Antigovernment ‘Patriot’ Movement Expands for the Fourth Year in a Row

SPLC Intelligence Report [1] / By Mark Potok [2] posted on Alternet.org March 7, 2013

Excerpt

Capping four years of explosive growth sparked by the election of America’s first black president and anger over the economy, the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012, while the number of hard-core hate groups remained above 1,000. As President Obama enters his second term with an agenda of gun control and immigration reform, the rage on the right is likely to intensify…

For many, the election of America’s first black president symbolizes the country’s changing demographics, with the loss of its white majority predicted by 2043…

Even before the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun and ammunition sales shot up in the wake of the re-election of the country’s first black president, the result of shrill conspiracy theories about Obama’s secret plans to confiscate Americans’ guns. When the killings actually did spark gun control efforts that clearly had not been in the Obama administration’s plans, the reaction on the political right was so harsh that it seemed to border on hysteria…

To the surprise of many prognosticators, anti-black racism in America — not just that limited to the far right — actually rose over the four years of Obama’s first term…
Another factor driving the expansion of the radical right over the last decade or so has been the mainstreaming of formerly marginal conspiracy theories…

Now, it seems likely that the radical right’s growth will continue….Anger over the idea of four more years under a black, Democratic president — and, even more explosively, the same kinds of gun control efforts that fueled the militia movement of the 1990s — seems already to be fomenting another Patriot spurt.

Even before the election last year, self-described Patriots sounded ready for action. “Our Federal Government is just a tool of International Socialism now, operating under UN Agendas not our American agenda,” the United States Patriots Union wrote last year in a letter “sent to ALL conservative state legislators, all states.” “This means that freedom and liberty must be defended by the states under their Constitutional Balance of Power, or we are headed to Civil War wherein the people will have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.”

Full text

Capping four years of explosive growth sparked by the election of America’s first black president and anger over the economy, the number of conspiracy-minded antigovernment “Patriot” groups reached an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012, while the number of hard-core hate groups remained above 1,000. As President Obama enters his second term with an agenda of gun control and immigration reform, the rage on the right is likely to intensify.

The furious reaction to the Obama administration’s gun control proposals is reminiscent of the anger that greeted the passage of the 1993 Brady Bill and the 1994 ban on assault weapons supported by another relatively liberal Democrat — Bill Clinton. The passage of those bills, along with what was seen by the right as the federal government’s violent suppression of political dissidents at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in the early 1990s, led to the first wave of the Patriot movement that burst into public consciousness with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The number of Patriot groups in that era peaked in 1996 at 858, more than 500 groups fewer than the number active in 2012.

For many, the election of America’s first black president symbolizes the country’s changing demographics, with the loss of its white majority predicted by 2043. (In 2011, for the first time, non-white births outnumbered the births of white children.) But the backlash to that trend predates Obama’s presidency by many years. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of hate groups rose from 602 to more than 1,000, where the count remains today. Now that comprehensive immigration reform is poised to legitimize and potentially accelerate the country’s demographic change, the backlash to that change may accelerate as well.

While the number of hate groups remained essentially unchanged last year — going from 1,018 in 2011 to 1,007 in 2012 — the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) count of 1,360 Patriot groups in 2012 was up about 7% from the 1,274 active in 2011. And that was only the latest growth spurt in the Patriot movement, which generally believes that the federal government is conspiring to take Americans’ guns and destroy their liberties as it paves the way for a global “one-world government.” From a mere 149 organizations in 2008, the number of Patriot groups shot up to 512 in 2009, jumped again to 824 in 2010, and then skyrocketed to 1,274 in 2011 before hitting their all-time high last year.

Now, in the wake of the mass murder of 26 children and adults at a Connecticut school and the Obama-led gun control efforts that followed, it seems likely that that growth will pick up speed once again.

The Hysteria Mounts

Even before the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun and ammunition sales shot up in the wake of the re-election of the country’s first black president, the result of shrill conspiracy theories about Obama’s secret plans to confiscate Americans’ guns. When the killings actually did spark gun control efforts that clearly had not been in the Obama administration’s plans, the reaction on the political right was so harsh that it seemed to border on hysteria.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed a law that would nullify any executive gun control actions by Obama, accusing the president of having a “king complex.” U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) said the president could be impeached for those actions. State lawmakers in Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee proposed laws that sought to prevent federal gun control from applying to their states.

Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who sued the Clinton administration over the Brady Bill’s imposition of background checks on gun buyers, claimed that of 200 sheriffs he’d met with, most “have said they would lay down their lives first rather than allow any more federal control.” Matt Barber of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel said he feared that the nation, which he described as already on the brink of civil unrest, was headed for “a second civil war.” “Freedom ends. Tyranny begins,” tweeted Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes. “Get ready,” TeaParty.org said. “Right now government gun grabbing plans are being covertly organized.”

“MARTIAL LAW IN THE UNITED STATES IS NOW A VERY REAL POSSIBILITY!” added the ConservativeDaily.com’s Tony Adkins, responding to Obama’s use of executive orders to further gun control with a doomsday prediction that could have come straight from the Patriot movement. “SUSPENSION OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION IS A VERY REAL POSSIBILITY!” The Conservative Monster, a similar website, concluded that the president was conspiring with a variety of foreign enemies “to force Socialism on the American people.”

