NRA Trying ‘To Make It Easier’ For Criminals And Mentally Ill To Get Guns by Mark Kelly

I’ve been on the road lately, and everywhere I go, I hear huge determination to curb gun violence and real excitement about a simple, really important first step we can take: closing the so-called gun show loophole and instituting one simple system for background checks.

But then I read the newspaper or watch TV, and I hear other voices — specifically, the leadership of the National Rifle Association — describing this proposed legislation in terms that are misleading at best. They’re calling on legislators to make it easier, instead of harder, for criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to get guns.

But then I read the newspaper or watch TV, and I hear other voices — specifically, the leadership of the National Rifle Association — describing this proposed legislation in terms that are misleading at best. They’re calling on legislators to make it easier, instead of harder, for criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to get guns.

You read that right. Not harder, easier. Which isn’t what the more than 74 percent of NRA members in this country who are law-abiding citizens and responsible gun owners, as Gabby and I are, and who support expanding background checks, believe.

Making the system of background checks fair and consistent isn’t hard to understand. If you don’t think there should be two different sets of rules, leveling the playing field and expanding the effective National Instant Criminal Background Check System is the way to go. For the same reasons we don’t make getting screened for bombs or weapons at the airport optional, or registering your car something you only have to do if you want to, having a giant loophole in the background check system just doesn’t make sense.

But it’s clear that for reasons of their own, the NRA leadership has decided to dig in and — against all evidence and common sense — preserve a system that makes it easier for criminals to get guns.

Here are the facts:

Criminals and the mentally ill do submit to background checks — and any effort to convince you otherwise is flat out wrong. We know roughly 1.7 million criminals and mentally ill people have been stopped from buying a gun by a background check since 1999. What we don’t know is how many of them got a gun anyway at a gun show or different private sale.

Criminals use the gun show and private sales loophole to get their guns, and then they use them to kill and injure. Eighty percent of criminals who committed a crime with a gun said they got their gun through a private transfer with no background check

Background checks are easy and fast. When I bought a hunting rifle at a Walmart in November, my instant background check took less than five minutes; 91 percent of checks are instantaneous.

An extension of the current background check system cannot by law or by practice result in a registry of guns or gun owners. Such a registry is against the law, and the federal government does not even collect the records that would constitute a registry.

The reality is that closing the gun-show loophole and expanding a simple system that works will respect, not encroach, on our Second Amendment rights. Ninety-one percent of background checks are completed instantaneously and records are kept by the folks who run them, not by the government. And we’re not looking to limit private transfers — proposed legislation should and will take into account transfers between family members, for example, and the needs of citizens in rural locations.

The NRA leadership and others are right to identify some systematic challenges we face in expanding the NICS background system — like streamlining the records process, and prosecuting more of the criminals who do try to buy a gun — but they are flat out wrong to use those operational challenges as a reason to say no to a simple universal background check.

As a former astronaut, I’ve got a pretty seasoned perspective on operational challenges. When something breaks on the space shuttle, the crew doesn’t throw up their hands and decide to go to the golf course instead of the International Space Station. We roll up our sleeves and figure out how to make it work. That means having the perseverance to find solutions, to look closely at systems that aren’t working, so that we achieve new heights of accomplishments. And working on complicated solutions means having a straightforward grasp of the facts and a willingness to find common purpose with others, no matter how diverse the team is.

That’s the approach Gabby took to Congress, too, and it’s a quintessentially American approach we all ought to take as we work to protect the safety of our communities. Background checks protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, and they serve a patriotic purpose: making sure that we have one system for those who want to purchase a firearm, not two: one for those desperate to avoid detection and bent on violence, and one for the rest of us.

Capt. Mark Kelly served in the U.S. Navy for 25 years, flew combat missions during Operation Desert Storm and was the final commander of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. With his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, he is the co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions.

By MARK KELLY | 2/27/13 9:21 PM EST

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/02/mark-kelly-closing-gun-show-loophole-is-right-way-to-go-88187.html#ixzz2MDkThhpy

Newtown Dad’s Tearful Senate Plea for Assault Weapons Ban

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A father who lost his son in the Newtown shootings pleaded with senators to act on gun control at a Wednesday hearing and Vice President Joseph R. Biden proclaimed that the political dynamics of the issue have irrevocably changed — but opponents of President Obama’s proposals showed no signs of budging and a key lawmaker said universal background checks are unlikely to pass Congress.

