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pinion Why the Gun Lobby Always Wins


There exists a plethora of harrowing statistics when it comes to gun tragedies. 7 = the number of mass murders in America this year; 62 = the number of mass murders in the U.S. over the last 30 years of consistent gun deregulation; 71,000 = the number of people who'd already committed gun crimes and tried to illegally purchase one in 2009; 77 = the number of those criminals that the federal government prosecuted. But the most meaningful might well be the ratio 15:1. That is how much more is spent on lobbying by pro-gun forces than is spent by those trying to sensibly regulate gun sales and license to carry laws.

In this sense, gun ownership is not unlike every other such issue in our society, in that if you have a powerful and moneyed special interest up against a collective of individuals wanting to right injustice, you can usually guess who enjoys the upper hand. As we've learned time and again, our political system is well suited for financial lobbying and poorly designed for responding to even the most vocal advocacy. Such being the case, the people who benefit have spent a lot of money successfully ensuring that the system not only remains tilted in their favor, but becomes even more so – i.e. Citizens United.

What remains different about the issue of gun control is the depth of the tragedies that a lack of sensible regulation enables. However, from Columbine to Tucson to Aurora, that has made little difference in leveling the playing field. Hence, many people remain justifiably skeptical that even a massacre as vile as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School will inspire the political courage to stand up to the bully tactics of the National Rifle Association.

There are some encouraging signs. The NRA shuttered their Facebook account the day after the murders, which they were uncharacteristically silent about – skipping the usual round of defensive talk show appearances, where spokespeople could bloviate on the separation between senseless acts, the laws that help enable them and the companies who profit from them. A massive private equity firm announced that it would sell off its stake in Freedom Group, America's largest gun manufacturer and producer of the weapon used last Friday, after it was pressured by a California teachers pension fund that holds $500 million worth of its shares. Of course this doesn't stop someone else from buying it and continuing to produce such armaments, but it's a start.

a Bushmaster M4 Carbine like the one used in Newtown

Dick’s Sporting Goods says it has removed all guns from its store nearest to Newtown, and that it is suspending the sale of certain kinds of semi-automatic rifles from its chains nationwide, another small but somewhat meaningful step from the largest sporting goods chain in the U.S. It seems that 20 little children torn to shreds by a Bushmaster M4 Carbine seems to be what it takes to shame most of the traditional apologists into at least temporary silence. I did say most. 2008 Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee suggested the massacre was comeuppance for our separation of church and state, that those 20 children were gunned down as a price for having taken God out of the schools. Shame on Mike Huckabee.

On the other end, politicians who have long favored sensible gun control laws are speaking with powerful voices, not to politicize the issue, but hoping to seize some of the momentum, to capture a moment in which an otherwise futile fight seems closer to being within reach, especially while the cat has their counterparts' collective tongue on the topic. But the support from the political establishment as a whole has been lukewarm and mostly limited to empty speeches and vague promises to do mostly nothing.

Hardcore gun rights advocates continue to argue against any infringement on current laws, which have become progressively more libertarian, especially at the state level. They argue that guns don't kill, people do. They speak of personal responsibility and say that we can never stop a determined madman. Many have even argued that the solution was to have more people armed with military-style weaponry at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I suspect that if we asked the parents who lost children that day whether they felt the answer was teachers with semi-automatic weapons in their purse, or a better way of making sure someone like the gunman didn't have access to one, they'd answer the latter.

Meanwhile, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putman was busy last week making the rounds, bragging that our state was on the verge of issuing its 1,000,000th concealed weapons permit – more than any state in the country, even Texas. Combine that with the fact that we spend less on mental health services than any other state, the bulk of which is spent in prisons rather than on the street, and that we made it illegal for even a psychiatrist to ask potentially-dangerous patients about access to guns and you have a recipe for disaster.

In fact, if it hadn't happened the same day, there might have been a bigger reaction to the Valrico man who emptied a 30-round clip from an AK-47 at Hillsborough Sheriff's deputies who were responding to a domestic violence call. His inability to shoot straight is the only thing that prevented body bags filled with those officers from adding to the dreadful imagery on last Friday's TV screens. The incident happened not far from a park where where a man was shot and killed by a school bus driver in an argument over skateboarding in September.

This week, a man in St. Pete shot another customer at a pizza shop who'd been complaining about a delay in getting his order. The shooter has invoked our infamous Stand Your Ground law, as did the shooter in Jacksonville, who recently fired off rounds into a car full of teenagers, leaving one dead after an argument over their radio being too loud. If this is beginning to sound like a cross between the Wild West and a Mad Max movie, ask yourself who profits in a society that becomes so dangerous that even sane and civil pacifists begin to wonder whether even they too should have a firearm, you know … just in case.

It's apparently that sort of thinking that led to an 11-year old in Utah reportedly putting a handgun to a classmates' head this week. According to multiple news reports, the child pointed to the Sandy Hook massacre as the reason he'd brought the deadly weapon to school. It seems counterintuitive to me that the way to make our society more safe is to have more people armed with weapons designed to kill as many people as possible in the least amount of time. Societies where guns are so rare and regulated that policeman don't even carry them on the streets certainly don't seem like bad places to my mind.

There is no perfect answer as to how we solve this issue, but considering our national tendency to perpetuate this sort of disaster on an epic and unmatched scale, it is clear that we are not on the right track. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently suggested three excellent steps our government could take right now that would have a meaningful effect on many of the senseless acts of gun violence that affect our society – prohibit the manufacture of military-style assault weapons; close the gun show loophole; and make gun trafficking a felony with severe criminal penalties. The Washington Post's Matt Miller added another based on Australia's successful compulsory buyback program for banned weapons that followed a horrific mass murder down under in the mid 90's.

Of course this might all seem like more nanny-state nonsense to some. After all, the shooters are all either dead or being tried – you know, personal responsibility. But the children of Newtown aren't coming back, and even if we don't stop every such act, as a father of an 8 year old, I for one would be happier to know that at least some lives would be spared if it weren't so easy for anyone to access weapons capable of such carnage. I don't own a gun and I don't want to. I don't want the teachers in my son's school to be armed with guns, and I don't want him to feel he needs one in his backpack to be safe. All of those things are most realistic in a society with sensible gun control.

People ask what has changed in our society that has left us in a place where the repulsive acts mentioned in this column could become commonplace, and there are many cultural areas we can debate. But what remains irrefutable is that for 30 years it has become easier and easier to both legally and illegally obtain a weapon designed for just the sort of massacre that ripped apart the lives of more than two dozen families last week, or that such is the case, because an industry has lavished our government with a princely sum for it to be so.

Call that what you want, but I call it repugnant. 15:1 might be the most telling number in this story, but let's hope that 20 is the one that counts. Let's hope that the 20 six and seven year old children below, the ones who were ruthlessly slain by a lone gunman using a military-style assault rifle, become the catalyst for desperately-needed change in a society that has drifted woefully off course.

Let's do more than hope. Let's demand with our vote that politicians who enable such callous disregard for the consequences of such policies fear the anti-gun contingent even more than the NRA. If, together as a society, we cannot summon the will to effect change in the aftermath of such a haunting travesty, then it's clear we never will. But if we fail to stand up for these children, we will have not only squandered an opportunity to truly honor their memory, but we will have also lost the right to feign shock and ask why, when it ultimately happens again.

May they rest in peace:

Daniel Barden, 7

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6


Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook. Sign up for a free email subscription and get The Bradenton Times' Thursday Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition delivered to your email box each week at no cost. 


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