Even further to the right, the reaction was more intense yet. Chuck Baldwin, a Montana-based Patriot leader long associated with the Constitution Party, made the unusual claim that Christ had ordered his disciples to carry “their own personal arms” and vowed to refuse to register or surrender his firearms. The Oath Keepers, a conspiracy-oriented Patriot group of current and former military and law enforcement officials, issued a threat — “MESSAGE TO THE OATH BREAKERS AND TRAITORS: We will never disarm” — and added that gun control plans were “unconstitutional filth.” Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman called the proposals “a declaration of war against the American people” and demanded “liberation” from the “evil clutches” of proponents.

The one sector of the radical right that shrank dramatically last year was the “nativist extremist” groups that go beyond advocating for immigration reduction and confront or physically harass suspected unauthorized immigrants. From a 2010 high of 319 groups, they fell over the following two years by about 90%, to 38 groups. The collapse was due to criminal scandals, internecine sniping within the movement, and the co-opting of their issue by state legislatures.

Progress and Backlashes
Even before serious talk of gun control began in Washington, the far right was already in something of a meltdown in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s re-election, which came to many who got their campaign news from right-wing sources as a jarring shock. Hundreds of thousands of Americans signed petitions seeking the secession of each of the 50 states. Right-wing outfits like TeaParty.org said a “Communist coup” was under way. The anti-gay Family Research Council charged Obama with “dismantling” the country.

Polling after the election showed how broad antipathy toward President Obama remained in a deeply polarized America. A Public Policy Poll survey found that 49% of all Republicans believed that ACORN — a community organizing group that went belly up in 2010 after attacks from the far right — had stolen the election from Mitt Romney. A quarter of GOP members in the same poll favored secession. A January 2013 poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind project found that 36% of all Americans still don’t believe Obama is a citizen, despite the 2011 release of the president’s “long-form” birth certificate.

As they did in 2008 and 2009, groups on the radical right clearly benefited from that antipathy. “Since Obama’s first term, our numbers have doubled and now we’re headed to a second term, it’s going to triple,” one Virginia Klansman told WTVR-TV in Richmond. Daniel Miller, president of the secessionist Texas National Movement, said that his membership shot up 400% after Obama’s re-election. White News Now, a website run by white supremacist Jamie Kelso, said that it had had “an incredible year” in the run-up to the vote, reaching more people than ever.

To the surprise of many prognosticators, anti-black racism in America — not just that limited to the far right — actually rose over the four years of Obama’s first term, according to a 2012 Associated Press poll. The poll found 51% of Americans expressed explicitly anti-black attitudes, compared to 48% in 2008, while 56% showed implicitly anti-black attitudes, up from 49% four years earlier. Another AP poll, in 2011, found that 52% of non-Latino whites expressed explicitly anti-Latino attitudes, a figure that rose to 59% when measured by an implicit attitudes test.

“We have this false idea that there is uniformity in progress and that things change in one big step. That is not the way history has worked,” Jelani Cobb, a history professor and director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut, told the Huffington Post with regard to the AP poll findings. “When we’ve seen progress, we’ve also seen backlash.”

Some broad social progress that did occur last year — the rapidly increasing acceptance of LGBT people and same-sex marriage — fueled just such a backlash among anti-gay religious groups that saw themselves beginning to lose the issue. (A December USA Today poll found that 53% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, up dramatically from 1996, when 27% supported such unions.)

The American Family Association issued predictions for the future that included the claims that conservative Christians will be treated like African Americans before the civil rights movement, that the state will take charge of children at birth, and that cities with names like St. Petersburg will be forced to change their names. Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality said the 2012 election of openly gay Tammy Baldwin to a Senate seat representing Wisconsin signaled that America is “falling apart.” The volume of these kinds of comments seemed higher than ever before.

Conspiracies and Terror
Another factor driving the expansion of the radical right over the last decade or so has been the mainstreaming of formerly marginal conspiracy theories. The latest and most dramatic example of that may be the completely baseless claim that Agenda 21 — a United Nations sustainability plan that was signed by President George H.W. Bush but has no mandatory provisions whatsoever — is part of a plan to impose socialism on America and strip away private property rights.

That claim has been pushed heavily by, among others, the John Birch Society, a conspiracist Patriot organization that was exiled from the conservative movement a half century ago after claiming President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Communist agent.”Last year, the Republican National Committee passed a plank opposing Agenda 21 and describing it as a “destructive and insidious scheme” to impose “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth.” The state of Alabama passed a law barring any policies traceable to Agenda 21 without “due process.”

The radical right last year produced more than its fair share of political violence. Most dramatically, a neo-Nazi gunman stormed into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, murdering six people before killing himself. In Georgia, meanwhile, officials arrested 10 people, most of them active-duty military, who were allegedly part of a plot to take over the Army’s Fort Stewart, among many other things. The group is accused of murdering two former members suspected of talking.

Then, this January, an Alabama high school student was arrested for allegedly plotting to attack his black and gay classmates and bomb his school. Former friends of the student said he and a group of up to 11 other students regularly shouted “white power” and gave stiff-arm Nazi salutes in the halls of their Seale, Ala., school but were ignored by school officials and security officers.

These were only the latest incidents of just over 100 domestic radical-right plots, conspiracies and racist rampages that the SPLC has counted since the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 men, women and children dead in 1995.

Now, it seems likely that the radical right’s growth will continue. In 2012, before Obama’s re-election and the Newtown, Conn., massacre, the rate of Patriot growth had slackened somewhat, although it remained significant. Anger over the idea of four more years under a black, Democratic president — and, even more explosively, the same kinds of gun control efforts that fueled the militia movement of the 1990s — seems already to be fomenting another Patriot spurt.