Neil Heslin, whose son, Jesse, was killed in the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that claimed the lives of 19 other children and six adults, delivered an emotional appeal before a hushed audience for a ban on so-called assault weapons and other gun control measures.

“I’m not here for the sympathy and a pat on the back, as many people stated in the town of Newtown,” Mr. Heslin said at a SenateJudiciary Committee hearing. “I’m here to speak up for my son.”

“No person should have to go through what myself or any of the other victims’ families had to deal with and go through and what the town of Newtown had to go through and is dealing with,” he continued.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who presided over the hearing on her bill that would ban certain types of military-style, semiautomatic rifles, said Newtown has changed the conversation — and that it is not an isolated incident.

“That horrific event shocked our nation to its roots,” the California Democrat said. “And the pictures of these little victims brought tears to the eyes of millions of Americans.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican and the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, expressed “deep personal sympathy” to Mr. Heslin in his opening remarks and said the body is determined to take action to try to prevent such an incident from happening again. He said he respected Mrs. Feinstein’s convictions on the issue, but that he opposes her bill.

“[The bill] bans guns based solely on their appearance,” Mr. Grassley said. “Some of those cosmetic features are useful for self-defense. Others have nothing to do with functioning of the weapons. As a result, the bill would ban some guns that are less powerful, dangerous, and that inflict less severe wounds than others that are exempt.”

Perhaps the most contentious exchange during the three-and-a-half hour hearing came when South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn clashed over the issue of gun prosecutions, which drew applause from the audience and a subsequent rebuke from Mrs. Feinstein.

“When almost 80,000 people fail a background check and 44 people are prosecuted, what kind of deterrent is that?” the Republican senator asked at one point, referring to statistics from 2010. “If it’s such an important issue, why aren’t we prosecuting people who fail a background check?”

“How many cases have you made?” Mr. Graham asked Mr. Flynn.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter — it’s a paper thing,” the police chief said. “I want to stop 76,000 people from buying guns illegally — that’s what a background check does. If you think we’re going to do paperwork prosecutions, you’re wrong.”

After the line drew some applause from the audience, Mrs. Feinstein admonished the crowd to keep expressions to themselves.

Mr. Graham acknowledged that funding will likely be threadbare for Mr. Flynn and other police chiefs, but asked again how many cases Mr. Flynn made for people failing background checks.

“We don’t make those cases, senator — I have priorities,” Mr. Flynn said. “We make gun cases. We make 2,000 gun cases a year, senator. That’s our priority. … We’re trying to prevent the wrong people [from] buying guns.”

Mr. Graham responded by saying one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that the background check system for gun purchasers and the laws already on the books should work properly.

“I guess the point is if we don’t want the wrong people to own guns, which we all agree, the one way to do that is to take the system that’s supposed to make the distinction between a person who should and shouldn’t and enforce it,” he said. “I own an AR-15. I passed a background check. Isn’t it really about who has the gun, sometimes more than the gun itself?”

But across town, speaking in front of a group of attorneys general from across the country, Mr. Biden issued a warning to those who want to oppose gun controls, saying voters in Chicago delivered a message Tuesday. Robin Kelly, a staunch gun control advocate, defeated a host of other candidates, including one who has received backing from the National Rifle Association, to become the Democratic nominee in a special election for the seat vacated by disgraced former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

“The message is: there will be a moral price as well as a political price to be paid for inaction,” Mr. Biden said.

Nevertheless, any legislation that makes it through the Senate would still have to clear the Republican-controlled House. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, poured a bit of cold water on Mr. Biden’s proclamation, saying he didn’t think universal background checks — to say nothing of more ambitious proposals such as bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines — would be a part of the House’s work on the issue.

