A National Conversation, Not The Sounds of Silence

28 July 2012
Published in Blog

By Scott Blakeman 

July 28, 2012


Imagine if immediately after the attacks on September 11, 2001, President Bush shrugged his shoulders and told the nation, "There's nothing we can do to stop this kind of horror. If a terrorist wants to hijack a plane and fly it into a building, he's going to do it regardless of what we do or laws we sign."

And yet a week after a domestic terrorist slaughtered innocent men, women and children with an arsenal of military-style assault weapons, our political leadership is once again telling us that there is nothing we can do to stop this kind of gun crime, and that reinstating an assault weapons ban would not help prevent these horrific acts from happening again.

It is not just Aurora. Every year since 2001, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, approximately 30,000 people have been killed by firearms in America. And the reaction to this carnage has been to loosen existing gun laws, and to radically misinterpret the Second Amendment.

The National Rifle Association essentially harbors terrorists, by resisting any attempt to apply sensible regulations on gun use. The NRA wants almost anyone to obtain virtually any kind of gun and unlimited amounts of ammunition. Hunters don't need assault weapons or high capacity ammunition clips to shoot deer. These weapons and the ability to shoot more than 30 rounds at one time are for murdering large numbers of people.

The NRA is a massively funded lobbying group that politicians of both parties bow down to with timidity and fear. When you hear politicians say "the political will isn't there" for stricter gun control, what they're really saying is that they are afraid to stand up to the NRA. That's why the assault weapons ban, and the ban on high capacity clips, was allowed by both parties to expire in 2004. Democrats, like Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband in a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad, and Frank Lautenberg have introduced bills to limit ammunition, but these bills garner little support.

The words that frustrate and infuriate me the most are from those in both parties who say now is not the time to talk about gun violence. After 9/11, if someone had said now is not the time to talk about terrorism, they would rightfully have been considered insane.

The conversation must start from the top. Although President Obama is inexplicably considered by right wing media to be a threat to gun rights, his administration has been given a failing grade by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 

The President's speech in Aurora was moving and compassionate, as was his speech last year after another terrorist attack killed men, women and children, and nearly took the life of Congresswoman Giffords. No federal gun legislation was enacted after that attack either.

The President said about Aurora, "If there is anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile." We are constantly reminded of the fragility of life, because approximately 33 people are killed in America by gun violence every day. What we need to take away from this tragedy is a renewed determination to, at the very least, begin an intense national dialogue on the causes of gun violence, and what steps can be taken to reduce it.

We must stand up to the fatalism, cynicism and ignorance of those who say, "There's nothing we can do. And no law will help." There is much that can be done. And we can demand that the political will be found to get it done. Instead of cowardly running away from the NRA and the issue of gun violence in the U.S., we must bring it up now, and bring it up loudly and forcefully. Those who vote against gun control legislation, or do nothing to promote it, even if they are liberal on other issues, should be challenged by pro gun control candidates.

And even though almost every Obama campaign advisor would tell him otherwise, the President must start the national conversation about gun violence right now. His speech to the National Urban League, where he called for reinstating the assault weapons ban, is a good start. 

The American people are listening. And this time, they must hear more than the sounds of silence.

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Scott Blakeman is a liberal political comedian and commentator, who appears regularly on FoxNews.com Live. He will perform his one man show "Liberal Jew" at the Lenox Town Hall in Lenox, Massachusetts on August 18, and the Grange Hall on Martha's Vineyard September 1.   Twitter: @scottblakeman

Why would NRA denounce media coverage of Trayvon Martin case?

15 April 2012
Published in Blog

Over the weekend, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre attacked the media for "sensational reporting from Florida” about the Trayvon Martin case. Mr. LaPierre even called the news media a “national disgrace.”

For those unaware of the NRA’s work, it is the nation’s leading advocate of gun rights in the United States. The NRA efforts are instrumental in protecting the nation's $6 billion a year gun and ammunition industry.

The NRA is also the organization that lobbied States to enact the “Stand Your Ground” law, the very one that George Zimmerman – the man who shot Trayvon Martin – is invoking as his legal defense for the shooting. I assume the reasoning for the NRA supporting these laws is: Why should you own a gun if you aren't going to have a chance to use it?

Did Mr. LaPierre offer any sympathy to Trayvon Martin's family? No.

Instead, he choose to denounce the media for their coverage of the case, alleging that the media’s: “...dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.”

What makes Mr. La Pierre’s comments especially callous is that they were made at the annual NRA convention which was being held this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis has the unenviable distinction of being the city with second highest rate in the country for youth being killed by guns. Indeed, the gun shot murder rate for 10 to 19 years old in St. Louis is more than three times the average for larger cities according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The NRA leadership should not have been denouncing the media coverage of the killing of an innocent teen, rather they should be focusing their efforts to work with federal, state and local governments to reduce the number of gun related deaths in our nation. In 2010, there were 12,996 murders and of those 8,775 were caused by guns. That means almost 70% of those murdered in 2010 were as a result of gun violence.

It is not happenstance that the States with the highest number of guns also have the highest number of people murdered by guns.  To put it simply: You are literally  five times more likely to be shot to death in Arizona than in Hawaii.

Guns are a part of the fabric of America. There are over 200 million guns in the US. They will never be eliminated-nor should they be. The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Indeed, the US Supreme Court in the last few years has recognized that American citizens have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes and this right cannot be violated by federal, state or local laws.

Despite knowing this reality, some gun advocates prefer to spew misinformation and inspire fear among gun owners that the government is coming to take their guns away. This is nothing more than a rallying cry used by some to scare people into opposing reasonable laws that could save lives, such as background checks for all people purchasing guns even if sold at a gun show or by private citizens. 

The tired cliché espoused by the NRA that “Guns don't kill people, people kill people” should be retired. It is an over simplification of a problem that doesn't have easy answers.

Reducing gun violence will take a concerted strategy, such as the one New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in February with his initiative to reduce gun violence. This multi-faceted program combines funding for communities to create anti-violence strategies and provides State support for both advertising campaigns and community-based programs to counter gun violence. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

There's no doubt that both those who love guns and those who destest them, want to lower the number of people killed by guns each year. However, comments by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre simply do not help us reach our common goal.