Even before the election last year, self-described Patriots sounded ready for action. “Our Federal Government is just a tool of International Socialism now, operating under UN Agendas not our American agenda,” the United States Patriots Union wrote last year in a letter “sent to ALL conservative state legislators, all states.” “This means that freedom and liberty must be defended by the states under their Constitutional Balance of Power, or we are headed to Civil War wherein the people will have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.”

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/antigovernment-patriot-movement-expands-fourth-year-row

Links:
[1] http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/intrep.jsp
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/mark-potok
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/patriot-movment
[4] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

We must change – Uptown Neighborhood News, Jan 2013

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson, Uptown Neighborhood News, January 2013

“We must change.”

President Barack Obama clearly and emphatically stated this at the December 16 prayer vigil for vic­tims of the shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Connecticut.

This public declaration was prompted by the tragic, senseless killing of 26 people, including 20 first-grade school children, with an assault rifle designed for combat on a battlefield. That this lethal weapon came to be fired at astonishing speed at innocent children in a classroom says volumes about our country’s misplaced priorities and broken political system.

Examining the history of the proliferation of guns, including those with no discernible civilian purpose, and the dismal failure of gun control initiatives, can serve as a case study for how things happen, and don’t happen, in the political/governmental process.

In a word – power.

The legislative, legal and regulative systems are absurdly complex enabling convoluted thinking and barely legal tactics to prevail by those who amass the power to get what they want. In this case power is wielded primarily by the National Rifle Association that is richly funded by all facets of the firearms industry from manufacturers to retailers like Walmart.

Financial power translates into political power that can be used to help elect Members of Congress who are friendly to their agenda and, perhaps more dangerously, to aggressively work against those who resist following in lockstep. Targeting and defeating, often humiliating, a few non–compliant representatives sends a powerful message. Intimidation is one of the key strategies used by the National Rifle Association, as well as many other special interest groups.

The gun lobby cites the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution to justify and legalize its demands:

The Second Amendment:  A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

That’s all it says.

At the time this Amendment was adopted regular citizens had to be ready to defend the new nation. Rifles at the time were slow and clumsy. It is preposterous to claim the founders intended to legalize the right for any person to obtain, through purchase or theft, a weapon that can kill 26 people in a matter of minutes. This is not maintaining a well-regulated militia, it’s a breakdown in our civilization.

The tragedy in Newtown brings into sharp focus one major crisis – gun violence. The solutions to countless other critical national and international problems including climate change, childhood poverty and, closely related to this tragedy, adequate provision of mental health services are impeded by similar abuse of power in the political system. A disgusting, real aspect of our democratic system and one we must confront head-on.

At the prayer vigil in Newtown, President Obama went on talk about how our responsibility to our children must be our nation’s top priority. He said “this job of keep­ing our chil­dren safe and teach­ing them well is some­thing we can only do together, with the help of friends and neigh­bors, the help of a com­mu­nity and the help of a nation….We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this…”

Surely, we can and must do better than this in keeping our children safe as well as housed, fed and educated. That the United States of America is ranked among third world countries on these criteria shows how we are failing at this most critical responsibility.

Again, about power.

“I’ll use what­ever power this office holds to engage my fel­low cit­i­zens, from law enforce­ment, to men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, to par­ents and edu­ca­tors, in an effort aimed at pre­vent­ing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine,” said the President.

We individuals have enormous power if we take our responsibility as citizens seriously and organize to change America. The power of citizens working for the common good can overcome the power of money and special interests. Now is the time.

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

More commentary from various sources related to the nexus of culture, politics, religion, spiritualty and intellect can be found at www.ProgressiveValues.org.

Phyllis Stenerson is the previous Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News and lives in the CARAG neighborhood.

So You Think You Know the Second Amendment?

by Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker, December 18, 2012

Does the Second Amendment prevent Congress from passing gun-control laws? The question, which is suddenly pressing, in light of the reaction to the school massacre in Newtown, is rooted in politics as much as law.

For more than a hundred years, the answer was clear, even if the words of the amendment itself were not. The text of the amendment is divided into two clauses and is, as a whole, ungrammatical: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The courts had found that the first part, the “militia clause,” trumped the second part, the “bear arms” clause. In other words, according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.

Enter the modern National Rifle Association. Before the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. had been devoted mostly to non-political issues, like gun safety. But a coup d’état at the group’s annual convention in 1977 brought a group of committed political conservatives to power—as part of the leading edge of the new, more rightward-leaning Republican Party. (Jill Lepore recounted this history in a recent piece for The New Yorker.) The new group pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms. It was an uphill struggle. At first, their views were widely scorned. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was no liberal, mocked the individual-rights theory of the amendment as “a fraud.”

But the N.R.A. kept pushing—and there’s a lesson here. Conservatives often embrace “originalism,” the idea that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed when it was ratified, in 1787. They mock the so-called liberal idea of a “living” constitution, whose meaning changes with the values of the country at large. But there is no better example of the living Constitution than the conservative re-casting of the Second Amendment in the last few decades of the twentieth century. (Reva Siegel, of Yale Law School, elaborates on this point in a brilliant article.)