“I think where we’re going to find the ability to produce legislation is going to be focused on two things,” the Virginia Republican said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “One is improving the background check system, but universal background checks I do not think will be part of that. The other one will be improving the efforts to crack down on illegal sales of firearms on the streets, if you will — people who knowingly engage in transactions where they engage in selling firearms to people who should not be able to purchase them.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/feb/27/both-sides-stand-ground-gun-control-battle/#ixzz2MD6miloG 
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Outrageous Hypocrisy: The NRA Wants to Keep Gun Records Secret From Everyone Except the NRA

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Legislators and gun rights advocates get really angry whenever nosy reporters try to use public records laws to find out who’s packing heat. When the WestchesterJournal News published an online map of local residents with handgun licenses last year, the paper was excoriated by the NRA and its allies; it eventually took the map down. When Gawker published a similar list—without addresses—of New York City handgun permit-holders last month, we were attacked by Fox News and received multiple death threats. And when the editor of the North Carolina Cherokee Scout dared to request—not publish, but merely request—similar data from his local sheriff, he was forced to apologize and resign; he plans to leave the state entirely.

All of which makes it more surprising that, according to a Gawker search of public records, gun-rights groups—including the National Rifle Association—have been accessing the same state gun-permit data for years to help their fundraising and recruitment efforts.

States across the nation have been rushing to change their gun laws to make gun permit information private, moves that have been furiously stoked by the NRA, which argues that the media has “no business possessing personal information” about gun owners. New York made gun information private earlier this year. Last week, Maine’s governor signed an “emergency bill” shielding the identity of gun licensees after the Bangor Daily News—which was in the middle of a two-year investigation of domestic violence and drug abuse—backed down from a public records request for gun permit data. (Republican legislators had called an “emergency press conference” to shame the newspaper into submission.)

In Virginia, state lawmakers passed a bill to seal its gun permit records from public inspection. North Carolina may soon follow suit. A freshman lawmaker in Tennessee is pushing a similar billin his statehouse.

But while the NRA has lately become one of the harshest critics of fourth estate access gun permit data—it has said “personal information regarding [permit] holders serves no public interest and only exposes law-abiding citizens to potential criminal acts” and places them at “risk to criminals who may target their home to steal firearms“—the group holds itself to a very different standard.

When Tennessee first tried to make gun records private in 2009, the effort died “amid fears that political groups and gun advocates would no longer be able to access addresses of handgun carry permit holders to add to their mailing list soliciting contributions,” according to the Associated Press.

Indeed, in a survey of public records requests filed in 7 of the states that make (or formerly made) gun records public (we’re still waiting on answers from 9 more), Gawker found multiple examples of the NRA and other conservative, “pro-gun” partisans seeking the lists for their own political and fundraising gain.

In 2009, for example, a North Carolina firm called Preferred Communications emailed the Virginia State Police to find out how much it could pay to buy a list of the state’s gun permit holders. It was requesting the information on behalf of the NRA:

From: Michele Wood [xxxx@prefcom.net]
Sent: Mon 7/6/2009 11:15 AM
To: Tate, Donna K.
Subject: Concealed Weapons Permits 2008-2009 – VA

My name is Michelle Wood and I work for a company called Preferred Communications. I am inquiring on behalf of the National Rifle Association about your Concealed Weapons Permits. Do you allow these names on these Permits to be purchased?

Can you please let me know if you offer 2008 and/or 2009 names?
Can you please let me know the cost?
Can you please let me know the address to send the check to and also whom to make it payable to?
Can the names be sent via mail on a CD and is there an additional fee for the CD?

Another person who asked Virginia for gun records—though just for statistical data, rather than the actual names—was Robert Pew, a senior researcher for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. Pro-gun groups like the Virginia Gun Owners Coalition, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and the Virginia Conservative Action PAC put in requests for the full names and addresses of permit holders. So did Rep. J. Randy Forbes, a Republican congressman from Virginia who received in “A” rating from the NRA. The individual snooping into gun owners’ private lives on behalf of the Virginia Conservative Action PAC was Dave Dziok, who served as spokesman for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

In Tennessee, where the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security maintains a database of gun permit owners, requesters have included the Tennessee Senate Group Republican Caucus and Self Defense Solutions, an NRA-certified firearm “training academy.”

Similar requests from gun rights groups or conservative activists and political operatives turned up in Maine, Kentucky, and Louisiana. (In all the states we got data for, the requesters also included news outlets, lawyers, academics, voter targeting firms, marketing companies, and opposition researchers.)

