Despite an epidemic of gun deaths, the river of gun cash never stops flowing. If you follow that river upstream you'll see that its source lies very close to Wall Street. And the river's mouth speaks with the voice of politicians, whose campaign fundraising is undoubtedly taking place even on this supposedly holy day for most of them.
'Tis the season to be lobbied.
"More than 50 firearms-related companies have given at least $14.8 million" to the National Rifle Association, Bloomberg News reports -- and that's just the money we know about. The NRA spent nearly $25 million in the last election cycle alone. True to form, the NRA's chief said this week that we need more guns in the schools to end the killing of our children.
That's like spreading a flu virus to stop an epidemic.
But Wayne LaPierre did his job. Everybody's talking about how crazy he is. Nobody's talking about how crazy we are for tolerating this situation - or how immoral our corporate class is for financing it.
Wall Street's investments extend beyond the manufacturers themselves -- to the NRA, and to all the other groups supporting the NRA's nihilistic objective: the total elimination of any and all controls on even the deadliest of weapons. That includes ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which foments the "Stand Your Ground" reign of terror that so effectively distracts millions of Americans from the true source of their anxiety and hardship.
It's working. As we reported after another gun tragedy this year, "Firearms and ammunition sales rose 45 percent between 2009 and 2010 alone." And the tragedy of Newtown has been great for business all around the country. Just look at a sampling of headlines we've seen in the last week: "Tucson Gun Sales Surge After Newtown" (Arizona Daily Star). "New Hampshire sets record on background checks for gun sales after Newtown shootings" (Nashua Telegraph). "Local gun dealers see sales increase after Newtown tragedy" (Indianapolis local television).
Somebody's making money from these tragedies. But who?
There's hedge fund manager Steve Schwarzman, for one. His Blackstone Group advises the manufacturer of Colt handguns. It was Schwarzman who likened the notion of ending his cushy tax breaks to "the invasion of Poland by Hitler in 1939."
Information's limited, but other top hedge funds invested in gun manufacturers include Steelhead Partners, Renaissance Technologies, Route One Investment Company, Columbia Partners, Bogle Investment Management, and Millennium Management. Our review of the Open Secrets campaign database shows that Steelhead's executives have contributed more than $330,000 to political campaigns since 1990, almost exclusively to Republicans.
Cerberus Capital owns the company whose gun killed children in Newton, and Daniel Gross reports that its leadership team includes former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Bush cabinet member John Snow. Cerberus founder Stephen Feinberg contributed "$100,000 in August to Friends of the Majority, a Republican super PAC; $9,800 to Rep. Ben Quayle (son of Dan); $30,800 to the Republican National Committee in October; $58,500 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $7,500 to Mitt Romney."
Feinberg and his associates cultivate a reputation for taking a very hands-on approach to their investment -- "blocking and tackling" -- which emphasizes cost cutting and efficiency. That makes it all but certain that they were fully aware of their investment's lethal implications, especially once they reviewed the company's insurance policies and risk management profile.
"As a firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers," Cerberus said in a statement after the shootings. "It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators."
In other words, we were only following orders -- "buy" orders, "sell" orders...
The Cerberus gun that did the most damage was an "ACR," or "Adaptive Combat Rifle." Manufactured for civilian sales by subsidiary Bushmaster. Remington Arms, also likened to Freedom Group/Cerberus, manufactures the military version. "One Rifle, Many Missions," boasts a Remington flyer. (The deaths of kindergartners is presumably not listed among them.)
Cerberus was reaping millions in profits from the taxpayer from its Pentagon sales through Remington, while Bushmaster catered to the Lanza family demographic. And now we learn that William Spengler, named by police as the killer of two firefighters in upstate New York, used the same Bushmaster ACR -- a weapon he obtained despite his conviction for beating his grandmother to death with a hammer.
Tell me again: Why is it wrong to deny people like that the "right to bear arms"? If we had, two firefighters -- including a 19-year-old dispatcher -- might be alive today. On the other hand, Bushmaster might have lost a sale. And at a list price $2,685 (although it can be found for $1,500), who wants that?
Cerberus said it would sell its interests in Freedom Group to avoid being "drawn into the national policy debate." It was also likely to lose tens of millions of dollars in investor cash for its fund, including $50 million from the New York state retirement fund. That probably had a more immediate impact on its decision.
That's how we make change -- not just with our votes, but with our wallets.
Michael Bloomberg has been a leading spokesperson for more than 700 mayors who've been pushing for sensible gun controls. He rightly chastised the do-nothing attitude of Obama and the Democrats after July's Colorado shooting, and mocked Mitt Romney for saying that the way to end gun violence is by "changing the heart of the American people."
How are we going to change our hearts when so much is invested in keeping them hardened?
Now the Death Lobby's insisting that the problem -- the only problem -- is mental illness. But it's odd: The ones blaming mental illness are usually the same people who block funds for the treatment of mental illness.
In Greek mythology Cerberus is the three-headed dog who guards the gate of Hades. One head stares into Hell to make sure nobody escapes, while another looks back at the world of the living and the third looks toward the future. It's time to look away from the inferno, to escape from a hell in which kindergartners are target practice and firefighters are prey.
In this holiday season it's worth remembering the words of Moses, a key prophetic figure in the three Abrahamic religions:
"I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."