The pro-gun activists are a slippery bunch. They understand the nuances that shape public conversation and exploit them to their greatest benefit. They are expert marketers. They make beaucoup sales.
Remember when Kentucky Fried Chicken became simply KFC? By changing the name of their restaurant, they changed the unhealthy perception that every delicious bite was not-so-slowly killing you. They took “fried” right out of the title, kept the Colonel’s famous recipe, and reaped healthy profits.
The NRA has employed similar tactics. By getting ahead of the public conversation, they are able to shape the discourse away from the horror of children being brutally murdered in their primary-colored classrooms with slogans like “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” It’s so catchy that even as it’s proven false, over and over again, shamefully and needlessly, it gets repeated.
They have doubled down on the pro-gun rhetoric in the wake of the Isla Vista mass killing that left a young Christopher Martinez, and six others including the shooter, dead. Martinez’s father Richard has brought a media blitz to his cause with his simple plea of #notonemore.
It’s a straightforward appeal for rational thinking about guns. He implores the people of this nation to consider the rights of those to live above those who believe it is their right to shoot. It is a father’s plea, absent of political speech.
Which is why, I suppose, I reacted so strongly to a Salon article I read recently, which discussedhow media outlets are redefining what they consider to be school shootings.
The crux of the controversy is the Michael Bloomberg gun control group “Everytown for Gun Safety” that has been compiling school shooting data since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Some of that data has come under fire as stretching what constitutes as a “school shooting,” such as suicides or gang activity or after-hours gun deaths. These incidents don’t fit the profile of what’s been commonly accepted as a school shooting. CNN, and others, have taken umbrage to this.
I take umbrage to their taking umbrage. Because what we have here is not a numbers game, or a policy issue, or even politics. It’s not about the accuracy of reporting, it’s about syntax. It’s about the vernacular. It’s about saying that people getting shot nearly every day in this violent country isn’t as important as how we define it. It’s about diverting the conversation from the personal horrors that plague us as a country to rhetoric, removing us, bit by bit, from the actuality of the bloodshed.
And it works.
So instead of a lengthy op-ed on the merits or weaknesses of this argument, I say we go another way. Meet it head on. With a tiny detour.
If we are to redefine “school shootings,” I think definitions are fair game. Let’s call things what they are. Let’s lay it all out on the table.
Here are two definitions:
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
2. a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest.
These two definitions come from different places, yet both have similar aims. The second one, however, does not count among it terrifying the population in order to achieve their political means. And that’s what the NRA does. By instilling fear in the public that more and more weaponry is needed to protect ourselves from outside threats, they do more than inflate their bottom line: they redefine how our lives are led. They change the culture.
Words are powerful enough to influence radical changes. Gun owners are now storming Targets, Chipotle, and Starbucks in Texas, citing the open-carry mantra “a right unexercised is a right lost.”
The right they refer to—gun ownership, open-carry laws and unclosed loopholes that allow nearly anyone to purchase any type of weaponry undetected in some states—are fed by fear instilled by genius marketers who sell the public on the idea that they are constantly being threatened. This notion directly lines the pockets of the NRA, who, in turn, uses those funds to influence legislation on behalf of their interest.
That second part is from the latter definition of a lobbyist. But the manner in which they do so comes directly from the first. And if we’re calling it like it is, it’s time we incorporate that into our understanding of what the NRA is. The full picture includes the first part, which is the definition of a terrorist group.
I think Richard Martinez would agree.
One avenue of investigation is already closed off to forensic officials working the Boston Marathon bombing case due to efforts dating back decades by the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers.
The FBI said Tuesday that gunpowder, along with pieces of metal and ball bearings, were packed into at least one pressure cooker and another device to make the crude bombs that killed three people—including an 8-year-old boy—and wounded more than 170 more during the Boston Marathon Monday.
But a crucial piece of evidence called a taggant that could be used to trace the gunpowder used in the bombs to a buyer at a point of sale is not available to investigators.
“If you had a good taggant this would be a good thing for this kind of crime. It could help identify the point of manufacturer, and chain of custody,” Bob Morhard, an explosives consultant and chief executive officer of Zukovich, Morhard & Wade, LLC., in Pennsylvania, who has traced explosives and detonators in use in the United States and Saudi Arabia, told MSNBC.com. “The problem is nobody wants to know what the material is.”
Explosives manufacturers are required to place tracing elements known as identification taggants only in plastic explosives but not in gunpowder, thanks to lobbying efforts by the NRA and large gun manufacturing groups.
NRA officials at the group’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia declined to respond to calls and emails from MSNBC.com requesting comment.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, Inc., share a cross-membership of dozens of firearms manufacturers based out of their joint offices in Newtown, Connecticut. Foundation spokesman Bill Brassard, Jr. told MSNBC.com that no one from either group was available for comment.