One popular requester, who sought gun permit owners’ names in at least four states, was a firm called Catalist, LLC-a private, D.C.-based firm that licenses its voter database to “Democratic and progressive” organizations. Barack Obama used it in 2008.

Few of the requesters we identified agreed to speak on-the-record, name their clients, or explain why they were so interested in obtaining the names and addresses of licensed gun owners. Most also declined to explain how the information—when they successfully obtained it from the government—was ultimately used.

Neither Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s public affairs director, nor Stephanie Samford—the NRA spokeswoman who told the AP reporters have “no business” seeking gun owners’ information—replied to our emails asking why the NRA had sought to obtain gun permit owners’ names.

Privacy and gun advocates have commonly said that releasing gun owners’ information invades their privacy, could endanger their safety and makes them easy targets for harassment by law enforcement and criminals (which seems like a strange argument coming from the people who—dubiously—say owning a gun makes you safer from criminals, but whatever).

On the flipside, transparency advocates have argued that keeping records open actually protects gun ownership rights, by giving the public a way to check if police and sheriffs are issuing gun permits fairly.

Aaron Mackey, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the group estimates almost a dozen states that have introduced or passed some legislation to restrict access since the Journal News published its gun permit data.

He says the backlash is “confusing” two separate issues.

“The first is the right to access information,” Mackey said. “The second is editorial propriety—whether it’s proper to publish information in the way the Journal News did and whether that’s responsible. Perhaps we should have a conversation about whether it’s responsible, but that’s a different question.”

While you ponder that, here’s a list of everyone who has requested private information about gun permit-holders in six states since 2003:

Arkansas
Steve Jones, Arkansas Carry (gun advocacy nonprofit)
Chad Day, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (journalist)
Andrew DeMillo, Associated Press (journalist)
Joseph Quinn Sanders, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (journalist)
Aaron Nobel, Heavy, Inc. (journalist)
Joe Hudak, Maumelle, AR

Virginia
Federation of American Scientists
Nick Kramer, Catalist LLC (political targeting firm)
Court Ventures (data brokerage firm; subsidiary of Experian)
Michele Wood, Preferred Communications (direct marketing firm; on behalf of NRA)
Paul K. Martin, Atlantic List Company (direct marketing firm)
Larry Zilliox, Investigative Research Specialists (private investigations and opposition research)
Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.)
Dave Dziok, Virginia Conservative Action PAC (political action committee)
Tim Johnson, (legislative assistant for Republican Del. Scott Lingamfelter, who won a “Civil Rights Defense” award from the NRA)
Michael Rentiers, Republican Party of Virginia
Aaron Larrimore, Democratic Party of Virginia
Mike McHugh, Virginia Gun Owners Coalition
Jim Snyder, Virginia Citizens Defense League
Jim Kadison, Virginia Citizens Defense League
George Pettit, Virginia Citizens Defense League

Joe Waldren, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Gordon Hickey, Richmond Times-Dispatch (journalist)
Kyung Lah, CNN (journalist)
Style Weekly (alt weekly magazine)
Nicole Hendrix (criminal justice professor at Radford University)
Richard R. Harris
Louis Gifford
Thomas Miller
Clyde E. Clements, Lynchburg, VA
Ian B. Littlejohn, Dumfries, VA
TJ Parmele, Alexandria, VA
John M. Snyder, Alexandira, VA
Eric Payne, Richmond, VA
David Brgigman, Keezletown, VA
Cory Hutcheson, Lansing, MI
Judith Brown, Pittsburgh, PA

Tennessee
Shawn Harmon, E-Merges.com (data brokerage firm)
Jenny Farmer, Cyragon (political targeting firm)
Data Marketing Network (marketing firm)
Stephen Lindsey, Thomas Lindsey Group (political consulting firm)
Jordan Young, Tennessee Senate Group Republican Caucus
Don Charest, Self Defense Solutions (NRA-certified firearm training academy)
Walter Muskop, Tennessean (journalist)
Grant Smith, Commercial Appeal (journalist)
Judy Walton, Chattanooga Times Free Press (journalist)
Phil Williams, WTVF-TV (journalist)
Kim Barker, ProPublica (journalist)
Aaron Nobel, Heavy Inc. (journalist)
Beverly Knight
Lance Williams

