Nel's New Day

December 16, 2013

The Direction of Responsible Gun Legislation

The lobby to Sen. Manchin’s (D-WV) office has a bronze statue of an Old West lawman holding a gun, an award from NRA after his TV ad in which he fired a bullet through President Obama’s cap-and-trade bill. Always a “gun guy,” Manchin changed after the Sandy Hook massacre one year ago and introduced legislation requiring background sales for commercial sales of weapons. Support for this bill proliferated until the NRA killed it.

Wayne LaPierre, the 64-year-old face of the NRA, was paid $831,709 in 2011 for his success in keeping guns on the streets of the United States. One week after Sandy Hook, he attacked the news media, the movie industry, and video-game manufacturers with the NRA war cry of “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Starting in 1871 as a benign group teaching marksmanship to former Union soldiers, today’s NRA was formed gun-loving legislators such as senior Rep. John Dingell (R-MI) after the Gun Control Act of 1968. Two years after the lobbying group was created in 1975, the ousting of existing NRA executives led to the reign of today’s extremist Second Amendment absolutists.

By 1986, Dingell and friends passed the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, restoring gun rights outlawed 18 years earlier. The ban on assault weapons during President Clinton’s early years led to NRA’s targeting of Congressional members who voted for reason in gun control and then lost to Republicans in the next election.

Even the 1999 Columbine shootings with guns bought at shows with no background checks didn’t stop the NRA. By the 2007 Virginia Tech murders, politicians knew that they didn’t dare vote for any legislation that the NRA opposed. The horror of Sandy Hook led to over a million new members for the NRA.

The media repeatedly published the popularity among almost everyone in the United States—including NRA members—for universal background checks, but NRA panicked constituents by saying that Democrats, who faced difficult re-elections, supported a national registry of gun owners. The organization offered to help a watered-down background check pass before two more extremist groups, Gun Owners of America and the National Association for Gun Rights, forced the NRA to back out of its agreement. Senators bailed on the bill after the NRA made paid calls to  its members.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told several relatives of slaughtered Sandy Hook children, “You know, I have an A rating from the N.R.A., so I’m probably not going to support this.”

A victim’s brother, 13-year-old James Barden, asked, “Senator, there’s over a thousand deaths from gun violence in Ohio every year. I’m here on behalf of my little brother, Daniel. Do you think that this bill would save some of those lives?”

Portman said, “It could. It could.” The senators who voted against background gun checks knew that the law could save lives but voting for it wouldn’t save their own re-election.

The attrition of gun owners may eliminate the NRA’s control. Between 1977 and 2012, 36 percent fewer households in the United States had guns. Currently the NRA is recruiting young military veterans and Boy Scouts while fomenting the fear that President Obama and his administration will not rest “until they’ve banned, confiscated and destroyed our guns, just like they did in England and Australia.” As with the Tea Party, the rabid rhetoric hurts the GOP among young people and Hispanics, and mainstream gun owners are more concerned with jobs and college tuition than a national registry.

A growing gun-control organization is Moms Demand Action, created by Shannon Watts, a 42-year-old Indiana-based public-relations veteran and mother of five. She said, “I think what’s been missing are the voices of mothers.” Most gun-control organizations “have been run by men,” she said.

“Women are the caretakers of the family, and the ones who make most of the spending decisions. Most of us don’t realize — I certainly didn’t — that it’s easier to buy ammunition than Sudafed. But the massacre of innocent children in the sanctity of their schools woke us up.”

Watts continues her activism, despite the fact that men show up her group’s events with semiautomatic weapons and she receives threatening phone messages against her and her children.

Two other gun-responsible organizations are Mayors against Illegal Guns and Americans for Responsible Solutions, co-founded by Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. With her husband, Giffords, the former representative from Arizona who was shot in the head while holding a meeting in a shopping mall, tours rural regions and meets with gun owners to build consensus on addressing the eminent killings.