The re-interpretation of the Second Amendment was an elaborate and brilliantly executed political operation, inside and outside of government. Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 brought a gun-rights enthusiast to the White House. At the same time, Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, became chairman of an important subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he commissioned a report that claimed to find “clear—and long lost—proof that the second amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.” The N.R.A. began commissioning academic studies aimed at proving the same conclusion. An outré constitutional theory, rejected even by the establishment of the Republican Party, evolved, through brute political force, into the conservative conventional wisdom.

And so, eventually, this theory became the law of the land. In District of Columbia v. Heller, decided in 2008, the Supreme Court embraced the individual-rights view of the Second Amendment. It was a triumph above all for Justice Antonin Scalia, the author of the opinion, but it required him to craft a thoroughly political compromise. In the eighteenth century, militias were proto-military operations, and their members had to obtain the best military hardware of the day. But Scalia could not create, in the twenty-first century, an individual right to contemporary military weapons—like tanks and Stinger missiles. In light of this, Scalia conjured a rule that said D.C. could not ban handguns because “handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.”

So the government cannot ban handguns, but it can ban other weapons—like, say, an assault rifle—or so it appears. The full meaning of the court’s Heller opinion is still up for grabs. But it is clear that the scope of the Second Amendment will be determined as much by politics as by the law. The courts will respond to public pressure—as they did by moving to the right on gun control in the last thirty years. And if legislators, responding to their constituents, sense a mandate for new restrictions on guns, the courts will find a way to uphold them. The battle over gun control is not just one of individual votes in Congress, but of a continuing clash of ideas, backed by political power. In other words, the law of the Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the Constitution, ever is.

Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty.
Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/12/jeffrey-toobin-second-amendment.html?printable=true&currentPage=all#ixzz2FQCSfzPS

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre Has Blood on His Hands

AlterNet [1] / By Peter Drier [2]  ecember 15, 2012  |

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has a 62-page list of mass shootings in America since 2005. It is Wayne LaPierre’s resume.

For the past 21 years, LaPierre has been the National Rifle Association’s executive Vice President and chief political strategist.

It is tempting to say that these shootings—including the most recent one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday—reflect something basically wrong with American culture or the nation’s very soul. But the majority of Americans favor strict gun control laws. No, let’s not burden Americans with collective guilt. The problem is more narrow—and more fixable—than that.

The long list of killings is due in large measure to the political influence of the NRA—and the campaign finance system that allows the gun lobby to exercise so much power. But an outraged and mobilized public can beat the NRA’s clout and pressure Congress to put strong limits on gun sales.

The blood of the 27 victims of the Connecticut shooting, including 20 young children, is on LaPierre’s hands. Of course, LaPierre didn’t pull the trigger, but he’s the NRA’s hit man when it comes to intimidating elected officials to oppose any kind of gun control and the nation’s most vocal advocate of gun owner rights.

There should be special place in hell reserved for LaPierre. He likes to fulminate about gun owners’ rights. But so far he’s has been silent on the nation’s most recent gun massacre.

The NRA not only lobbies on behalf of “stand your ground” laws, but also offers insurance to members to pay for the legal costs of shooting people in “self-defense.” The NRA also defends the right of Americans to carry concealed weapons, including handguns.

Adam Lanza—the 20-year old man who walked into the Connecticut school shot his victims with a semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle—is no doubt deranged. He’s not alone. There are lots of crazy people around. But if we make it easy for them to obtain guns, they are more likely to translate their psychological problems into dangerous and deadly anti-social behavior.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011 there were 15,953 murders in the United States and 11,101 (30 a day) were caused by firearms. Suicides and unintentional shootings account for another 20,000 deaths by guns each year. Of course, many more people are injured—some seriously and permanently—by gun violence.

The shooting in the Connecticut school was not an isolated incident. We’ve almost become used to a regular diet of gun-toting rampages. The most visible of them—like Columbine, the Virginia Tech killings, the murders in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and the Arizona shooting that nearly claimed the life of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and left six others dead—stick in our minds, but there are many others. Even more Americans are killed each year in one-on-one shootings.

Until we tame the power of the NRA, we can expect more killings like this.

The NRA has two knee-jerk responses to this. The first is that the Second Amendment gives all Americans the right to possess guns of all kinds—not just hunting rifles but machine guns and semi-automatics. Efforts to restrict gun sales and ownership is, according to the NRA, an assault on our constitutional freedoms.

The second is the cliché that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” To the NRA, gun laws have nothing to do with the epidemic of gun-related killings.

Both of these arguments are bogus, but the NRA has the money and membership (4 million) to translate these idiot ideas into political clout to thwart even reasonable gun-control laws.

Most gun-related deaths are committed by people who purchase their weapons legally. Others purchase or steal them illegally, but their ability to get access to guns is due to our lax laws on gun ownership. LaPierre’s job is to make it easier for people to buy and use guns. And so far he’s been very successful. Since the 1994 assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, Congress hasn’t enacted any major gun regulations.

It is no accident that the United States ranks first in the world—by a wide margin—in gun-related civilian deaths and injuries. Compared with every other democracy, we have the most guns per capita and the weakest gun laws. But the danger isn’t simply the number of guns; it is the type of guns we allow people to legally purchase. Other countries permit hunting rifles. But many Americans believe it is their right to own an assault weapon.

Even in countries with strong gun-control laws, some people will get their hands on a weapon and destroy others’ lives. The tragic killing in Norway last year is testament to this reality. (Although let’s recall that Anders Breivik bought $550 worth of 30-round ammunition clips from an American gun supplier for the rifle he used to kill 69 Norwegian kids at a summer camp. Thanks to American laws, it was a legal online purchase.) But the shooting in Norway was an infrequent occurrence; it is, in fact, one of the safest countries in the world. In contrast, the U.S. is off the charts in terms of murder rates.