“They are concerned about tort liability,” Morhard added to MSNBC.com, referring to manufacturers worried about being sued over the improper use of their ammunition or explosives. Worries about the cost of adding taggants to gunpowder were also raised by the Institute of Makers of Explosives. NRA officials seem more concerned about government use of technology to trace either firearms or the gunpowder used to make ammunition. Fear of government use of tracking technologies is also echoed online. “
These taggants would allow the police to identify the maker and even the lot of the ammo by the taggant,” posted blogger dfariswheel online in January in a closed gun-forum called AR15.com, a longstanding group named for the same type of military-style, semi-automatic rifle used in both the Newtown grade school and Aurora movie theater mass shootings.
In the past, the NRA has argued that taggants could affect the trajectory of bullets and would also be a de facto form of weapons registration, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1995.
Yet, one of the NRA’s own “Fact Sheets” from the 1990s on the website of its lobbying wing expresses reservations about taggants but still indicates that they could work.
“Identification taggants are microscopically color-coded particles that, if added to explosives or gun powders during their manufacturing, might facilitate tracing those products after a bombing back to the manufacturer,” reads the 1999 post “Taggants and Gun Powers” by the NRA’s Institute of Legislative Action. “Then, through the use of mandatory distribution records, tracing would continue through wholesaler and dealer levels to an original purchaser or point of theft.”
The same NRA, however, has twice deployed its lobbyists to block the mandated use of identification taggants by gunpowder manufacturers.
The first time came more than thirty years ago, after a wave of bombings in the 1970s mainly by the radical left Weather Underground and Puerto Rican nationalist groups.
A congressional study in 1980 found: “Identification taggants would facilitate the investigation of almost all significant criminal bombings in which commercial explosives were used.”
But the NRA successfully lobbied to have black and smokeless gunpowders exempted from the explosives required to include taggant markers. Members of Congress—including then-New York Rep. Charles Schumer– tried and failed again after the 1993 New York City truck bombing of the World Trade Center. The Clinton administration renewed the call for legislation requiring identifying taggants right after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, whose 18th anniversary is Friday.
The NRA backed a National Research Council committee in 1998 to examine taggant technologies, later claiming the committee found them to be “unfeasible and of uncertain value.” In fact, the committee concluded: “Identification taggants and an associated record-keeping system could be of further assistance in tracking down bombers in cases where basic forensic techniques fail.” The committee added that “additional research on these systems is needed to determine whether they are safe and effective.”
Little or no known public research has been done on the matter since, as the NRA gained more national influence in the 2000s during the administration led by President George W. Bush.
“It was explained that taggants would alter the powder in unsafe ways and that no military or police organization would allow it in their ammo, and that the unknown and unsafe taggants effects would likely cause explosive accidents,” continued dfariswheel in his January post on AR15.com.
Although this online forum is closed to unregistered users, individual threads are still partially visible via Google, which is how MSNBC.com reached this thread’s unique URL address.
“That’s really a stretch,” said Morhard. Some taggants are themselves explosive and others are toxic, even carcinogenic, he added, but the risks are concentrated among employees storing and inserting the taggants into explosive products.
The NRA Only Cares About The Unrestricted Sales of Handguns In The USA
Dan Gross, president of the advocacy group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says the National Rifle Association incites “fear” in people to increase gun sales.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The Brady Campaign counters that in order to curb gun violence, we must “stop the guy from getting a gun in the first place.”
While speaking Friday to HuffPost Live about the social impact of school shootings, Gross said the NRA’s message is “misinformation designed to do one thing and one thing only, which is sell more guns. You know, make no mistake, the leadership for the NRA is just a front for the corporate gun lobby. They could care less about the health and safety of the American public.”
The NRA did not return The Huffington Post’s requests for comment.
Gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety has identified at least 94 school shootings in 33 states since the Newtown massacre, which left 20 children and 6 teachers dead.
Read more about Everytown’s analysis of school shootings here.
The inside story of how an Idaho toddler shot his mom at Wal-Mart
A 2-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed his mother after he reached into her purse at a northern Idaho Wal-Mart and her concealed gun fired, authorities said Tuesday. (AP)
Veronica Rutledge and her husband loved everything about guns. They practiced at shooting ranges. They hunted. And both of them, relatives and friends say, had permits to carry concealed firearms. Veronica typically left her Blackfoot, Idaho, home with her gun nestled at her side. So on Christmas morning last week, her husband gave her a present he hoped would make her life more comfortable: a purse with a special pocket for a concealed weapon.
