Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guns in America: Background Checks (redux)

Driving home yesterday, after posting Guns in America: Background Checks, I found myself listening to President Obama’s speech on the Senate’s capitulation to the NRA and then thinking more about some of the issues. As the evening wore on and I read more responses and thoughts on Twitter and elsewhere, I grew even angrier than I was when I published the post. And so I want to examine a few of the other thoughts regarding this whole fiasco.

First, I want to be very clear about something: Senators had a chance yesterday to do something to help protect our children, our families, and our communities. They had the chance to adopt legislation supported by at least 80% of the population, if not 90% of the population. They had a chance to adopt legislation that most of the population already thinks is the law. But they didn’t. And so I have this to say to those who voted against expanded background checks: The next time a child is killed with a gun which, with expanded background checks would not have been so readily available to the shooter, the blood of that child is on your hands. You traded your integrity, even your soul, for a few precious bits of NRA blood money. And I intend to tell them just that.

The NRA isn’t playing a game here; they’re willing to lie and spend millions to get their way. So why should those of us who want to see the passage of additional reasonable gun control legislation continue to “play nice”? If I have the chance to talk to Senator Dan Coats, for example, I will tell him that he has blood on his hands and ask him whether those NRA campaign contributions help him sleep at night. And when I talk to friends who are members of the NRA and who claim to support reasonable enhancements to gun control legislation, I’m going to ask them if they told that to the NRA leadership. Because the NRA was certainly lobbying in those people’s names even if the lobbying efforts weren’t what the NRA membership supposedly wanted (according to at least some reports, nearly 80% of NRA members support enhanced background checks and closure of the gun show loophole). If NRA members didn’t speak up to let the NRA leadership know that the positions the organization was taking weren’t reflective of their views, then that silence makes them equally complicit.

Whew. Breathe. Breathe.

I also want to touch on a few of the other idiotic arguments that I heard from the pro-gun lobby.

First, I saw several people making the argument that the background check legislation shouldn’t be passed because it wasn’t going to stop all gun violence. Of course it won’t stop all gun violence. Seat belts and air bags don’t stop all traffic fatalities. But you know what? They stop a lot. Weigh the burden of submitting to a background check against the burden to families and society of violent death, especially of children. Hmm. I think I’m willing to take the few minutes (presuming I wanted a gun) to fill out a fucking form. And remember, we’re not talking about adopting a new background check law. Background checks are already the law. What we’re trying to do is to eliminate the loopholes that allow people to get around the requirement of a background check and make the existing system far less effective than it should be.

Here’s an analogy: How would you feel if we required people who bought airline tickets from the airlines to go through security but if people who bought their tickets from Orbitz or Expedia or a friend didn’t have to go through security? Doesn’t seem like such a good idea, huh? Well, that’s a pretty fair comparison to the current background check system.

Similar to the preceding argument, I also heard the suggestion that the expanded background check legislation was inappropriate because it wouldn’t have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre. So is the measure of legislation now whether it will prevent one very narrow particular type of bad occurrence and none other? Seriously? So we shouldn’t take steps to keep convicted felons who have been dishonorably discharged from the military and who regularly beat their wives while high on meth from buying guns via the Internet because, you know, that wouldn’t have stopped Adam Lanza from massacring first graders.

Perhaps the most vile and disgusting lines of argument suggest that the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook shouldn’t really be voicing their opinions. For example, consider this comment from Republican and Tea Party darling Rand Paul who said of the families of the children killed at Sandy Hook:

In some cases, I think the president has used them as props.

Props? Facilitating the effort by people who have suffered unspeakable tragedy to try to influence legislation aimed at preventing similar horrors in the future is just using people as “props”? (For more on this claim and the role of the Sandy Hook parents, please take a few minutes to read An insult to the Sandy Hook families by Greg Sargent). Or consider this from GOP consultant Ed Rogers:

It was cruel of the president to involve the Sandy Hook families in a fight that was not their fight. For all the good they can do and all the deference and respect they deserve, it is a travesty that the families of the Sandy Hook victims were used as props and lobbyists and that the tragedy of Sandy Hook was contorted into a Washington legislative battle about expanding the federal paperwork required to make a gun purchase. The Sandy Hook families didn’t create this farce; it was the president’s idea.

Or there is this more raw comment from Minneapolis-based radio talk show host Bob Davis:

I have something I want to say to the victims of Newtown, or any other shooting. I don't care if it’s here in Minneapolis or anyplace else. Just because a bad thing happened to you doesn't mean that you get to put a king in charge of my life. I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don't force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is just afraid — they're terrified of these victims. … I would stand in front of them and tell them, ‘Go to hell.’

That’s right: “Go to hell” for even daring to voice an opinion that differs from that of Bob Davis or the gun rights lobby because, you know, “liberty”.

As Sargent put it in his article:

All of this aside, the “props” line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn’t be thanking the president.

You see, what’s really going on here is that there is a segment on the right that just doesn’t believe that people have much of a role in trying to influence the government (well at least not people with whom they disagree). It’s just fine for highly paid lobbyists and advocacy groups to make their voices heard (as coins jingle jingle jingle into campaign coffers), but whoa to the individual who tries to make a point. It’s sort of like Mitt Romney’s 47% comment, in a way. Some people just count more than others. And if you’re brave enough to voice your opinion publicly, the the attack machine kicks in. Think I’m overstating it? How about Lily Ledbetter? Sandra Fluke? Gabby Giffords? I could go on. The point is, though, that rather than addressing the issues, there has grown to be a tendency to strike out not with ad hominem attacks but sometimes even with attacks of personal destruction. How dare those who’ve been directly harmed express their opinion. How dare they!

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