Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Violence Lobby

I spent several years in the 90s working on gun control. Almost made it a profession. Along the way, I had some successes and learned a lot: for example, the campaign (unsuccessful) to fend off the Connecticut assault weapons ban was coordinated from Dade County, Florida--at the time the main U.S. entry point for cocaine. The gun lobby is the professional criminals' lobby--and they carry the amateurs like the Aurora killer along with them.

For decades--from the 1880s through the 1940s--Congress failed to pass a bill against lynching. Lynching is plain and simple murder. It set law and order at naught and brutalized and debased an entire region, the American South. It should hardly be necessary to outlaw murder, but the extrajudicial murder of black people had the sanction of society--or rather, the sanction of those who were prepared to use lethal violence.

Thus it was not just "politics" that prevented passage of an anti-lynching law. It's never just politics when lethal violence and the threat of violence is employed.

More after the jump.

Joanne asked me at dinner last night: "Why is the NRA so powerful?" It's not just because they have sophisticated quick-response member outreach and a powerful media presence. It's also that they  represent extreme people with guns. I recounted to Joanne a conversation I had with a Waterbury legislator whom I lobbied for the assault weapons ban.  He sympathized with my issue, he allowed. But then he told me about being accosted in a bar by a constituent who was frothing-at-the-mouth angry at him about something, and emphasized that he had a gun. Although the representative didn't put it quite this way, he was so scared he nearly peed his pants. Some guys will threaten a politician with a ballot; others with a bullet. Who's scarier?

Historians and social scientists argue that one of the principal markers of the advancement of civilization is that the government maintains a monopoly on deadly force. Thanks to the gun lobby, this is no longer so in the United States--explicitly so in the numerous states with "stand-your-ground" laws.   In a country where you can legally kill if you feel threatened, government becomes de facto the man with a gun. Effectively, we live in a vigilanarchy: rule by--or rather anarchy by--vigilantes.

Sixteen years ago, Congress passed a ban on the private ownership of semiautomatic weapons; now, there is not even a hint of a debate about restricting high-capacity magazines, which turn every shooter into a potential mass murderer. You cannot simultaneously believe in the supremacy of government and the right of private individuals to own 100-round magazines. And to their credit, most hard-core gun rights activists are fairly up-front about their contempt for government. 

Just because they have a contempt for government, however, doesn't mean they don't want to control it. It is highly significant that the NRA made last week's failed Senate vote on disclosure of campaign contributors a litmus test. Why is a vote for transparency in campaign money a vote against the gun lobby? 

Work on that.

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