In other well-off democratic countries, gun violence is rare and shocking. According to the recent comparative figures, the US had five murders for every 100,000 inhabitants. Finland was next with only 2.3 murders per 100,000 residents, followed by Canada (1.8), Belgium (1.7), France (1.3), England and Australia (both 1.2), Netherlands (1.1), Sweden (1.0), Germany (0.8), Norway (0.6) and Japan and Austria (both 0.5). In other words, America’s murder rate is more than eight times greater than Norway’s.

The news media will spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to figure out what was in Lanza’s head before he put on his protective gear, carried two guns into the Connecticut school, and began his shooting rampage. Although the psychology and motives of the murderer may be fascinating, it should not be the major focus. There are plenty of deranged people in the world, but in most well-off countries they can’t easily get their hands on a firearm.

Here’s where the NRA comes in. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1990, the gun rights lobby, led by the NRA, has contributed $29.2 million to candidates for Congress and the White House, 87% of it to Republicans. In the most recent election cycle, gun rights groups donated $3.1 million to political candidates and spent another $5.5 million in lobbying.

In contrast, since 1990 gun control groups have donated only $1.9 million to politicians, 94% to Democrats. In the most recent election cycle, these groups contributed only $4,000 to candidates and spent only $420,00 on lobbying.

Of course, Democrats are not immune from the NRA’s influence. This summer, 17 House Democrats recently voted in favor of criminal contempt for Attorney General Eric Holder for his oversight of ‘Operation Fast and Furious’. Not surprisingly, each of them received campaign contributions from the NRA in the previous two election cycles.

At the top of the gun rights food-chain is the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. It is hard to know if he’s mentally unstable but he’s certainly crazy like a fox (and Fox News). For example, LaPierre gave a speech earlier this year to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in which he said that President Obama was part of a “conspiracy to ensure re-election by lulling gun owners to sleep.”

LaPierre added: “All that first term, lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.” He also warned that everything that “gun owners across America have fought to achieve over the past three decades could be lost” if Obama won a second term.

Well, Obama did win a second term. In a statement soon after the Connecticut massacre, Obama called for “meaningful action” to curb gun violence. “Meaningful action” does not mean educating young people about bullying and violence. It does not mean instructing gun owners to be more responsible. It does not mean, as Mike Huckabee suggested on Friday, restoring God in our schools. It means pushing for strong gun control laws.

If Obama does take this kind of leadership, he will have the backing of an overwhelming proportion of Americans who support stricter guns laws. For example, 82% of Americans support limiting the sales of military-style assault weapons. Also, 87% of Americans support background checks on private sales of guns, including sales at gun shows. And 79% support requiring a police permit before the purchase of a gun. A majority of Americans oppose the NRA’s top federal legislative priority—national reciprocity for concealed carry permits—which would allow people to enter any state with a concealed, loaded gun even if they fail to meet local permitting requirements. Not surprising, almost all (94%) police chiefs favor requiring criminal background checks for all handgun sales.

Although the NRA likes to portray itself as representing grassroots gun owners, the bulk of its money comes from gun manufacturers. LaPierre does not speak for America’s gun owners. He is a corporate lobbyist. In fact, a majority of gun owners support stricter gun laws.

Every American grieves for the families and friends of the people killed and injured in the Connecticut shooting. But until we tame the power of the NRA, we can expect more killings like this, as well as the deadly daily diet of murders throughout America committed by angry and in some cases crazy gun-toting people whose “freedom” to own weapons of mass destruction LaPierre defends.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/nras-wayne-lapierre-has-blood-his-hands

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/peter-drier
[3] http://www.alternet.org/tags/guns-0
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/nra
[5] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Why America Can’t Pass Gun Control

By Steven Hill and Robert Richie, The Atlantic, December 2012

Hint: It’s not the NRA or a gun-loving culture.

The horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., is the latest grisly episode in what has become a muted debate in the United States: what to do about gun violence and well-armed mass murderers. But we will make a prediction: Even in the face of this national tragedy, President Obama will have little success enacting substantive gun control.

Here’s why: Obama can read the political map as well as anyone, and he knows that, just as in the past after previous brutal tragedies, the politics of gun control rest on complicated terrain. Many gun control advocates blame the lack of policy action on America’s gun-loving culture and the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), but that’s too simplistic. Already in the wake of the Newtown carnage we have seen a slew of pundits drawing the wrong conclusions, just as they have after previous tragedies.

Sure, Americans like their guns more than other nations, but polls often have shown a majority of Americans wanting more gun control, with two-thirds calling for more regulation following the Columbine massacre in 1999. But the political system – including the Democratic Party — has failed to respond. And it’s not because Democrats and Obama are afraid of the NRA’s deep pockets, as so many pundits are wrongly concluding. Quite the contrary, the NRA has money because it is powerful, not the other way around. And the NRA is powerful because it is clever at working the clunky architecture of our political system, which gives immense clout to a tiny slice of swing voters in a handful of congressional districts.