The NFL, which keeps its football on the pulse of popular culture and acceptability, has rejected an ad for an assault rifle in the upcoming Super Bowl. Last year, sports commentator Bob Costas told the millions at halftime of a Sunday Night Football game that the “gun culture” was responsible for Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shooting and killing his girlfriend before killing himself. Costas also pointed out that “handguns don’t save lives.” In 2011 when Wisconsin let people with gun permits carry concealed weapons in public, the Green Bay Packers refused to allow these guns into Lambeau Field.

Extremist gun-lovers accused President Obama of using the Super Bowl for his personal propaganda as Adolph Hitler with the 1936 Olympics and called for a boycott of NFL games. They failed to consider that football is more popular than guns.

One recent federal achievement was the ten-year extension of the Undetectable Firearms Act, continuing the ban on sales or possession of firearms, including 3-D printed guns, that X-ray machines and metal detectors cannot detect. These guns are required to have a metal strip to make them visible in detectors. The NRA and GOP members of Congress opposed a Democrat proposal to require permanent metal components on 3-D printed guns.

Cody Wilson, a promoter of 3-D printed guns, estimates that 3-D gun blueprints have been downloaded at least one million times on file-sharing sites such as the Pirate Bay after the U.S. government banned Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, from downloading the file. Ladd Everitt, director of communications for The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said he is more concerned about the organization’s ideology than printing the guns.  Wilson has been upfront in his intention to “foment insurrectionism,” Everitt said, “to send a message to our government and other governments around the world that you cannot regulate firearms because we can print our own if necessary, and if you go too far, we can use them.”

During the past year, state legislatures passed 109 gun bills out of the 1,500 that were introduced. Seventy laws loosen gun restrictions while 39 tighten them. Although unconstitutional, 136 bills nullifying federal gun regulations were also sponsored in 40 states. In the past year, 20 states have passed tighter gun restrictions, but 27 states have loosened existing gun laws. Some states have done both.

Gun control contributions were just 6.5 percent of what gun-rights advocates raised from 1989 through the 2012 elections. Gun rights candidates and causes raised $29.4 million in direct contributions to candidates, parties, and PACs at the federal and state level, whereas gun control causes raised just $1.9 million. Seven states–Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming—had no contributions to support gun control.

More than one million people in America have been killed by guns since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. That’s equivalent to the population of Austin, or San Francisco, or Columbus, or Indianapolis, or Charlotte, or Memphis, or Boston, or Nashville. If the number of children slaughtered with guns were killed by cars or medications, the country would change. MADD shifted the culture because drunk drivers were killing children. People didn’t say that laws couldn’t be made to lower the acceptable alcohol level for driving; they just did it.

According to the NRA and other people opposed to reasonable gun legislation, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Would the same people say, “Guns don’t kill children, children kill children”? In 2010, nearly three times more children and teens were injured by guns than U.S. soldiers wounded in the Afghanistan war; 83 children under five died from guns compared to 55 law enforcement officers killed in the line in duty. U.S. children and teens are 17 times more likely to die from a gun than their peers in 25 other high-income countries combined.

States with background checks have 16-percent lower gun fatality rates. Child access prevention laws reduce accidental shootings by as much as 23 percent. Australia passed a strict assault weapons ban and mandatory buy-back program and hasn’t had a single mass shooting since.

A year ago the NRA and GOP members refused to attend a panel on Face the Nation.  One person who showed up talked about restrictions on the First Amendment, such as not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Joking in line at the airport about bombs may put a person on the no-fly list.

What has saved almost totally unfettered gun rights for gun-lovers in the United States is that the mass killers have been almost 100 percent white and Christian. If Sandy Hook’s killer, Adam Lanza, had been a Muslim, gun laws during the past year would most likely have taken a different turn.

December 2, 2013

GOP Strategy: Block and Blank

Imagine your life if you were paid full time for working a little over one day a week. That’s life if you’re a member of Congress this next five weeks. The House is scheduled to “work” six days during that time, making a total of 113 work days in 2013. With their $174,000 salary, GOP House members made about $1,380 a day this year. In a little over ten days, members of the House make the same amount of money that a fulltime worker paid minimum wage makes in an entire year. At least the House members worked 19 days more than last year, but this year’s calendar is 13 days less than that scheduled next year.

