We wrote and spoke about guns just a few days before Christmas, following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. So did Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association. His now infamous "no questions" press conference was the most stunning, cockeyed, one-man show since Clint Eastwood addressed that empty chair at the Republican National Convention.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he pronounced.
LaPierre might well have plagiarized his vision of a wholly armed nation from another "man of the people" of 40 years ago, the protagonist in the famous sitcom All in the Family. On a 1972 episode, when a local TV station comes out in favor of gun control, Archie Bunker hits the airwaves with an editorial rebuttal:
Good evening, everybody. This here is Archie Bunker of 704 Hauser Street, veteran of the big war, speaking on behalf of guns for everybody. Now, question: what was the first thing that the Communists done when they took over Russia? Answer: gun control. And there's a lot of people in this country want to do the same thing to us here in a kind of conspiracy, see. You take your big international bankers, they want to -- whaddya call -- masticate the people of this here nation like puppets on the wing, and then when they get their guns, turn us over to the Commies...
Now I want to talk about another thing that's on everybody's minds today, and that's your stick-ups and your skyjackings, and which, if that were up to me, I could end the skyjackings tomorrow... All you gotta do is arm all your passengers. He ain't got no more moral superiority there, and he ain't gonna dare to pull out no rod. And then your airlines, they wouldn't have to search the passengers on the ground no more, they just pass out the pistols at the beginning of the trip, and they just pick them up at the end! Case closed.
Case closed. Except that Archie Bunker's a fictional character, created by Norman Lear, who knew better. Not Wayne LaPierre -- he's real and he means business. Big business.
Every time we have another of these mass slayings and speak of gun control, weapon sales go up. And guess what? As journalist Lee Fang reports in The Nation, "For every gun or package of ammunition sold at participating stores, a dollar is donated to the NRA." Customers can make a contribution at the point of purchase or the gun companies make an automatic donation every time the cash register rings. Last year, just one of those merchants of death, Midway USA, used one of these NRA programs to give the gun lobby a million dollars.
So naturally, in a country where even life and death are measured by the profit margin, the cure for gun violence is, yes, more guns! Bigger profits. Never mind that just before LaPierre spoke, three were shot and killed outside Altoona, Pennsylvania. Or that early on Christmas Eve morning, in Webster, New York, two volunteer firemen were called to the scene of a fire, then executed by an ex-con who allegedly set the blaze and murdered them with the same kind of assault rifle used against those school kids and their teachers in Newtown. Or that on New Year's Eve, in Sacramento, California, reportedly in a fight over a spilled drink, a 22-year-old opened fire in a bar, killing two and wounding two others. In fact, according to Slate and the Twitter feed @GunDeaths, at this writing, in just those few weeks since the Newtown slaughter of the innocent, more than 400 have died from guns in America. That should boost the last quarter profit margins. Not surprising, the merchants of death are experiencing a Happy New Year.
We have to keep talking about this, because Wayne LaPierre and the NRA will keep talking and they are insidious and powerful predators. Have you seen the reports in both the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the Washington Post of how, 16 years ago, the NRA managed to get Congress to pull funding on gun violence studies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Since then, JAMA reports, "... at least 427,000 people have died of gunshot wounds in the United States, including more than 165,000 who were victims of homicide. To put these numbers in context, during the same time period, 4586 Americans lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Last year, Congress stopped the National Institutes of Health from spending any money that might be construed as advocating or promoting gun control. There's even a section that was snuck into President Obama's Affordable Care Act that prevents doctors from collecting information on their patients' gun use. Denise Dowd, an emergency-care physician in Kansas City and adviser on firearms issues to the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Washington Post, "This illustrates the fact that the NRA has insinuated themselves into the small crevices of anything they can to do anything in their power to prohibit sensible gun-safety measures."
As Wayne LaPierre's brazen call for an armed populace makes clear, the odds don't favor common sense. Several members of the new Congress are reintroducing bills that would change the gun laws and USA Today reports that the White House is "likely" to issue its recommendations January 15, but there are always those legislators willing to do the gun lobby's bidding as they profess their love of the Second Amendment and wait like hungry house pets for the next NRA campaign donation.
Every American packing heat is a frightening vision of our future. It doesn't have to be, if only we stop and think. That's what a fellow named Frank James did. He stopped, thought -- and changed directions. A pawn shop owner in Seminole, Florida, whose youngest child is six, Frank James told a local ABC station he has decided to stop selling guns.
"It'll probably cause my business to go out of business because it was a big part of it but I just couldn't live with myself," he said." I thought, wow, this is crazy. As a gun dealer myself, I'm like, yes, we need more gun control. Guns are getting into the wrong hands of the wrong people."
He also said, "I'm not going to be a part of it anymore. Conscience wins over making money."
Thank you, Mr. James.