The day after Christmas, she took her new gift with her on a trip with her husband and her 2-year-old son. They headed hundreds of miles north to the end of a country road where Terry Rutledge, her husband’s father, lived. The father-in-law learned of the new purse.
“It was designed for that purpose — to carry a concealed firearm,” Rutledge told The Washington Post late Tuesday night. “And you had to unzip a compartment to find the handgun.
On Tuesday morning, that was exactly what Veronica Rutledge’s son did — with the most tragic of outcomes. Veronica, 29, arrived at a nearby Wal-Mart in Hayden with her three nieces and son, her gun “zippered closed” inside her new purse, her father-in-law said. Then, in the back of the store, near the electronics section, the purse was left unattended for a moment.
“An inquisitive 2-year-old boy reached into the purse, unzipped the compartment, found the gun and shot his mother in the head,” Rutledge said. “It’s a terrible, terrible incident.”
The aftermath has been crushing, he said. His son went to the Wal-Mart to collect his nieces and son, and no one now is sure what to say to the boy, who is not doing well.
“My son is terrible,” Rutledge said. “He has a 2-year-old boy right now who doesn’t know where his mom is and he’ll have to explain why his mom isn’t coming home. And then, later on his life, as he questions it more, he’ll again have to explain what happened, so we’ll have to relive this several times over.”
Rutledge isn’t just sad — he’s angry. Not at his grandson. Nor at his dead daughter-in-law, “who didn’t have a malicious fiber in her body,” he said. He’s angry at the observers already using the accident as an excuse to grandstand on gun rights.
“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case,” he said. “… I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”
A Wal-Mart in Hayden, Idaho, where a 2-year-old boy shot and killed his mother. (Tess Freeman/Coeur d’Alene Press via AP)
The path Veronica Rutledge charted before her death, friends and family say, was one of academics and small-town, country living. “Hunting, being outdoors and being with her son” was what made her happiest, her friend Rhonda Ellis told The Post. She was raised in northeast Idaho and always excelled at school, former high school classmate Kathleen Phelps said, recalling her as “extremely smart. … valedictorian of our class, very motivated and the smartest person I know. … Getting good grades was always very important to her.”
She went on to graduate in 2010 from the University of Idaho with a chemistry degree, according to a commencement program. From there, she got a job at Battelle’s Idaho National Laboratory and published several articles, one of which analyzed a method to absorb toxic waste discharged by burning nuclear fuel.
While away from the lab, she and her husband, whom she married in 2009, spent time shooting guns. “She was just as comfortable at a camp ground or a gun range as she was in a classroom,” close friend Sheri Sandow said in an interview. On Facebook, she showed an interest in the outdoors and the National Rifle Association, and followed Guns.com, a publication that reports on gun life.
“They carried one every day of their lives, and they shot extensively,” Rutledge said. “They loved it. Odd as it may sound, we are gun people.”
A lot of people in Idaho are. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill that allows people to carry concealed guns onto state university campuses. And more than 85,000 people — 7 percent of the population — are licensed to carry concealed weapons, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center.
So many locals didn’t discern anything odd with 29-year-old woman carrying a loaded gun into a Wal-Mart during the holiday season. Stu Miller, a spokesman for the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, told the New York Times that it didn’t strike him as anything out of the ordinary. “It’s pretty common around here,” he said. “A lot of people carry loaded guns.”
Sandow told The Post she often sees people with a gun cradled at their side. “In Idaho, we don’t have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that,” she said. “And to see someone with a gun isn’t bizarre. [Veronica] wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns. This was just a horrible accident.”
Gun related deaths of U.S. law enforcement officers rose by 56 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, with about one-third of officers killed in an ambush, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said on Tuesday.
Across the country, 50 officers were killed by guns in 2014 compared to 32 in 2013, according to the website of the non-profit fund, which aims to increase safety for law enforcement officers.
The most deadly states were California, Texas, New York, Florida and Georgia, the group said.
“Fifteen officers were shot and killed in ambush, more than any other circumstance of fatal shootings in 2014,” the website said.
The deadly ambush of two New York City policemen as they sat in their squad car in New York on Dec. 20 was a flashpoint in a deepening rift between the city’s police department and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The mayor had expressed qualified support for protests sparked by the deaths of unarmed black men in confrontations with white officers, and said he warned his biracial son of the “dangers he may face” in encountering police officers.
The shooter who killed the two policemen and then himself had written online that he was avenging the deaths of two unarmed black men last summer in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.
Altogether, 126 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2014, a 24 percent increase from 2013, when 102 officers were killed, the fund said.
The number of firearms-related fatalities matches 2012 statistics, when 50 officers were killed by guns,” the fund said.
The second most common cause of death for officers in 2014 was traffic-related incidents.