Keep Up the Fight But Put Down the Guns

We won’t go so far as to say right wingers such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are responsible for the massacre at Tucson that left six people dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in critical condition with a head wound. At this writing, the motivation of the accused shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is left to be divined from the rambling statements he left on the Internet. But Loughner is only the latest unhinged person to take aim at liberals and/or Democrats (in the right-wing mind there is no distinction between progressive and centrist Democrats).

Conservatives were quick to distance themselves from the assassin. They even labeled him a liberal/leftist because he included The Communist Manifesto among his favorite books (along with Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Ayn Rand’s first novel, We the Living and several other classics, from Peter Pan to Plato’s Republic). But it’s hard to figure why a liberal would have determined to kill Giffords, while teabaggers vilified her support of health care reform.

Corporate media have portrayed violent rhetoric is a problem on both sides, but the fact is that Republicans — not Democrats — have encouraged the idea that armed insurrection is an alternative to elections. Republican leaders implicitly — and in some cases explicitly — approved the tactics of “Tea Party” shock troops in the past two years. Appeals to the fear, violence and paranoia of the loose-hinged is increasingly part of the GOP brand.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose office investigated the shooting, denounced “the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about the government” at a press conference the night of the shooting. The sheriff declared that “the bigotry that goes on in this country is outrageous, and unfortunately … Arizona has become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Dupnik noted that Giffords had a meeting disrupted in 2009 when “someone dropped a weapon out of their pants,” and a door was shattered at her headquarters after she voted for healthcare reform last March,

The vitriol has been flowing for some time, but the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence believes insurrection rhetoric acquired respectability when the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in District of Columbia v. Heller June 26, 2008, that the Second Amendment supported individuals’ right to keep guns in their homes.

The coalition noted the court affirmed that one of the purposes of the right to firearms is to “assure the existence of a ‘citizens’ militia’ as a safeguard against tyranny.” The National Rifle Association’s amicus brief in the case had argued that “the Second Amendment refers to the utility of an armed population in preventing government tyranny.”

Since then, the coalition has compiled an “Insurrectionist Timeline” that has charted at least 16 incidents of political violence, from the man who shot and killed two people at a progressive Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tenn., and wounded two others one month after the Heller decision. James Adkisson, who was sentenced to life in prison for the church killings, called it “a symbolic killing” and “an act of political protest” because he really “wanted to kill … every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in [Fox News commentator] Bernard Goldberg’s book [100 People Who Are Screwing up America],” but was unable to gain access to them. It also records more than 20 apparent plots against government figures that were uncovered by law enforcement and at least nine cases where prominent Republicans promoted the possibility of insurrection. See the entire timeline at (http://bit.ly/eLvhMP).

The charlatans who run the National Rifle Association in September 2008 charged that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, “if elected … would be the most anti-gun president in American history.” The gun lobbyists ran a $15 million campaign to discredit Obama, even after he supported the Heller decision and promised not to take people’s guns away. At a September 2008 campaign rally in rural Virginia, Obama declared, “I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away. ... There are some common-sense gun safety laws that I believe in. But I am not going to take your guns away.” Still, his election resulted in a run on assault weapons and ammunition, as right-wingers armed themselves before Obama could close the gun shops.

As president Obama has not even proposed common-sense gun laws. He has not proposed reinstatement of the “assault weapons” ban that was enacted under Bill Clinton, which expired in 2004. Instead, Steve Chapman noted last February in the Chicago Tribune, Obama signed a law permitting guns to be taken into national parks. He signed another allowing guns as checked baggage on Amtrak. He also acted to preserve an existing law limiting the use of government information on firearms it has traced. Yet he is still depicted as anti-gun.

Chapman noted that after Democrats passed the assault weapons ban in 1994 they lost the House for the first time in 40 years. “Obama knows that anyone who staunchly favors banning guns won’t vote Republican no matter what. But some independents who are protective of their weapons may vote Democratic if that issue is off the table.” And House Democrats tried to keep gun control “off the table.” A group of 65 Democrats sent a letter to Attorney Gen. Eric Holder in 2008 vowing to “actively oppose” any effort to restore the assault weapons ban. But neither the NRA nor the Republicans were interested in keeping gun control “off the table” as long as it kept the rubes riled up.

Like Obama, we supported the Heller decision, as far as it goes. You should be able to keep a gun in your home, even if you are more likely to harm yourself or a loved one than a burglar with your firearm. And you should be able to keep rifles for hunting. But no honest person needs more than 10 bullets to get out of trouble. In fact, a six-shot revolver, or a 12-gauge shotgun, or a big barking dog are more reliable weapons for self-protection. A 32-shot semi-automatic pistol is designed for someone who intends to kill people quickly (as long as it doesn’t jam).

The court allowed “reasonable regulation,” such as the longstanding prohibition against sawed-off shotguns and restrictions on carrying weapons and concealing weapons in public. That seems to leave room for the assault weapons ban, which prohibited the manufacture of magazines holding more than 10 bullets. If the assault weapons ban had remained in place, Loughner would have been unable to get the Glock with the high-capacity clip and he probably would have gotten off 10 or 11 shots instead of the 31 he squeezed off before he was knocked to the ground while trying to reload.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose husband was killed by a gunman in 1993, announced plans to introduce legislation that would limit the availability of high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic pistols. If Republicans want to honor Rep. Giffords and the six dead victims of the Tucson massacre, as well as the 13 others who were wounded, the least they can do is work with McCarthy and Lautenberg to reinstate the ban on high-capacity clips.

Ironically, the Affordable Care Act, which has enraged many right wingers, could help people who are mentally unbalanced by providing them with a way to get mental health care. It aims to stop insurance companies from arbitrarily limiting care for mental health and substance abuse disorders. As of last September, parents can keep their children on their coverage until age 26. And in 2014, insurers will no longer be able to use substance abuse or mental illness to deny coverage as a “pre-existing condition” and those disorders will be part of the essential benefits package for policies offered through insurance exchanges and Medicaid.

In the meantime, congressional Republicans and their state legislative colleagues should abandon plans to cut existing Medicaid coverage for mental health services. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2011


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