I grew up in a Denver suburb next door to Aurora, Colo., where a gunman shot 12 people dead, and wounded more than 50 others at a midnight movie screening last week. (We moved to Colorado from Brooklyn, N.Y., when I was 2.) I can attest that in the Centennial State, which is heavy on military bases, megachurches and outdoorsmen, folks love their guns.
That said, how many Rocky Mountain hunters deem it necessary to stockpile 6,000 rounds of ammunition and enough military-style assault weaponry to take on the Taliban? I’m guessing not many.
The National Rifle Association started as a marksmanship and gun safety outfit after the Civil War, and for decades routinely supported and even promoted gun-control laws. Then during the late 1960s, the organization aligned with the Black Panthers against politicians like then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who declared in pushing to get guns off the streets — and out of Panther hands — that there’s “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons,” according to a history of the organization published in The Atlantic in September 2011. (By 1980, the NRA had added a lobbying arm, and Reagan had changed his mind.)
Since then, the NRA has morphed from a supporter of responsible gun ownership into a lobbying and fundraising juggernaut, and some would argue, a handmaiden of mass murder.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s fanatical executive vice president and a career lobbyist, didn’t avail himself of the right — or the duty — to bear arms during Vietnam, allegedly getting himself a medical deferment instead.
LaPierre specializes in extremism: calling the federal agents who took part in Waco and Ruby Ridge “jackbooted thugs,” prompting former President George H.W. Bush to quit the NRA in protest in 1995.
He has earned a veritable Ph.D. in paranoia; fantasizing that the United Nations was plotting to somehow confiscate every gun in the United States, despite being historically unable to pacify the average war-torn village.
He accused then-President Bill Clinton of being “willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda” and claimed Clinton had “blood on his hands” because a white supremacist who murdered an ex-Northwestern University basketball coach named Ricky Byrdsong flunked a Brady-style background check without getting arrested.
His latest conspiracy theory presupposes that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder went back in time to create the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking program during the George W. Bush administration, in order to foment cross-border violence — all to secretly promote gun control.
If LaPierre sounds insane, the truth is he’s crazy like a fox. His fearmongering has suffocated all conversation around “radical” ideas like stopping unlimited ammunition sales over the Internet, monitoring the purchase of armor-piercing “cop killer” bullets, banning 100-round clips that allow a shooter to mow down an entire city block and keeping track of people who buy or stockpile military-style assault weapons.
Politicians who dare utter the words “gun control” are assured of incurring LaPierre’s wrath, plus millions of dollars spent to defeat them, or scare them back into submission.
The door has been slammed on the gun debate right up to the White House, except for billionaire New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has no political party, is terming out and doesn’t need, or fear, the gun lobby’s money.
Meanwhile, the NRA’s fundraising (read, Wayne LaPierre’s livelihood) has surged by 54 percent from 2004 to 2010.
Never mind that the Obama administration has refused to do its part by actually limiting gun rights. Quite the contrary, it has even allowed guns in our national parks. Like your average right-wing talk radio host, the NRA chief has a clear financial incentive to be outrageous.
At some point, you’d hope politicians in both parties would do to LaPierre what a few brave Republicans have begun to do to that other Capitol Hill bully: Mr. “Tax Pledge,” Grover Norquist: Tell him to take a walk.
Don’t count on it.
Eight Republicans voted in the 53-46 Senate approval of the 1994 assault weapons ban. All but one — Indiana’s Dick Lugar — are gone, and Lugar is on the way out. Democrats have shown about as much courage on the issue as Mitt Romney has in discussing his Bain career and governorship of Massachusetts.
And yet, it’s worth asking: With 50 mass murders in 30 states since 1982, and the shock of Aurora still fresh, how many more Americans have to die before we stop outsourcing our safety to a guy who couldn’t be bothered to carry a gun in Hanoi?