Perhaps House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t find anything for the GOP to do in the next five weeks. It appears that the House has stopped repealing the Affordable Care Act because they’re afraid to take insurance away from people. Right now conservative lawmakers seem happy to just tell lies about people who are losing their insurance and having to pay more for other plans. The Senate doesn’t seem to be working any harder than the House as GOP senators sulk about the change in the filibuster rules.

What else is left for federal lawmakers to do this year?

  • Relief from sequester caps
  • Budget plans to keep the United States from shutting down or defaulting on the debt
  • Funding authority, which expires January 15
  • Pentagon policy bill blocked because of dissension over ways to stop sexual-assault cases and increased sanctions against Iran after the White House reached a tentative nuclear pact with that nation
  • Unemployment benefits, funding to help workers displaced by global trade, and business-friendly tax break including research and development
  • Fees paid to Medicare providers to keep doctors and hospitals from dropping patients from the program
  • Confirmation of the new Federal Reserve chair, head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—not to mention all the other nominees waiting in the wings
  • The farm policy that also includes the funding level for food stamps
  • Immigration reform? Ha!

My favorite problem is the expiration of laws banning plastic guns on December 9. The 25-year-old law that stops weapons manufacturers from making guns undetectable by security systems expires without Congressional renewal. If Congress doesn’t act, anyone can easily take a gun anywhere, including onto airplanes, because plastic weapons can’t be detected.

Over 18 months ago, political scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norma J. Ornstein published an article in The Washington Post entitled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” One conservative and the other progressive, they agreed:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Searching for reasons behind the dysfunction, they listed “the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs.”

According to the couple, however, the two people behind the move to the far right are Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. From his entrance into Congress in 1979, Gingrich worked to persuade voters that this branch of government was “so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority.” He spent 16 years bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders and provoking them into overreactions that united GOP voters into opposing Democratic initiatives. Then he exploited scandals to raise public disgust with politicians and recruited conservatives to run against the government.

When Gingrich became speaker, the self-serving leader compromised with President Bill Clinton to build up the House’s reputation, but it was too late. The hatred toward Washington, similar to that from the Tea Party, drove out moderate GOP House members. Some of the radical conservatives moved into the Senate and similarly polarized its culture.

At the same time that Gingrich was poisoning the House, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform and passed out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. Signers were bound to never vote for a tax increase, including closing tax loopholes. As of last year, 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators had given their souls to Norquist. Extremists liked the pledge so much that they created offshoots on issues such as climate change.

More recently, Ornstein wrote about the change in the Senate during the past decade. After 14 Senators, seven from each side of the aisle, compromised in confirming extremist judges Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander (TN) promised that they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Barack Obama’s move into the White House, however, turned “the filibuster into a routine weapon of mass obstruction.” No longer were filibusters based on qualifications. GOP senators abandoned their 2005-2006 commitments to not filibuster as  well as more recent ones in January 2013 to block everyone nominated for the bench.

In addition to filibusters, senators can block nominations for federal district court vacancies in their states, a practice known as “blue slips.” GOP senators, including Marco Rubio (FL) who actually recommended the nominee, are using this practice.

As the conservative Ornstein wrote:

“If the norms are blown up, which is what Senate Republicans under Mitch McConnell have done over the past five years—using the rules not to build bridges but to construct dams—it becomes almost inevitable that the rules will change to adapt.”

After the recent change in the filibuster rules, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threatened more judges like Scalia and Alito, but these judges, as well as Thomas, came with the filibuster rules. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), with others, expressed concern that the Senate would get worse in effecting the legislative process. It can’t.

House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will prevent any legislature not in his political interest and support any legislation that will benefit him. Even with the majority of Democrats in the Senate passing a bill, the House will most certainly block it. The immigration reform passed the Senate with supermajorities, and Boehner won’t touch it.

The Party of No recently revealed its plan for the coming year to finish up the 113th Congress as the worst in history. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) met with a group of House GOP members and handed out a blank piece of paper labeled Agenda 2014, proving that they had no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda.” As an aide described the GOP leadership: “We don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”

That’s the strategy of the GOP: blank.

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