Maine
Nick Kramer, Catalist LLC (political targeting firm)
Shawn Harmon, E-Merges.com (data brokerage firm)
Anne Horrigan, E-Merges.com (data brokerage firm)
Susan Young, Bangor Daily News (journalist)
Mark Anderson, Downeast Energy (utility company)
Celebration Connect

Kentucky
Nick Kramer, Catalist LLC (political targeting firm)

Louisiana
Nick Kramer, Catalist LLC (political targeting firm)
Shawn Harmon, E-Merges.com (data brokerage firm)
Andrew Biemer (Republican operative)
Bombet and Associates (private investigators)
Henninger Media Services (media post-production company)
David Armstrong (social sciences professor at McNeese State University)
Joseph Kutch (attorney)
Perry Stephens, WAFB (journalist)
The Baton-Rouge Advocate (newspaper)
William King
Ray Lucas
Travis Kelm
Derek Leroy McSmith
Terry Vallery
Thomas Gilmore

Michigan
Linda Friedland, Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, PLC (attorney)

Sergio Hernandez

Sergio Hernandez, a former Gawker intern, is a reporter based in New York City. He can be reached at sergio@cerealcommas.com.

http://gawker.com

Gun Shy: NRA’s Wayne LaPierre’s surprisingly delicate psyche

For a guy whose professional life involves talking to people about firearms, Wayne LaPierre doesn’t seem especially enthusiastic about either people or firearms. “I knew of no gun interest that he had,” says former National Rifle Association (NRA) chief Warren Cassidy, LaPierre’s boss for a decade. If LaPierre were ever to join one of his colleagues’ hunting trips, says John Aquilino, who used to run the group’s media relations, “I would run like hell.”

Not that LaPierre appeared hungry for company. “Is he a guy who exchanges slaps on the back or glasses of beer?” asks Joseph Tartaro, head of the Second Amendment Foundation, who has worked with LaPierre for 35 years. “No, I don’t think he’s that kind of person.” “He is a shy, wonkish person,” says Richard Feldman, a longtime fellow gun lobbyist. In a memoir, Feldman described his first impression of LaPierre:“This guy doesn’t have what the human resources gurus call ‘people skills.’”

A characterological profile like that doesn’t comport at all with the LaPierre we’ve seen on TV screens since the Newtown tragedy—the from-my-cold-dead-hands gun defender who blames movies and video games, rather than weapons that can shoot dozens of rounds a minute, for all the mass murders that have taken place in the last year. Which leads one to wonder why he’d even want to lead the NRA at all, or why the NRA feels he’s the best man for the on-camera job.

Illustration by Tang Yau Hoong

A studious kid from Roanoke, Virginia, LaPierre joined the NRA almost immediately after leaving a political science Ph.D. program at Boston University. Even though he’d gone from academic to operative, he couldn’t shake his campus intellectual vibe. Aquilino remembers once seeing a trail of notebooks and folders in the lobby of the NRA’s old headquarters. “Wayne walked by, didn’t he?” he recalls asking. “He literally had a stream of papers and books and notes that led all the way out to where he got into the cab and headed off to Capitol Hill.”

What LaPierre lacked in professional polish he more than made up for in intensity of belief—something that stood out in lobbying, a calling dominated by schmoozers. But the NRA wasn’t just any lobby. Arriving a year after the so-called Revolt at Cincinnati, when young radicals took over what had been a sleepy sporting organization, LaPierre moved up quickly by taking the most hard-linepositions in the room. He fought to undo the biggest federal gun law, pioneered the tactic of shifting the focus away from firearms to a dysfunctional criminal justice system, and thrived as NRA moderates lost internal power struggles.

“THIS GUY DOESN’T HAVE WHAT THE HUMAN RESOURCES GURUS CALL ‘PEOPLE SKILLS.’ ”

“It takes a certain amount of chutzpah,”Cassidy told me, “to be a lobbyist and walk into an office where Teddy Kennedy’s in there and he’s had two brothers assassinated, and you’re going to talk pro-gun?” But in 1986, LaPierre had done just that, helping to craft a rollback of a 1968 federal gun control law. The Senate had already passed its version of the bill, and the House debate seemed to be going the NRA’sway when Speaker Tip O’Neill called for a two-week Easter recess. When the House reconvened, an amendment banning new automatic weapons had been added.