To understand the importance of this factor, Obama and gun control advocates have to grapple with the fact that Mitt Romney carried 228 out of 435 House districts (52.4 percent) despite losing the national popular vote to Obama by 4 points. According to an analysis by FairVote, the median House district (the 218th) is one that leans 52 percent Republican. Cook Political Report analysis found that of the 234 Republicans elected to the 435-seat U.S. House in November, fully 219 came from districts that were carried by Mitt Romney. That means that these Republicans don’t need to worry much about challenges from the left or accommodating the president over the next two years. It also means that Democrats will have a very steep uphill climb to retake the House in 2014, since their candidates would have to run well ahead of their presidential nominee in at least a dozen Republican-leaning districts.

Just like our recent presidential election was settled in only a handful of battleground states, control of the U.S. House of Representatives comes down to only about 35 districts — fewer than 10 percent of the 435 districts — every two years. That gives overwhelming power to undecided voters who live in these swing districts, many of which are rural and conservative-leaning. This set-up also gives enormous power to the NRA, because many NRA members live in these rural swing districts.

So the Democrats and Obama know that the NRA doesn’t have clout because it has lots of money — it spent $18 million in congressional elections in 2012 — but the contrary. The NRA has money because it has clout. And it has clout because it has a lot of votes in key battleground House districts and battleground states voting for president and U.S. senators.

Back in 2000, Republican strategist and NRA board member Grover Norquist summed it up nicely, saying, “The question is intensity versus preference. You can always get a certain percentage to say they are in favor of some gun controls. But are they going to vote on their ‘control’ position?” Though many voters back gun control, says Norquist, their support doesn’t really motivate them when they go to the polls. “But for that 4-5 percent who care about guns, they will vote on this.”

Things have hardly changed since Norquist made those comments. The NRA’s job is made easier because it can target its resources at the three dozen swing districts like a military strategist dividing quadrants on a battlefield. That allows a small number of NRA voters to form a potent single-issue voting bloc, since a change in 5 percent of the vote in any swing district can make all the difference. The NRA has power not so much because of its deep pockets but because of the fundamental design of our geographic-based political map in which representatives are elected in single-seat, winner-take-all districts.

Many Democrats believe that strong support for gun control has cost their party key elections in such rural states as West Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. They believe that Al Gore lost the presidential election in 2000 in his home state of Tennessee because he was on the wrong side of this issue.

That led to Democrats ducking and even pandering on this issue. Who can forget the ridiculous sight of John Kerry trumpeting his own prowess as a gun owner when he ran for president in 2004. When Democrats regained the House after the 2006 elections, they did so largely based on victories by Democrats winning in Republican-leaning districts. Knowing that support for gun control could cause them to lose their race, no matter how broad national support was, most of those winning Democrats backed the NRA positions. And in his first term, President Obama continued the Democratic duck, not even pushing to reauthorize the lapsed ban on semi-automatic weapons.

The reality is that the dynamics of winner-take-all elections allow gun control opponents to form a potent single-issue voting bloc that far outweighs their minority status — much like anti-Castro Cubans in Florida have pushed Democrats as well as Republicans to go hard on Castro. Despite lobbying from his liberal constituency, Obama has not fundamentally changed the Cold War era policy towards Cuba, due to fear of how that would play among a key bloc of swing voters in a key presidential swing state. Democrats know how to count not only votes but swing votes, whether in battleground states or battleground House districts.

That gives pro-gun swing voters and their advocates like the NRA tremendous influence in our political system. American pundits and political scientists often portray multiparty democracies elected by proportional representation, such as in Italy and Israel, as being beholden to tiny political parties of extremists who hold their governments hostage. Yet they fail to recognize how the dynamics of our own winner-take-all electoral politics allow well-organized political minorities such as those represented by the NRA to mobilize anti-gun control swing voters to push a radical agenda on the mainstream.

Looking ahead to 2014, control of the House once again will come down to the outcome of 35 or so close races. To earn a House majority, Democrats will need to sweep nearly all of them,  largely in districts where a pro-gun control position doesn’t play well. The math of the 2014 election is daunting, since Democrats can’t win control of the U.S. House without winning more than a dozen districts where Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama in 2012 — and that assumes that the Democrats sweep all 207 districts carried by Obama. So this dilemma for President Obama and the Democrats will not be settled easily.

Obama might manage to use the passion unleashed by this latest tragedy to re-authorize the ban on semi-automatic weapons. But any hope that he will lead an effort to enact substantive gun control is pure fantasy. Tragically so. When it comes to gun policy and the House, demography is destiny.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/12/why-america-cant-pass-gun-control/266417/

Copyright © 2012 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

History of gun-control legislation

Washington Post, December 22, 2012

1934

Spurred by the bloody “Tommy gun” era ushered in by Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, seen at right, President Franklin D. Roosevelt mounts a “New Deal for Crime.” One part of it is the National Firearms Act of 1934, the first federal gun-control law, which levies a restrictive $200 tax on the manufacture or sale of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. All sales were to be recorded in a national registry.

1938

Roosevelt wins approval of the National Firearms Act of 1938, which requires the licensing of interstate gun dealers, who must record their sales. It prohibits sales to individuals under indictment or convicted of crimes of violence.

1968

Spurred by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President Lyndon B. Johnson renews the fight for gun control. He wins passage of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and the Gun Control Act of 1968, which becomes the primary federal law regulating firearms. It prohibits all convicted felons, drug users and the mentally ill from buying guns; raises the age to purchase handguns from a federally licensed dealer to 21; and expands the licensing requirements to more gun dealers and requires more detailed record-keeping.

