Democracy Under Assault
It is a mark of the profound political influence of large special interest lobbies that, despite consensus about the atrocious state of both U.S. health care and the horrific numbers of violent gun deaths, we are held hostage to failed policies by a culture of government-of-the-highest-bidder. Follow the money, as they say, to the source of our cultural paralysis. Big bucks are at stake for the profit-centered private health insurance industry that has been allowed to write policy to insure their bottom line, a la ‘Medicare Prescription Drug Reform.’ Securing greater profits requires covering the healthy and disqualifying everyone else as ‘pre-existing conditions.’ Compounding problems of inadequate health coverage have been the stigmatization and criminalization of mental illness, resulting in neglect or imprisonment of the drug-addicted and mentally ill at high human and societal cost.
Repeated U.S. massacres, like that at Virginia Tech in 2007, prove the lethal nexus of untreated mental illness and guns. Perhaps most cynical are those worshiping at the altar of gun-centered idolatry -- hard-core gun proponents, unwilling to leave vengeance to God, who view unlimited guns a solution to any perceived cultural challenge (Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., "The Psyche of a ‘Gunocracy’," Newsweek, 8/23/99).
The U.S. gun lobby has guaranteed that firearms would remain the only consumer product exempt from oversight since the 1972 inception of the Consumer Product Safety Commission — there is more oversight of teddy bears and toy guns. The 1997 book, Reducing Firearm Injury and Death: A Public Health Sourcebook linked increased U.S. gun deaths to the gun industry’s production of evermore lethal guns, and the gun lobby’s push for liberalized concealed carry (CCW) laws in every state.
Leading hard-core gun idealogues, the National Rifle Association has been described as a field and stream membership with a soldier-of-fortune leadership. With saturation of the market for hunting guns in the ‘80s, the gun industry employed fear-based marketing — the need for "more guns in more hands to make us safer," coupled with production of increasingly lethal firearms. The glutted handgun market in the ‘80s led to NRA-inspired liberalized concealed carry laws as a gun-promotion ploy. Subsequent relaxation of gun laws have permitted concealed gun carry by individuals known to be mentally unstable, spouse and alcohol abusers, or gang members yet to be adjudicated, in such public venues as churches, college campuses, hospitals, parks, shopping malls, child care centers, workplaces, etc. Former NRA lobbyist Tanya Metaksa boasted to the Wall Street Journal in 1996, "The gun industry should send me a basket of fruit - our efforts have created a new market."
The conceit that unlimited guns make us safer is belied by studies like that of the Harvard School of Public Health, contrasting numbers of gun deaths over a decade in five states with the highest levels of gun ownership and five states with lowest gun ownership. The former experienced 16 times more accidental shootings, seven times more suicides and three times more homicides.
Though workplace violence is the second leading cause of occupational deaths in the nation, a mentally unstable Michael McDermott stored his guns at work in Massachusetts, and subsequently slaughtered seven co-workers in 2000. In Indianapolis two women were accidentally shot when a concealed handgun fell out of a man’s pocket in a crowded Planet Hollywood restaurant. A young Boulder woman was killed when an ex-Marine certified in firearms safety cleaned his guns and one discharged through the common apartment wall. A similar misfire was subsequently attributed to the head of a Canadian gun organization.
An FBI study revealed that 20% of murdered police officers, highly trained with firearms, were killed with their own guns; 85% never returned fire. In the face of indisputable evidence of gun carnage, the gun lobby mantra remains ‘free carry of unlimited guns.’
Masters of ‘bait and switch’ manipulation, gun proponents paint a picture of government agents confiscating their ‘hunting’ and ‘sports’ guns, even as they promote ‘sport’ with lethal military-style automatic and semi-automatic guns and 50-caliber sniper rifles (deadly at a mile, with a range of over four miles). The manufacturer of the Barrett 50-caliber sniper rifle has hailed military weaponry as a ‘growth area’ of the civilian gun market, and boasted of that sniper weapon’s ability to "wreck several million dollars’ worth of jet aircraft with one or two dollars’ worth of cartridge.." Indeed, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners promote annual ‘sports’ shoots with machine guns and sniper rifles that are endorsed by the NRA. RMGO acknowledged that their year 2000 ‘Funshoot’ northeast of Denver was a bit too close to Denver International Airport airspace.
The market for U.S.-made military guns extends far beyond U.S. borders. Agents of bin Laden were revealed buyers during the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. Due to the powerful U.S. gun lobby, even terrorist threats to U.S. national security are not enough to stop the export of 50 Caliber sniper rifles.
Random murders committed with long-range sniper weapons in 2002 in the District of Columbia vicinity could not shake the stranglehold of the gun lobby on the U.S. Congress. Three separate bills to regulate 50-caliber weapons by reclassifying them under the National Firearms Act the same as machine guns have languished in committee since 1999. Consequently, U.S. 18-year-olds have easier legal access to fifty-caliber guns than to handguns. CBS "60 Minutes" reported in July 2005 that 50 caliber guns and other assault weapons continue to be shipped out of the U.S. as ‘hunting rifles,’ sometimes on commercial airlines.
Pistol-whipped legislators have done more to protect the bottom line of the gun industry than to protect citizens against gun assaults. Legislation prohibits lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers whose irresponsible practices permit illicit purchase and trafficking of guns to criminals. The gun lobby selectively invokes local control, except when they wish to preempt city bans on guns in public places, or to endorse federal elimination of all gun safety measures.
In the wake of the 1999 Columbine slayings, hard-core gun advocaes testifying at the Colorado legislature promoted semiautomatic weapons like the TEC DC9 (a weapon of numerous massacres, including Columbine) for ‘home defense.’ The summer following the Columbine homicides, Simon Gonzales obtained a gun and murdered his three daughters while under a restraining order in Colorado. Nevertheless, twenty-one lawmakers opposed restoration of state background checks.
U.S. gun idolatry elevates the rule of gun above the rule of law — the most lethal weapon prevails. The might-makes-right ethic reflects the darker side of human nature, whereby guns serve as counterfeit for true strength and character. Fond of drawing parallels between automobile and gun fatalities, the gun lobby disregards the fact that cars are registered, and drivers licensed and required to carry insurance. There is no reason not to require insurance for gun accidents and deaths, to support child safety features on guns, and thorough background checks on gun purchases — the kind that identify all felons, stalkers and the mentally unstable.
Tortured language serves as distraction and distortion of the gun issue, as for other issues. The political right damns a woman who chooses not to carry a pregnancy to term for acting out of personal ‘convenience’; at the same time, a three-day background check for purchase of a gun is portrayed as an intolerable ‘inconvenience.’ Lead gun advocate David Kopel pronounced gun control laws ‘dangerous’ in the ‘90s because they distract from the fact that unwed parenthood is the ‘primary cause of crime.’
Note: 50 Caliber guns areassassins’ weapons. The Violence Policy Center (www.vpc.org) has reported plots like one to shoot down Castro’s airplane.