The time for this conversation is NOW
Early yesterday morning, just hours before the horrific mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the Republican-led Michigan legislature passed S.B. 59, a bill that would allow concealed weapons in public schools, churches, and day care centers. Aware of the backlash that was likely to occur after the Connecticut shooting less than 10 hours later, Michigan Republicans released the following statement on their Facebook page:
Regarding the school shooting in Connecticut, our first concern is thinking about the families and the tragedy they have suffered at the hands of a criminal bent on spreading evil.
What happened in Connecticut, however, is not because of nor related in any way to actions taken by the Michigan House yesterday in approving Senate Bill 59.
In response to outreach from media and Michigan citizens, let me provide some background on the bill and why we have caucus members who supported it.
Under the proposed law, Michigan will have the most highly trained concealed carry licensees in the nation. In addition, statistics show that in a mass shooting incident, the average death toll is higher when civilians have to wait for police to arrive. In situations where a citizen with a concealed pistol in involved as a potential victim, the number of deaths is lower on average and may be considered a public safety asset that could act as a deterrent against such shootings…
– Ari B. Adler
Press Secretary and Interim Communications Director
House Republican Caucus
You can read the entire statement in a screenshot of the post provided to me by Chad Cyrowski of Progress Michigan HERE. The screenshot was necessary because Adler took down the post after a short time and replaced it with an apology saying, in part, “the post and the ongoing debate ended up turning too much toward the legislation and the issue of gun rights.”
It’s hard to imagine why the Republicans would have published the original statement if they weren’t trying to start a conversation about legislation like theirs, the issue of gun rights, and, of course, gun control. The original post seems to suggest that the tragic outcome at the Sandy Hook Elementary School would have been better if gun-carrying adults had been present and could have engaged in a gun battle with the shooter, a firefight that would have unfolded in the presence of hundreds of elementary school children.
Just think about that for a moment and ask yourself if that’s what we want in our schools in Michigan.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has not yet signed the bill and is being heavily pressured NOT to sign it. Jessica Tramontana, Communications Director for Progress Michigan, released a statement saying:
After midnight on Thursday, the House passed SB 59, legislation that allows guns in schools, churches and daycares in our state. It’s time to rethink that decision, and have a long overdue and honest dialogue about gun control in Michigan. We are urging Governor Snyder to veto this legislation.
David Hecker, Michigan president of the American Federation of Teachers was blunt:
We’re aghast that this lame duck legislature thinks it’s a good idea to put MORE guns in our schools, let alone places of worship or sports arenas. The House passed SB 59 on Thursday. How dare these lame duck legislators put the safety of students, educators and communities at risk? As our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of today’s tragedy in Connecticut, we call on Governor Snyder to veto this ill-considered bill.
Thankfully, it appears he is considering a veto:
Just off the phone with @onetoughnerd. He said Conn. shootings will give him “real pause” as he decides whether to sign new gun laws.
— David Jesse (@Freephighered) December 15, 2012
“Right to keep and bear arms” (RKBA) proponents will tell you that events like the Sandy Hook shooting are not the time for a discussion about gun control and restricting access to certain types of guns and ammunition. I would suggest that it is precisely during those times when this discussion must occur. Between those times, because the emotional shock of them is so painful, we tend to paper them over and forget about what happened. It is when the experience is fresh that we must have a serious dialogue about the issue.
President Obama appears to agree. Yesterday, he said this during an emotional and tearful press conference:
As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago—these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
He echoed the comment during this morning’s President’s Weekly Address:
As a nation, we have endured far too many of these tragedies in the last few years. An elementary school in Newtown. A shopping mall in Oregon. A house of worship in Wisconsin. A movie theater in Colorado. Countless street corners in places like Chicago and Philadelphia. Any of these neighborhoods could be our own. So we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this. Regardless of the politics.
Here are some facts: this was the 7th mass shooting in this country this year – the highest number in thirty years. In a groundbreaking piece on mass shootings over the past three decades, Mother Jones found that there have been over 60 of them and in nearly every case, the guns were obtained LEGALLY. In the vast majority of them, semi-automatic weapons were involved.
The United States is 28th in the world in per capita deaths due to firearms. While this might seem to be reassuring, it isn’t. The only reason we rank that low is because so many Central American and South American countries dominate, small impoverished countries where poverty, crime, and gun violence are rampant. As Politifact notes, the comparison to affluent countries is far more telling:
The main area where the U.S. exceeds the firearm violence of other nations is in comparison to other affluent nations. Using the U.N. data, European nations — even former eastern bloc countries — typically have rates well below 1 per 100,000, or far less than one-third the frequency seen in the U.S. The pattern is similar in other advanced industrialized nations, such as Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
One study published in 2011 confirms this finding. The study, published in the Journal of Trauma — Injury Infection & Critical Care, found that firearm homicide rates were 19.5 times higher in the U.S. than in 23 other “high income” countries studied, using 2003 data. Rates for other types of gun deaths were also higher in the U.S., but by somewhat smaller margins: 5.8 times higher for firearm suicides (even though overall suicide rates were 30 percent lower in the U.S.) and 5.2 times higher for unintentional firearm deaths.