1986

Prompted by complaints that the federal government has been abusing its power to enforce gun laws, Congress passes the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. The law limits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from inspecting gun dealers more than once a year, with follow-up inspections allowed only if multiple violations are found. An amendment is also passed banning civilian ownership of machine guns manufactured after May 19, 1986. Weapons made and registered before that date are not affected. The law specifically forbids the government from creating a national registry of gun ownership.

1993

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 mandates background checks of gun buyers in order to prevent sales to people prohibited under the 1968 legislation. Checks would eventually occur through a new system, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), maintained by the FBI. But records of such checks cannot be preserved because federal law prohibits the creation of a national registry of gun ownership. Sales by unlicensed private sellers who are not engaged in gun dealing as a business are not subject to the checks under federal law, though they are required by some states.

1994

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 produces a 10-year federal ban on the manufacture of new semi-automatic assault weapons. The law specifies 19 weapons that have the features of assault rifles, including the AR-15, certain versions of the AK-47, the TEC-9, the MAC-10 and the Uzi, several of which had become the preferred weapon of violent drug gangs. The act also bans large-capacity ammunition magazines, limiting them to 10 rounds. The law does not apply to weapons that were already in legal possession, and there are easy ways to adapt new weapons to avoid the prohibitions.

2003

In a victory for the NRA, Congress passes the Tiahrt Amendment to a federal spending bill. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), prohibits law enforcement from publicly releasing data showing where criminals bought their firearms.

2004

The 10-year sunset provision of the assault weapons ban runs its course, and the law is not renewed by Congress. Repeated efforts to renew the ban fail.

2005

President George W. Bush signs the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which grants gun manufacturers immunity from civil lawsuits filed over crimes committed with firearms. The law killed a legal strategy being pursued by gun-control advocates to hold manufacturers responsible for the negative effects of their products. A similar strategy had proved effective against tobacco companies.

2008

The Supreme Court in the District of Columbia v. Heller holds that Americans have an individual right under the Second Amendment to possess firearms in federal enclaves “for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” The ruling strikes down a local law banning handguns in the District.

2012

Eighteen years after the Brady law is passed, the 156 millionth background check is performed under the law. The number of gun sales rejected through federal denials reaches nearly a million. President Obama vows to impose new limits on guns and ammunition in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/history-of-gun-control-legislation/2012/12/22/80c8d624-4ad3-11e2-9a42-d1ce6d0ed278_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

 

President Obama’s speech at prayer vigil for Newtown shooting victims

By Washington Post Staff, Published: December 16

Full transcript of President Obama’s remarks at a Dec. 16 prayer vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

OBAMA: Thank you.

Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests, scripture tells us, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.

“For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.

And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch. They did not hesitate.

Dawn Hocksprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy, they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances, with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms and kept steady through it all and reassured their students by saying, “Wait for the good guys, they are coming. Show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came, the first responders who raced to the scene helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and their own trauma, because they had a job to do and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, “I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out.”

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

You know, all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question.

Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of, and that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home.

For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort, and may He bless and watch over this community and the United States of America.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-speech-at-prayer-vigil-for-newtown-shooting-victims-full-transcript/2012/12/16/f764bf8a-47dd-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

In Public ‘Conversation’ on Guns, a Rhetorical Shift

By NATE SILVER, December 14, 2012

Friday’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has already touched off a heated political debate. Opponents of stricter regulation on gun ownership have accused their adversaries of politicizing a tragedy. Advocates of more sweeping gun control measures have argued that the Connecticut shootings are a demonstration that laxer gun laws can have dire consequences. Let me sidestep the debate to pose a different question: How often are Americans talking about public policy toward guns? And what language are they using to frame their arguments?

There is, of course, no way to monitor the conversations that take place in living rooms around the country. But we can measure the frequency with which phrases related to gun policy are used by the news media.

If the news coverage is any guide, there has been a change of tone in recent years in the public conversation about guns. The two-word phrase “gun control” is being used considerably less often than it was 10 or 20 years ago. But the phrase “gun rights” is being used more often. And the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is being invoked more frequently in the discussion.

In the chart below, I’ve tracked the number of news articles that used the terms “gun control,” “gun rights,” “gun violence” and “Second Amendment” in American newspapers, according to the database NewsLibrary.com. (Because the number of articles in the database changes over time, the figures are normalized to reflect the overall volume of database coverage in any given year, with the numbers representing how often the gun-related phrases were used per 1,000 articles on any subject.)

The usage of all four phrases, but particularly the term “gun control,” has been subject to sharp but temporary shifts based on news events.

In 1993 and 1994, when Congress was debating a ban on assault weapons, the phrase “gun control” was used about three times per 1,000 news articles. Use of the term was even higher after the mass shootings in Columbine, Colo., peaking at 3.7 instances per 1,000 articles in 1999. It reached a low point in 2010, when the term “gun control” was used 0.3 times per 1,000 articles — less than one-tenth as often as in the year after the Columbine shootings.

Averaging the frequency of usage over a five-year period reduces the effect of these news-driven fluctuations and reveals a reasonably clear long-term trend. In recent years, the term “gun control” has been used only about half as often as it was in the 1980s and about one-quarter as often as in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But other phrases related to gun policy have become more common in news coverage.

The term “Second Amendment” was rarely employed in the 1980s, but it has become much more commonplace since then. (Since 2008, the term “Second Amendment” has been used more often than “gun control.”) A related phrase, “gun rights,” has also come into more common usage.

The term “gun violence” peaked in 1999, the year of the Columbine shootings. But it has also been on a long-term increase. Since 2010, it has been used 0.33 times per 1,000 news articles — far more often than during the 1980s, when it was invoked 0.02 times per 1,000 articles.

