Dumb guns

On our website now, E. J. Dionne Jr. on Georgia’s new “guns everywhere” legislation that expressly allows people to bring their weapons to church, among other places:

Nothing better reveals the utter irrationality of our politics for the whole world to see than this madness about guns -- and no issue better demonstrates how deeply divided our nation is by region, ideology, and party…. Nowhere else in the world do the laws on firearms become the playthings of politicians and lobbyists intent on manufacturing cultural conflict. Nowhere else do elected officials turn the matter of taking a gun to church into a searing ideological question. But then, guns are not a religion in most countries.

Dionne’s latest comes on the heels of the National Rifle Association’s “Stand and Fight” rally, held in Indianapolis over the weekend, where Sarah Palin with Christian motherly charm declared that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” And she demonstrated glancing acquaintance with transitive logic in getting to the red-meat portion of her remarks: “If you control oil, you control an economy. If you control money, you control commerce. But if you control arms, you control the people, and that is what they’re trying to do.” [Applause]

They, being the Obama administration, which at last check had taken action on gun reform off the legislative docket. But faith of course is famously resistant to fact and reason.

Carrying a concealed weapon is legal in all fifty states, and if anything, a universal gun law—reciprocity among states—is much closer to reality than further restrictions at either the national or state levels (where, as Dionne and others note, more than seventy laws loosening restrictions on guns were enacted in the year following the Sandy Hook massacre). Reciprocity has the backing of Republicans in the U.S. Senate, which according to some polling could tilt their way this fall. And it has behind it the treasure and talent for propaganda of the NRA and other gun groups, which are casting it as a way to fight back against crime, although the national rate of violent crime declined steadily from 1993 to 2001 and again from 2008 through 2013.

Casting itself as a counterbalance to the gun lobby is Every Town for Gun Safety, which funded with $50 million from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing for stricter, more uniform background checks and a review of the role weapons play in domestic violence and suicide. Those are pretty innocuous and eminently reasonable aims, but reason doesn’t wash with zero-summers like Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. You can hear him on this recent NPR OnPoint segment (starting at about the 15:10 mark), but these excerpts are representative: “[M]ass killings are an abstract notion and don’t particularly upset the gun owners who can protect themselves.” “The whole effort of gun control is transparent: they [‘the elite types,’ as Pratt calls them] are coming for the guns.” “Background checks don’t work…. The only thing a background check does is allow the government to compile a list of names… we don’t want that information getting in the hands of a government that’s out of control.” 

Efforts to manufacture and market smart guns are being met with a similarly unhinged response; today’s New York Times has a story on Belinda Padilla, whose firm Armatix is trying to sell “a new .22-caliber handgun that uses a radio frequency-enabled stopwatch to identify the authorized user so no one else can fire it.” Padilla has received threatening phone calls for daring to help this new company get off the ground, while photos of where she keeps a post office box have been posted online. When the reasonable and supportive president of a local gun club said the Armatix weapon “could revolutionize the gun industry,” gun activists went into overdrive:

They took to Calguns.net, a forum for gun owners, and called for vigilante-style investigations of Ms. Padilla and Armatix. They seized on her appearance before a United Nations panel to testify on gun safety and her purported association with a group once led by a protégé of George Soros.

“I have no qualms with the idea of personally and professionally leveling the life of someone who has attempted to profit from disarming me and my fellow Americans,” one commenter wrote.

Dionne begins his column by asking: “Have we gone stark raving mad?” Some obviously have. Others, like the reasonable people in groups like Every Town for Gun Safety, show signs of sanity.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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