Furious NRA ultras wanted to kill the entire bill. But LaPierre called his boss, Warren Cassidy, from Capitol Hill, ready to cut a deal. “I believed in giving an apple to gain the orchard, and he agreed,” Cassidy recalls.

Once the bill passed, however, Cassidy found himself vilified by the NRA rank-and-file, and LaPierre let his shyness kick in at the most useful moment. “I was a little unhappy that Wayne didn’t stand up, accept the fact that he had recommended it to me, … andsay that he supported it,” says Cassidy. “There was almost dead silence from him.”

The lesson for LaPierre was that the other side didn’t want apples. They wanted to burn down the orchard. Less than a decade after the deal came the Brady Bill, and now, after Sandy Hook, the NRA again feels besieged. LaPierre’s former colleagues describe a man driven to distraction by what he sees as liberals’ bait-and-switchery in their quest to ban all guns.

At a hunting and conservation gala in Nevada last month, LaPierre talked not about sportsmanship but about Barack Obama’s use of the word “absolutism” in his inaugural address. “Obama wants to turn the idea of ‘absolutism’ into a dirty word, just another word for extremism,” LaPierre said, registering the same note of barely controlled rage he’d hit at his post-Newtown press conference. Over the years, LaPierre has laid out his strident views in half a dozen books, including one treatise about the United Nations’ plot to take away Americans’ guns.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Charlton Heston was a more charismatic NRA leader.

In the meantime, the conservative landscape around the NRA’s circled wagons has been changing. Groupslike March for Life and the National Organization for Marriage have hired media-friendly leadership. But if the increasingly powerful political wing of the NRA has no taste for compromise, it has even less for media likability.So LaPierre, his old shyness sublimated into rage, snarls at the cameras on behalf of his organization. “Let me say it this way,” says Feldman. “If it had been me holding the news conference [after Newtown], I’m certain I would’ve used a woman and I would’ve found an educator.” Aquilino puts it differently: “I wanted to bitch slap his advisers,” he says.

But Aquilino and Feldman are moderate dinosaurs compared with LaPierre, and it’s no coincidence that they were forced out with the other moderates decades ago. They may not like his media strategy, but it’s hard to argue with his record. Since 1991,membership has increased by nearly 70 percent. “Usually, his addresses are rather enthusiastically received,” Tartaro says. “Both in substance and defiant style.” In the NRA, he explains, this has helped create “a cult of personality” around LaPierre.

The problem for the organization, though, is that the base can only do so much. Given that half of gun owners don’t think the NRA fully represents their views, that more people dislike the organization’s leadership, and that gun control has become increasingly popular, the NRA might soon need new friends. At which point it might be useful to have a people person at the helm.

 

BY JULIA IOFFE

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112500/nras-wayne-lapierre-profile-gun-lobby-spokesmans-softer-side?utm_source=The+New+Republic&utm_campaign=b65a6b2c0f-TNR_Daily_022613&utm_medium=email#

NRA’s worst nightmare?

Michael Bloomberg is targeting a pro-NRA Democrat in Illinois today as a guinea pig for a new gun control strategy

BY 

NRA's worst nightmare?New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Credit: Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)

Today offers the first ballot box test of how significantly the politics of gun violence have changed since Sandy Hook.

The venue is the Chicago-based House district that Jesse Jackson Jr. represented until his recent resignation. Three main candidates have emerged in the run-up to today’s Democratic primary, which will essentially select Jackson’s replacement, given the district’s overwhelming Democratic bent. And virtually the entire campaign dialogue has been driven by guns.

The force behind this is, oddly enough, the mayor of New York. Michael Bloomberg, who spent years beating the drum for new gun regulations even just about every prominent national leader from both parties ignored the subject, has zeroed in on the race as an opportunity to make a loud statement. A super PAC he created last fall has dumped more than $2 million into the race.

The bulk of it has gone toward attacking Debbie Halvorson, who represented a nearby district in the House from 2009 to 2011 and racked up strong ratings from the NRA. Running in the more Democratic 2 District, which included parts of Chicago where gun violence has been surging, she’s refused to back away from her opposition to a renewed assault weapons ban – one of the agenda items that President Obama has endorsed and urged Congress to pass.