The change in rhetoric may reflect the increasing polarization in the debate over gun policy. “Gun control,” a relatively neutral term, has been used less and less often. But more politically charged phrases, like “gun violence” and “gun rights,” have become more common. Those who advocate greater restrictions on gun ownership may have determined that their most persuasive argument is to talk about the consequences of increased access to guns — as opposed to the weedy debate about what rights the Second Amendment may or may not convey to gun owners. For opponents of stricter gun laws, the debate has increasingly become one about Constitutional protections. Certainly, many opponents of gun control measures also argue that efforts to restrict gun ownership could backfire in various ways or will otherwise fail to reduce violence. But broadly speaking, they would prefer that the debate be about what they see as Constitutional rights, rather than the utilitarian consequences of gun control measures.

Their strategy may have been working. The polling evidence suggests that the public has gone from tending to back stricter gun control policies to a more ambiguous position in recent years. There may be some voters who think that the Constitution provides broad latitude to own and carry guns – even if the consequences can sometimes be tragic.

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/in-public-conversation-on-guns-a-rhetorical-shift/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121215

How the Right Has Twisted the 2nd Amendment

Consortium News [1] / By Robert Parry [2] December 15, 2012

The American Right is fond of putting itself inside the minds of America’s Founders and intuiting what was their “original intent” in writing the U.S. Constitution and its early additions, like the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms.” But, surely, James Madison and the others weren’t envisioning people with modern weapons mowing down children in a movie theater or a shopping mall or now a kindergarten.

Indeed, when the Second Amendment was passed in the First Congress as part of the Bill of Rights, firearms were single-shot mechanisms that took time to load and reload. It was also clear that Madison and the others viewed the “right to bear arms” in the context of “a well-regulated militia” to defend communities from massacres, not as a means to enable such massacres.

The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Thus, the point of the Second Amendment is to ensure “security,” not undermine it.

The massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, which followed other gun massacres in towns and cities across the country, represents the opposite of “security.” And it is time that Americans of all political persuasions recognize that protecting this kind of mass killing was not what the Founders had in mind.

However, over the past several decades, self-interested right-wing “scholarship” has sought to reinvent the Framers as free-market, government-hating ideologues, though the key authors of the U.S. Constitution – people like James Madison and George Washington – could best be described as pragmatic nationalists who favored effective governance.

In 1787, led by Madison and Washington, the Constitutional Convention scrapped the Articles of Confederation, which had enshrined the states as “sovereign” and had made the federal government a “league of friendship” with few powers.

What happened behind closed doors in Philadelphia was a reversal of the system that governed the United States from 1777 to 1787. The laws of the federal government were made supreme and its powers were dramatically strengthened, so much so that a movement of Anti-Federalists fought bitterly to block ratification.

In the political maneuvering to assure approval of the new system, Madison and other Federalists agreed to add a Bill of Rights to ease some of the fears about what Anti-Federalists regarded as the unbridled powers of the central government. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative [3].]

Madison had considered a Bill of Rights unnecessary because the Constitution, like all constitutions, set limits on the government’s power and it contained no provisions allowing the government to infringe on basic liberties of the people. But he assented to spell out those rights in the first 10 amendments, which were passed by the First Congress and ratified in 1791.

The intent of the Second Amendment was clarified during the Second Congress when the U.S. government enacted the Militia Acts, which mandated that all white males of military age obtain a musket, shot and other equipment for service in militias.

The idea was to enable the young country to resist aggression from European powers, to confront Native American tribes on the frontier and to put down internal rebellions, including slave revolts. There was nothing particularly idealistic in this provision; the goal was the “security” of the young nation.

However, the modern American Right and today’s arms industry have devoted enormous resources to twisting the Framers into extremist ideologues who put “liberties” like individual gun ownership ahead of all practical concerns about “security.”

This propaganda has proved so successful that many politicians who favor common-sense gun control are deemed violators of the Framers’ original intent, as essentially un-American, and face defeat in elections. The current right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has even overturned longstanding precedents and reinterpreted the Second Amendment as granting rights of individual gun ownership.

But does anyone really believe that Madison and like-minded Framers would have stood by and let deranged killers mow down civilians, including children, by using guns vastly more lethal than any that existed in the Revolutionary era? If someone had wielded a single-shot musket or pistol in 1791, the person might get off one volley but would then have to reload. No one had repeat-firing revolvers, let alone assault rifles with large magazines of bullets.

Any serious scholarship on the Framers would conclude that they were, first and foremost, pragmatists determined to protect the hard-won independence of the United States. When the states’-rights Articles of Confederation wasn’t doing the job, they scrapped it. When compromises were needed – even on the vile practice of slavery – the Framers cut the deals.

While the Framers cared about liberty (at least for white men), they focused in the Constitution on practicality, creating a flexible system that would advance the “general Welfare” of “We the People.”

It is madness to think that the Framers would have mutely accepted the slaughter of kindergarteners and grade-school kids (or the thousands of other American victims of gun violence). Such bloody insecurity was definitely not their “original intent.”

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/how-right-has-twisted-2nd-amendment

Links:
[1] http://www.consortiumnews.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-parry
[3] https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1868/t/12126/shop/shop.jsp?storefront_KEY=1037
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/2nd-amendment
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/connecticut
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/sandy-hook
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/shooting-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/security-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/safety-0
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/protection
[11] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B