State of the Union Afterthoughts

My first thought is I am glad I did not watch the speech, nor the Republican

United States Capitol

United States Capitol (Photo credit: lofaesofa)

two-headed response to it.  From reading the opinions of several commentators, it seems the most momentous part came near the end when the President made an impassioned plea to bring up votes in Congress regarding various gun control measures, passion  fueled by the appearance of families of shooting victims in the audience.

Given the intractable nature of federal politics  these days, I cannot disagree with the President’s tugging on the heart strings that remain raw in thoughts of Newton, Connecticut.  But I am not entirely comfortable with it, either.   It is a form of manipulation aimed at our hearts, just as Republicans try to manipulate us with fear aimed at our guts.

Republicans, like Lindsay Graham, always want us to imagine the worst case scenario, the lone woman at home protecting her children who may need an AR15 semi-automatic rifle in case she faces a virtual army of invaders.  In contrast the Democrats want us to never forget those little children cut down in such an incredibly merciless way.  They want to keep that memory burning, so Congress does not remain stuck doing nothing about it.

While I have qualms about playing upon emotions in both cases, the Newton massacre was real (as what happened in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and to Gabby Giffords in Arizona, and…), while Graham’s example is imagined, referring to his general sense of what took place during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992.  In the Senate judiciary committee he referred to roving gangs pillaging and raping, which those who have studied the issue have called “political theater (*1).

We can all easily imagine the worst. That’s what makes playing upon fear so powerful.   And why a simple answer like more guns for the good guys is attractive, until you think more about it as I did in a previous post.

It is much harder to imagine children becoming safer at schools because of less direct steps, like more and better background checks and cracking down on inter-state gun trafficking.  Over time they seem likely to be safer, but not for your child today, and who is to say just when?

Fear tends to have a longer shelf life than love, and its fires more easily fanned and its solutions clear cut, albeit dubious.  For this reason I accept the constant drum beat of “remember Newton”, beat through our hearts to our souls as it will be needed over time to win over the right’s incessant fear mongering.   For something to happen in our largely dysfunctional Congress, the fire of compassion must be stoked hot to overcome the fire of fear constantly fanned by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and acceded to by Republicans  like Lindsey Graham.

In these next four years it strikes me we will see no more bi-partisanship in Congress than we did in the last four EXCEPT when one side of any proposal can  accumulate sufficient leverage to force opponents to get something done, as little and infrequent as that may be.

In this case the leverage will hinge upon who has the passion to fight hardest and longest.

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(*1)  According to Wikopedia, those riots left 53 dead and over 2000 injured, but Graham takes that scenario and then implies gangs invading homes and pillaging and raping.  Two researchers of those events call his comments “unfounded hyperbole” or, as mentioned above, “political theater.”   In referring to those riots, Graham said:  “What if there’s an earthquake out here and there’s a lawless situation,” the kind of argument regularly made by Wayne LaPierre and other survivalists.

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Reducing Gun Violence: What Will Work?

Don’t ask me.  I only know that Wayne Lapierre’s NRA vision of armed guards on every corner is a bad idea as I argued in my previous post.  Trying to digest all the elements involved in reducing gun violence makes me feel sick.  It is like trying to eat a huge meal when you are not even hungry.

ATF inspector at a federally licensed gun dealer

ATF inspector at a federally licensed gun dealer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only one thing seems clear.   We have two fundamentally different approaches to reducing gun violence.  One represented by the President relies primarily on background checks, research on gun violence  and gun restrictions.  The other  represented by the NRA’s Lapierre relies on more guns and less restrictions on their availability.   I think of it as a return to the wild west.  I know, these more guns are supposed to be in the hands of “good guys,” but since Lapierre is against background checks, how would we have a clue who is who?

The NRA has quietly been winning this battle of beliefs for a couple of decades  – prior to the Sandy Hook massacre polls showed an American inclination for less gun control not more – and without the uniquely powerful reaction most of us had to six and seven year olds riddled with bullets that day, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now.

The NRA has successfully worked for years  nationwide like termites in the wood work to push their “free the guns” agenda in state governments, city councils and of course Congress.   From this perspective one can see why they accuse Obama of  offering a “radical” response to this recent tragedy.  It is radical to them because it opposes all the gains they have made in the opposite direction.

Right wingers like Rand Paul are saying Obama has a “king complex” after he issued numerous executive orders related to gun violence the other day.  One of the king’s decrees was the radical step of authorizing the Center for Disease Prevention to do research in this area again, including the impact of video games and violent images, which I imagine Rand Paul would like if the research was restricted only to the last two topics.  And Obama hadn’t suggested it.