The rest of Bloomberg’s money has gone to propping up Robin Kelly, a former state representative who waged a losing bid for state treasurer in 2010. Kelly is running as a champion on gun control and Bloomberg began running ads on her behalf about 10 days ago. The broadcast network airwaves in Chicago are expensive and his pro-Kelly/anti-Halvorson spots have been the only campaign ads that viewers of the city’s big television stations have seen.

Heading into today, Kelly is considered the favorite. Even without the gun issue, Halvorson isn’t a natural fit for the district, which was stretched out to include more suburban areas in the most recent round of redistricting. Sensing an opening, she challenged the scandal-plagued Jackson in last year’s Democratic primary, but was crushed, barely cracking 20 percent of the vote. Her best hope in the current race has always been to benefit from a splintered field, and when more than a dozen candidates initially filed to run, she became the early front-runner.

Bloomberg’s cash helped change the dynamics of the race, though. His first wave of ads also targeted Toi Hutchinson, a state senator who’d previously opposed the assault weapons ban, leading to her withdrawal and endorsement of Kelly just over a week ago. And the attention he’s purchased for Kelly has also made it tougher for the race’s third major candidate, Alderman Anthony Beale, to break out.

Kelly has begun acting like the front-runner, refusing to debate her opponents down the stretch, although reputable public polling has been sparse. A We Ask America survey conducted after Hutchinson’s withdrawal put Kelly comfortably ahead with 37 percent, with Halvorson back at 19 and Beale at 11. But last Friday, a local radio station released a poll that put Halvorson slightly ahead of Kelly, 21 to 17 percent. That survey, though, was apparently conducted just before Hutchinson’s withdrawal – and before the latest barrage of pro-Kelly ads hit the airwaves.

Halvorson and Beale have scrambled to stir resentment of Bloomberg and his intervention in a contest more than 1,000 miles from his home town.

“You’re talking about a billionaire dumping millions of dollars into a race, trying to dictate to the people on who they think our representative should be,” Beale told the Chicago Tribune recently. “So, I think the people are personally outraged that someone from the outside is trying to influence this race.” Halvorson, for her part, has said, “This is ridiculous when somebody thinks they can buy a race. What’s next?”

The stakes are high today. There is a real chance of meaningful gun legislation passing Congress in the coming months, but either way the issue will loom large in the 2014 midterms. If Kelly wins big, it could factor into the thinking of members of Congress who are wavering on aspects of Obama’s gun agenda. If they vote “no,” will they face the same assault Halvorson has faced – and will it take them down in a primary, or in the general? On the other hand, if Halvorson somehow pulls out a victory, it would weaken Bloomberg’s clout in other races he wades into – or might simply dissuade him from playing such an aggressive role in future contests.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

 

Exposing the NRA’s Proposal: Fascism in Disguise

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About a month after the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook, gun control is as hot a topic as ever, and the NRA is once again in the thick of it.

About a month on from the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, gun control is as hot a topic as ever, with President Obama recently tasking Vice President Joe Biden to head a panel that would be responsible for drafting serious reform to our current gun laws. Of course, Mr. Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association are right in the thick of it, and propose combating the worrying trend of gun violence in the U.S with, wait for it, more guns. You heard that one right; The National Rifle Association, in a press conference held a week after the Sandy Hook tragedy, called on Congress to pass legislation requiring every school to have an armed guard in every school in the U.S , with LaPierre saying, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

At first glance, the most obvious problem with the NRA’s proposal is funding. The Bureau of Labor recently reported  that there are currently 29,740 guards employed at various public schools across the country, bringing in an average wage of about $31,420 and costing state governments a total of $934,430,800 . With about 98,817 public schools  currently in existence and armed guards making $50,000 a year, the full price tag of Mr. LaPierre’s proposal comes out to the very small and affordable total of $4,940,850,000.  With the federal government facing a deficit of about $16 trillion dollars and about 32 states on the verge of declaring bankruptcy , it seems the NRA and Mr. LaPierre will have a slight problem finding the necessary funds for their program, but that’s not even the worst part of it. Hopefully, he and Ben Bernanke are on good terms. When you really look at Mr. LaPierre’s proposal, you’ll find something far more disturbing about it at its core; it’s basically fascism.

