This is the sixth installment of "NRA vs. USA", a series by Douglas Anthony Cooper dealing with gun control and the Newtown Massacre. Part One, "This is What You Take to a Gun Fight" is here. Part Two, "Walking in the Shoes of Our Slain Children" is here. Part Three, "A Proven Way to End the Gun Slaughter: Will We Fight For it?" is here. Part Four, "Guns? Mental Health? Really? Let's Talk About Psychopaths" is here. Part Five, "So You're Bored of the Newtown Massacre" is here.
People would love to donate money towards fighting the NRA. They keep telling me this. I've been desperately promoting an obvious solution since the Newtown massacre: a counter-lobby to take on the National Rifle Association, dollar for dollar, using their own grotesquely successful tactics to bring them down. Every time I suggest this project, the response is immediate and enthusiastic: "Where do I send a check?" To which I've had to respond: I don't know.
And now I do.
Equally obvious to me was the right person to head up such an endeavor: Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, who has been one of the rare voices here both courageous and persistent. I've been trying to get my proposal onto his desk for weeks, with spectacular unsuccess.
Of course, there is an even more obvious candidate. She has in fact just proposed precisely the same idea, and I didn't even have to harass her personal assistant.
Her name is Gabrielle Giffords.
It gets better. Hizzoner may not return my calls, but I assure you he picks up the phone when the former congresswoman from Arizona calls. And Gabby Giffords called.
If I sound a touch giddy, it's because this is just fabulous news: frankly, the only good news we've had here since the massacre. I'm sick of writing bitter essays that seem to be read -- judging from the comments -- mostly by suspicious gun zealots.
I can't imagine a better team. Giffords will be heading up the organization with her husband, Mark E. Kelly, a formidable figure in his own right. The part that Mayor Bloomberg will play has yet to be detailed. It's sufficient to know that he's on board.
Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly announced their project in an op-ed in USA Today.
The proposal is a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions. The plan is to "raise funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby." That influence is direct, and ugly: If a candidate displays a tendency towards voting responsibly on gun control, the NRA will put a huge chunk of cash into a hand-picked opponent. Only by matching those cynical dollars will decent candidates stand a proper chance. If the following sounds familiar, it's because Gabrielle Giffords has been reading my mind:
Until now, the gun lobby's political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer. With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.
I intend to take full and fulsome credit for all of this, needless to say. (Feel free to respond with snorting derision. My girlfriend already has.)
On a more serious celebratory note: This is strategically miraculous. Let's examine the collective bona fides here.
Gabrielle Giffords is, of course, the former representative from Arizona who survived an assassination attempt, on January 8 2011, that left six people dead. She can hardly be dismissed as a "gun grabber" -- the pejorative term du jour for people opposed to the NRA. This is a slur to be borne with pride (I've taken to signing my name "DAC, GG") but it does not describe Giffords. She's not even opposed to the NRA itself -- simply to "special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe."
Tell me that a sane gun owner can truly find this statement scary:
Forget the boogeyman of big, bad government coming to dispossess you of your firearms. As a Western woman and a Persian Gulf War combat veteran who have exercised our Second Amendment rights, we don't want to take away your guns any more than we want to give up the two guns we have locked in a safe at home. What we do want is what the majority of NRA members and other Americans want: responsible changes in our laws to require responsible gun ownership and reduce gun violence.
Yes, efforts to paint Gabby Giffords as a rabid leftwing enemy of the Constitution won't get far. She was a member of the Blue Dog coalition, the fiscally conservative bloc in the Democratic Party. Before that, she considered herself a Republican. While she opposed the draconian immigration law that recently disgraced Arizona -- the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" -- her former district in southeast Arizona shares a border with Mexico, and she is famously tough with regard to border security.
On social issues Giffords has tended towards centrism, but even here she will be difficult to dismiss, as she was particularly distinguished in an area disingenuously endorsed by the NRA: They've called for reforms in mental health care, and Gabby Giffords "was named the Legislator of the Year in 2004 by the Mental Health Association of Arizona."
Her partner in this political action committee is her husband, Mark Kelly, who is even more difficult to shrug off as a foaming leftwing enemy of the state. I mean, good luck with that: Kelly "made two deployments to the Persian Gulf on the aircraft carrier USS Midway, flying 39 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm."
Compare and contrast with the martial record of Wayne LaPierre, the butcher-than-thou CEO of the NRA, who -- when it came time to serve in Vietnam -- "apparently pulled lottery #97 in 1969 as a campus radical at SUNY-Albany, but weaseled out by getting a family doctor to claim he had a nervous disorder."
Unlike the not-so-well-regulated militia who hoard semiautomatics in the attic, Mark Kelly was issued his weaponry by a more credible outfit than Walmart: He is on active duty in the US Navy, with the rank of Captain.
