact anyone they knew to be inside the building.
Trump’s empty boast that he would bravely jump into the fray like Bruce Willis or Jackie Chan going against a horde of bad guys is as harmful to American society as his boldfaced lie that he knew someone whose child contracted autism after having a vaccination or his assertion that good people existed among the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and for the same reason. It’s an untruth that also sets a suspect standard of behavior. I can imagine benighted Trump supporters invoking his statement when deciding not to vaccinate their infants. Certainly many thought Trump’s Charlottesville comments normalized the behavior of the neo-Nazis while equating it with the actions and ethics of their victims.
To create a moral imperative to walk towards gunfire fits nicely into the solution to gun violence proposed by Trump and the National Rifle Association: arm teachers. Both propose to fight gun violence with actions that promote more gun violence and which enlarge the battlefield. Both cheapen the value of human life through an implicit glorification of guns. Most importantly, both make no sense whatsoever. Good guys without guns are just more cannon fodder for the bad guys. Good guys shooting a gun tend to be inaccurate and could likely hurt innocent bystanders in the crossfire—even the police hit their target less than 50% of the time, as many reporters have already pointed out. Furthermore, when the authorities get there, they won’t be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Finally, gun deaths and injuries are always and everywhere a function of the number of guns in society. By giving teachers guns, we will without a doubt increase the number of gun deaths and injuries. The inanity of running towards gunfire prepares the public for the even more inane notion of army teachers.
In the case of Trump’s empty boast, the moral bar is a senseless suicide mission. Contrast with the training and indoctrination that soldiers get. In a traditional war, the casualties among front-line soldiers are terrifying. Generals know that upwards of 70% of those at the front of a traditional battle will die or be injured. That’s why army indoctrination stresses the chain of command. Following orders is the highest value. Frankly, I don’t know how any general can sleep at night without the benefit of alcohol or some other artificial assuagement. It makes sense that Grant was an alcoholic—it was how he dealt with the death sentence he knew he was imposing on many of his soldiers.
But Grant, and every other general, had a purpose, a goal and a plan that involved the coordination of many combatants. There can be no goal in running towards fire in a spontaneous situation, with or without a weapon, unless you are a trained professional who has reconnoitered the facility and terrain. That Trump, the quintessential “summer soldier,” wants us to believe otherwise is unconscionable. That he does so to satisfy his weak ego’s need to always be a hero honored and loved is pathetic. That his statement serves as an object lesson to the American citizenry is a moral outrage.