The charade of Friday’s NRA press conference was best summed up by one of the last lines uttered at it by NRA President David Keene: “…this is the beginning of a serious conversation-We won’t be taking questions today.”
Of course, neither Keene nor NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre would be taking questions. This “press conference” was not the beginning of any conversation–it was a lecture.
They were there to enlighten us. They were there to make sure that we all understood that: "It’s not guns that kill people, it’s video games." It’s movies. It’s the media. It’s “monsters.” It’s a society that worships celebrities and money. It's greedy corporate executives and shareholders. It’s foreign aid to other countries. (These were all actually referenced by Wayne LaPierre during his rambling speech.)
The one thing that Wayne LaPierre apparently doesn’t believe is responsible in any way for the shooting deaths are guns. Not the guns used in the Newtown shooting that took the lives of 20 young children and 6 adults. Not the guns used in July to kill 12 and wound 58 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Not the guns used to kill six people at a Sikh Temple in August. And not the guns used to kill 94 more people in the US since the Newtown shooting. Yes, 94 more people have been murdered by gun violence since December 14. (And that number will likely be higher by the time you read this.)
Instead, LaPierre claimed that violence in movies and in video games like “Grand Theft Auto” contributed to gun violence. Yet he offered no explanation for why people who live in other countries where they watch the very same movies and play the very same video games as we do, have remarkably lower numbers of people killed by guns. For example, “Grand Theft Auto” broke UK sales records for fastest selling video game with over 600,000 units sold in its first day. However, in the UK, only 51 people were killed by guns in 2011. In contrast, in the US, 8,583 people were murdered by guns in 2011.
The real difference between the US and UK isn’t that they are watching different movies or playing different video games. It's guns. We have close to 300 million guns legally owned while the UK has only approximately 1.8 million guns.
What the NRA leadership should have said – and what I know from twitter some NRA members expected they would say – is that the NRA was going to embrace sensible “human safety” laws. (To me, we should stop using the term “gun control”–I’m not concerned with controlling people’s guns, I’m concerned with saving lives.)
At the very least the NRA should have called for a few common sense changes to our laws. The first and most obvious being to close the “gun show loophole.” Our current federal law only requires background checks to determine if the purported gun buyer has a criminal record or history of mental illness if the gun is sold by a licensed firearm dealer.
However, when guns are sold by non licensed dealers, which occurs at many gun shows, no background check is required. How often does this loophole apply? Shockingly, approximately 40% of guns sold fall into the "gun show loophole." How many guns are we talking about? Estimates are that literally hundreds of thousands of guns are sold each year to people not subject to a criminal and mental background check.
Only 19% of Americans polled want to keep the law that way. The problem is that the NRA leadership is part of this 19% and has lobbied to keep the gun show loophole intact.
How can any organization that truly cares about saving the lives of Americans ever oppose a law to ensure that the mentally ill and criminals are prohibited from buying firearms?
So what did the NRA call for at its press event? More guns. LaPierre proposed that every school in America should have an armed guard. There are roughly 100,000 public schools meaning a boon in gun sales to arm these new guards.
But here’s a glaring problem with the NRA’s proposal. At the horrific Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that left 15 dead and 23 wounded, there was an armed guard. A 15-year veteran of the Sheriff’s office was on the location. While he exchanged gunshots with one of the two shooters, he was unable to stop the shooting. How could the NRA leadership not be aware of this fact? And does this mean that every school would need two armed guards?
Will the NRA next suggest we have armed guards at every movie theater, shopping mall, Sikh temple, workplace, church – or any of the other location where mass shootings have recently occurred?
Clearly, the NRA leadership is not prepared to have an honest conversation on the issues about the role that GUNS play in the deaths of Americans. The one bright spot is that the rank and file members of the NRA disagree with the NRA elite on a growing number of issues, including 69% who favor closing gun show loophole.
The NRA leadership is at a crossroads. It can either begin to embrace policies that will save American’s lives or find the NRA marginalized to the fringes of American society. Which path will they choose? While I know that NRA leaders LaPierre and Keene aren’t taking questions right now, they may want to consider this one.
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.