Back in 1996, the NRA managed to marshal enough congressional support to forbid the CDC from doing any more studies on gun violence.  Apparently they did not welcome studies with conclusions like this:   “Homes with guns had a nearly three times greater risk of homicide and a nearly five times greater risk of suicide than those without, according to a 1993 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.” (Slate).

Another example of the NRA termites at work is a 2005 Florida law that expanded the right of self-defense, beyond a person’s home as described in the Washington Post.  No longer was it only acceptable to kill an intruder in your home, but anyone who intruded in your space anywhere.  “A part of the law, the “stand your ground” provision, gained national attention after the 2012 fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager.”   Soon after the law’s passage, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council adopted the Florida bill as a model for other states.  ” Since then, about two dozen have passed a version.”

In short, while the NRA acts like President Obama has declared war on gun owners, in reality he is finally mounting a defense of common sense gun laws steadily eaten away by the NRA for years.

Sandy Hook changed all that as I asserted in a previous post.   There is a deeper passion in more people to find ways to reduce gun violence than before, and not along the lines of the right wing vision of a return to the wild west.  However, the NRA has their own passion as well as money and organization. As that Washington Post article states:    “With an e-mail alert system designed to target its 4.2 million members, the NRA can mobilize hundreds of gun owners in every community on short notice to turn out at a committee hearing or a city council meeting.”

The NRA has staunchly and steadfastly defended their positions.  This is not a battle easily won, but a war that will be fought over time.  It remains to be seen whether the spirit of Sandy Hook will prove equal to that of those who feel any kind of restrictions on what they deem their gun rights is a mortal sin.

Joe Scarborough, Newtown and the NRA

I am waiting for the public statement from the NRA in response to the

National_Rifle_Association

National_Rifle_Association (Photo credit: ChrisWaldeck)

Newtown murders.  According to Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe, so is the Republican Party.   Joe is the lone conservative show piece at MSNBC, usually surrounded by liberals each morning, including his C0-host Mika Brzezinski  in case you don’t know.   I have mixed feelings about his opinions, especially that time when he repeatedly said that “they hate us” apparently referring to Muslims worldwide.  I thought that was a bit simplistic.  I tape the show and often fast forward when Joe is talking.

But I give him credit for often criticizing the current Republican Party for fashioning “a brand” that is attracting fewer buyers every day.   Over the course of the election, his reaction to the Republican campaign was often a head scratching response to disarray:  “What are they doing?”

That is also his reaction to the Republican silence regarding the Newtown massacre.  He had invited a “Republican leader” to appear on his show, but that person declined.  He wanted to wait for the NRA announcement today, which says a lot about the weight the NRA carries within the party.

Joe described  well the fundamental resistance by NRA zealots to control semi-automatics and large ammunition clips, the usually unstated fear that eventually the federal government will become so oppressive that armed rebellion will become necessary and they want to be armed and ready.

As Scarborough put it:  The Republicans “are afraid of a small fragment of NRA members who believe the federal government is coming to kick down their doors, kill them and seize their property.”   It is important to keep that in mind when considering this issue.  That attitude cannot be reasoned with, especially because it often remains unstated.

That is the hard core nub of resistance to gun control, but there are  lighter layers of resistance not so politically extreme but still strong.  Many NRA members see the matter as a slippery slope that will lead to an ever increasing limitation on gun rights.  For those wanting to change gun laws, I think it useful to understand the somewhat varied expressions of resistance by gun advocates.

Below are two stories by Washington Post reporters that help illuminate the issue from the perspective of various “gun lovers”.  Not surprisingly, gun sales are booming right now, given gun owner fears of future restrictions.   This report stems from interviews at a gun dealership in North Carolina.  And this report resulted from  a visit to the NRA Museum in Virginia.

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Since writing the above I have watched the statement made by Wayne Lapierre of the NRA.  If you have any sense of the NRA, it would be easy to imagine what he proposed.  Referring to Newtown, he said that no one has raised the most important question of all:   How do we protect our children today And his impassioned answer was to put an armed security guard in every school in America as soon as possible while also taking to task the violent nature of our movie and video game culture.   That was basically it, except for a few protesters who made themselves heard and seen here and there.

He did not take questions by reporters, but will be on Meet the Press with David Gregory this Sunday and he said next week NRA representatives will be available to comment on his proposal and answer questions.

I will wait to comment as well as I want to think about the issue more and read reactions from others.   By the way,  I will not post this Tuesday, as it is Christmas, but will return next Friday.