Putting aside the vast arrays of problems concerning the NRA’s proposal, let us consider a world where we magically fund this program. Imagine yourself back in the 5th grade, going to your first day of school. You get off the bus, and the first sight you see is an armed guard, gazing at you with the most penetrating of stares, watching your every move. You then proceed to walk your first class, but notice that, in the halls, there are more armed guards, standing motionless with the same, penetrating stare the guard outside had. You walk through the halls feeling like your being watched, but bask in the relief that you’ll be free once you walk into your classroom. To your immediate horror, you find that there is another armed guard in your classroom, watching your every move with that same penetrating stare. You often find it hard to concentrate in class because you feel overwhelmed by the presence of the guard standing right behind you, living in fear that he thinks you’re a bad guy.

This scene is a perfect depiction of the world we can expect to live in if we follow through with the NRA’s proposal and, to say the very least, it’s disturbing. Instead of ensuring that school environments remain the safe, carefree environments that have always fostered fun and learning, the NRA’s proposal would turn this environment into that of a totalitarian police state where your every move is watched, where every child, teacher, and parent is seen as a potential threat rather than as an individual. When you really think about it, how is the scene above any different from that of a Jewish man walking the streets of Nazi Germany in 1936, being watched by Hitler’s Gestapo or an Italian man walking into a store with Mussolini’s Black Shirts right behind him, watching his every move.

To put it bluntly, the NRA’s plan is inherently fascist. It seeks to expand the already overarching police state we have here in the U.S into our schools and the lives of our children. Instead of resorting to fascism, wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to make sure criminals don’t have guns in the first place? After all, the same approach has worked well for New York City;murder rates have gone down from 2,262 in 1990 to just 515 in 2011.  Perhaps Mr. LaPierre could learn a thing or two from Mayor Bloomberg.

by André Lopes Massa
(liberal)
Friday, January 11, 2013

NRA ad was “ill-advised” & “disgusting”

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of the National Rifle Association’s senior lobbyists said an ad by the nation’s leading gun-rights group after a school shooting in Connecticut that refers to President Barack Obama’s children was “ill-advised.”

Jim Baker, head of the federal affairs division at the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said he had made his views known to others at the powerful gun-rights organization.

The ad, which cast Obama as hypocritical for having expressed skepticism about putting armed guards in schools, when “his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools,” drew widespread criticism when it first became public on January 15.

Nationwide outrage over the shooting of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14 moved gun violence and gun control to the center of the U.S. political debate.

“I don’t think it was particularly helpful, that ad,” Baker told Reuters in a telephone interview. “I thought it ill-advised.”

“I think the ad could have made a good point, if it talked about the need for increased school security, without making the point using the president’s children,” he said. The NRA has advocated putting armed guards in schools

Baker was the NRA’s representative at a meeting with Vice President Joseph Biden on January 10 to discuss the administration’s plans to reduce gun violence in the wake of the school shooting.

He said he was not involved in creating the ad, and once it appeared, he had let others at the NRA know what he thought. “I got to say my piece,” he said.

Baker gave no details of the their response to him, but said, “Believe it or not, there are occasionally differences of opinion in this building.”

In the ad, a narrator asks, “Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” Obama’s daughters, 14-year-old Malia and 11-year-old Sasha, attend private school in Washington and receive Secret Service protection, as is routine for children of presidents.

The White House has called the NRA ad “repugnant and cowardly,” while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said it was “reprehensible” and undermined the NRA’s credibility by bringing the president’s children into the debate. Christie is considered a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016.

Susan Eisenhower, the daughter of the late President Dwight Eisenhower who had Secret Service protection as a child, wrote in the Washington Post that she was “disgusted” by the ad.

The NRA’s president, David Keene, objected to the White House criticism earlier this month, saying “We didn’t name the president’s daughters … What we said is that these are people who think that their families deserve protection that yours don’t.”

The president’s critics also have noted that when Obama announced his plan to respond to the gun violence, he was flanked by four children. Obama proposed renewing a U.S. assault weapons ban, as well as banning high-capacity magazines and more stringent background checks for gun purchasers.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Jackie Frank)

By Susan Cornwell

Fri, Jan 25 15:19 PM EST
 
 
NRA Extremism, GunNiut, GunControlNow, Abolish #2A