Just for the hell of it, let's list his awards, all of which tend to disqualify him as a Gun Grabber:
Defense Superior Service Medal (with one bronze oak leaf cluster); Distinguished Flying Cross; Air Medal (with valor device and three bronze service stars); Navy Commendation Medal (with valor device and one bronze service star); Navy Achievement Medal; Southwest Asia Service Medal (with one bronze service star); Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (with one bronze service star); Navy Unit Commendation (with one bronze service star); Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (with one bronze service star); Overseas Service Ribbon; Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia); Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait); NASA Exceptional Service Medal; NASA Space Flight Medal (with three bronze service stars).
Did I mention that he's an astronaut? "Kelly traveled over 4.8 million miles and orbited the earth 186 times over 11 days and 19+ hours." Slightly more impressive than sitting wild-eyed in a personal suburban bunker, terrified that the New World Order will descend in black helicopters to snatch your polished collection of AR-15s.
Filling out the team, in a capacity to be determined, is Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This man has also put in quality time as a Republican: Before becoming an independent in 2007, Bloomberg was twice elected mayor of New York City under the banner of the Party of Lincoln and Giuliani.
Mayor Bloomberg also doesn't really cut it as a welfare-sucking commie: he's the 11th-wealthiest man in the United States, and 20th in the world.
That's why the gun lovers won't be able to dismiss Gotham's mayor. Whereas this is why the gun grabbers (that would be me, GG), love the guy: immediately after the Newtown massacre, Bloomberg held a press conference, where he stated, "If this moment passes into memory without action from Washington, it will be a stain upon our nation's commitment to protecting the innocent, including our children."
How many people didn't say that.
Moreover, he has singlehandedly demonstrated that the NRA can indeed be conquered in the manner proposed: by doing precisely what LaPierre's militia does, with comparable funding, and -- here's the crucial difference -- principles.
As I've already reported, Bloomberg's personal super PAC, Independence America, contributed $2.7 million to the campaign of Gloria Negrete McLeod in California's 35th district -- as a result of which she surged from a nearly hopeless position to crush Rep. Joe Baca, a Democrat blessed by the NRA with a despicable A rating.
Let's calculate the appropriate amount for an ordinary American citizen to pledge to an Anti-NRA. I took a stab at it once before, but let's make a more rigorous effort. We'll call this the Walmart Equation.
A Bushmaster Patrolman's Carbine M4A3 Rifle, 5.56 NATO -- a variant of the AR-15 assault rifle, and perhaps the precise weapon used by Adam Lanza to slaughter 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- is $850 at Walmart. Okay, it was that amount, before Walmart pulled it from the shelves after the massacre. Walmart shoppers recommend this weapon highly: it garners a 4.9 out of 5 rating from satisfied customers. In fact, Walmart has succeeded in making the AR-15 the "most popular assault weapon in America."
So, that's perhaps what you'd like to send to Gabby Giffords' new organization: $850. Seems fair to spend as much on the safety of your children as a patriot spends on his gun.
Some killers buy cheaper weapons, it's true. If you visit stormfront.com, you'll find the following comment: "Ya, I don't like WalMart either but if you are in need of a quality AR for less than $600....that would be the only place of which I am aware."
So that's perhaps an appropriate amount: $600. (Stormfront is the White Pride website. Referring to them here is a cheap shot. Then again, maybe not.)
I consider this the deluxe package for your average citizen. If your personal wealth is in the Bloomberg stratum, multiply by one thousand. If you're an ordinary millionaire, multiply by ten.
Some of us don't have that kind of discretionary cash, which is fine. The Walmart Equation can help you make an appropriate decision here as well.
Along with assault rifles, a variety of baby cribs are available at Walmart. The "DaVinci Reagan Three Piece Convertible Crib Nursery Set with Toddler Rail in Cherry" is, unfortunately, about the same price as a cheap semiautomatic. That's okay, however. You have options.
The "Room Magic Boys Like Trucks Crib / Toddler Bed in Chocolate" is $465. If you're feeling flush, and that's the amount of money you can imagine spending on your toddler's bed, then that's a judicious amount to send to Gabrielle Giffords' new gun-control lobby. Cribs too are designed specifically to protect children.
Again, that's a hefty sum, and not everyone spends that sort of money on a crib. It seems that the least expensive is the "Dream On Me - Classic 2-in-1 Convertible Crib." Ninety-nine dollars, which is something even a novelist can afford: I'll be sending that much. And I don't even have kids.
What's the bare minimum? What's the least amount that a responsible parent should donate to fund a plan to stand up to an organization determined to make the nation less safe for your children?
Here we'll deviate from the Walmart Equation.
Consider that an annual membership in the NRA is $35. Lots of people with very little cash in the cookie jar see fit to put that amount towards their favorite vicious organization: a gun lobby opposed to even the most elementary background checks. (The voices in your head tell you that Honey Boo Boo is a Manchurian Candidate? How interesting. Have an assault rifle.)
Unless you're truly broke -- and if you are, I sympathize -- I would say that this is a sensible amount. If every responsible citizen in America were to send in $35, then perhaps -- just maybe -- we could match the amount that the NRA spends on getting their faithful lackeys elected. The New York Times reminds us that the NRA has "millions of members around the country and virtually unmatched ferocity in advancing its political and legislative interests."
Oh, and their annual budget is $300 million.