11 of the 20 most deadly mass shootings in the past five decades happened in the United States. There is simply no question that America has a gun problem. The statistics are clear and, as the quote in the image at the top of this post says, it’s a solvable problem for nations that have the political will to do so.
The common wisdom is that this just isn’t possible because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has too much power and gun control is the third rail in politics, particularly for the Obama administration. Since he was elected in 2008, RKBA proponents have been working their base to a froth over “Obama coming for your guns” despite the fact that this has not actually occurred. While ammunition sales have skyrocketed over fear that it would soon be impossible to get, it’s based on a contrived and baseless assumption that the Obama administration is going to take away Americans’ guns.
Here are some photos from the front of Mark Koernke’s house, aka “Mark from Michigan“, the day after the 2008 election:
However, there is evidence that the NRA’s sway is on the wane. In an op-ed for Politico, Cliff Schecter wrote last week:
This past election was a sea change in a lot of ways. Gay marriage won four out of four ballot measures. Pot was legalized in Washington (state) and Colorado, making them likely to become newly exciting tourist destinations.
But one of the biggest changes was this: The NRA was exposed as a paper tiger. A loser. The mythology they built in Washington D.C. about being an electoral powerhouse was just that – myth. Not only did they lose six of out of seven Senate races where they spent over $100,000, and spend $12 million not-coming-within-a-country-mile of beating President Obama (the NRA had a rockin’ .82 percent return on investment, according to the Sunlight Foundation…also known as, making Karl Rove’s election night look like a success!), but polling released from three swing states – Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina – after the election showed that with all their attacks President Obama, on the issue of guns, more voters still trusted…President Obama.
Now if you had read an important study put together by scholar and writer Paul Waldman last year for the Center for American Progress, you would have already known most of this. The NRA endorses mostly safe Republican incumbents. They spread their money so thin on down-ballot races it means nothing. They take credit when they play no role in Reagan-1984-like landslides, but slink into the shadows when they lose–big.
There’s evidence of that right here in Michigan. As insane as this legislature has been on so many issues, including gun laws, one effort by the NRA did a major face plant in our state. From a press release from Mayors Against Illegal Guns on Wednesday:
The Michigan Senate today rejected an attempt to eliminate a law requiring people who buy handguns from unlicensed sellers to first pass a background check, voting instead to preserve every essential element of a system mayors and police called a successful crime-fighting tool.
The vote marked a remarkable turnaround for legislation the National Rifle Association’s Washington office had designed as a vehicle to repeal the state’s “permit to purchase” system and eliminate the permit database maintained by the Michigan State Police. A version of the bill that would have gutted the permit system passed the Michigan House earlier this year and was widely expected to reach Governor Rick Snyder’s desk during the legislature’s lame-duck session.
Got that? The NRA has engaged in a national push to make it even easier to get a gun at a gun show by standing in the way of any effort to eliminate background checks and our far-right Republicans rejected it making Michigan one of only 17 or 18 states that have done this.
These background checks are the easiest and most basic way of figuring out if you’re selling a gun to someone who is mentally unstable or a known criminal and the NRA thinks they should be prevented.
By the way, it’s a law that works. Again from the Mayors:
The permitting system the Senate voted to retain blocked 2,595 prohibited gun purchasers from buying handguns in 2011 alone. Without it, about 48 percent of Michigan handgun sales – the percentage conducted by unlicensed sellers – would take place with no background check, according to law enforcement authorities.
Flint Mayor Dayne Walling is in the crucible in terms of crime and poverty in his city. He described this repudiation of the NRA as “a turning point.”
“We decided to no longer allow a vocal minority to control the politics of guns with partial information and minimal dialogue,” said Walling. “Instead, we engaged communities across the state in an effort to save the background check system. And our legislators in Lansing listened. They put the brakes on a dangerous proposal that would have made it far easier for criminals to obtain handguns and would have endangered our public safety.”
The fact that the NRA is pushing something too radical for even the out-of-control, drunk-with-power Michigan Republicans is as astonishing as it is revealing. What it shows is that NRA is completely out of touch with the vast majority of Americans and what we believe. Their endless fight to make guns as prevalent in society as cell phones is beginning to fall on deaf ears. We are no longer going to allow a small number of single-issue zealots tell us that our safety and the safety of our children is not as important as their freakish desire to carry around weapons in public and to make assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons easily obtainable and available. While they may see a firefight with a gunman in an elementary school as a good thing, we see the horrific reality of that and all that it means.
This IS the time to have this conversation and debate. If RKBA people are afraid to have that debate when the results of their radical agenda are still freshly seared into the minds of all Americans, then they clearly are afraid of it. They are afraid that their position, which is so far out of step with the rest of the country, will be revealed for what it is: dangerous and a discredit to our fine nation.
I’ll leave you with, perhaps, the best tweet I’ve seen on this topic, from the inestimable @pourmecoffee:
The Bill of Rights went into effect 221 years ago today — a perfect time to use the First Amendment to talk about the Second.
— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) December 15, 2012