Sat, Apr

Was it a Stunt, or the Beginning of the End of NRA Supremacy?


GELFAND’S WORLD--On Monday, June 27, congresswoman Janice Hahn brought the House of Representatives gun control sit-in back to Los Angeles. This time it was a public meeting at a high school in San Pedro. A line of people stretching to the back wall waited their turn at the microphone to speak about their children, cousins, and friends who had been murdered. Some of the testimony was anguishing, nearly unbearable. What it all had in common was its reality. It's the American sickness, and we've been lax in dealing with it. 

Out of the hundred-plus people in the room, there were two who came to speak on the other side. They spoke of the Constitution and their rights under the Second Amendment. They were not well received, but they got their three minutes to explain to us that we should concentrate on something else -- pretty much anything else -- as long as we avoided talking about the guns. 

And then there was everyone else. An emergency room physician from Harbor-UCLA Hospital spoke quietly. His department sees, on the average, one gunshot victim per day. He described an event from just the night before. A fifteen year old boy who lived near the hospital was shot on his way home, early in the evening. The EMT's did everything they could, as did the hospital ER staff, but death was the result. Harbor-UCLA manages to save some gunshot victims, but loses others. 

Closer to home, people told of gunshot deaths right here in San Pedro. One woman, a neighbor and friend to many of us, showed the photo of her cousin who died by gunshot, just about 10 blocks away from where we were meeting. The victim was 17 at the time of her death. 

There were two additional protestors standing across the street from the meeting, carrying signs. One of the two, a guy named Donald who is an elected board member of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, held a sign that said, "People kill people, not guns." There was another protestor standing next to him, holding his own sign that had been written on a target. 

When it was my turn, I simply described an experience I had while teaching a class at a local university. I had accidentally spilled a cup of coffee onto the floor next to me and, looking down at the puddle, fought to keep my composure in front of the class -- the pool of coffee reminded me of the widening pool of blood that had spread out next to my friend after his murder. It's hard not to think about these things. The image stays with you, even after 19 years. I can't begin to imagine the level of grief and pain that stays with parents and cousins of victims. 

Perhaps this week's events signal a political awakening in America. I wonder if the sit-in by the congressmen and congresswomen may represent a political shift in the politics of murder. I realize that I am supposed to refer to the topic delicately, as gun control, but it's the effects of those guns that we really mean to talk about. So let's talk about the politics of murder, both mass and individual. 

Gun owners and their organizations have had a stranglehold on our ability to discuss the subject rationally and to enact practical laws. This political effectiveness comes from the fact that a lot of people treat the liberty to own and brandish firearms as their highest priority. They vote as a block, and they have managed to terrify a lot of politicians. Their lobbyists rule the land. Curiously enough, they make clear that the function of their guns is to protect them from their own government, an obvious reference to the ability of men with guns to kill federal law enforcement officers and, in the extreme, soldiers in the U.S. Army. It's completely obvious that the function of the gun is to kill people, no matter the idiotic signs that "Guns don't kill people." Why would the extremists buy all those guns if they didn't believe in their effectiveness as killing machines? 

And the dead accumulate. We hear the response from the people standing in line, "Enough is enough." But what to do? 

Here is what we need, and why that sit-in that occurred in the House of Representatives was important. We need a larger, equally devoted block of Americans on the other side from the gun nuts. Our numbers are vastly larger. There clearly are many more people who support gun control than oppose it. The strong majority of Americans support background checks. It's just that those of us who support gun control have been busy with other interests. We've been worrying about health insurance reform and global warming. 

Perhaps we can now agree that the situation has gotten way out of hand and that it is imperative that the country take action. If so, then it has to be done through a political movement. 

I don't think that we need bother ourselves with trying to counter such illogic as "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." I think that the people who recite these slogans understand the fundamental weakness of the statement. We just need lots of people on our side, and they have to be people who take action by voting. 

But before we can change the country by voting, we need to have candidates who make gun control a priority issue. We have to be able to develop political movements that can intimidate your run of the mill politician who is looking to see which way the wind is blowing. We need to be that wind. When congressmen representing traditional Republican districts start to hear from people about firearm deaths, and start to worry about a developing electoral majority, then the tide will have turned. 

That's why the sit-ins are so important. They could be the spark to ignite the movement. All those people who came to the San Pedro meeting on Monday night are just the most vocal and the most local. There are lots more all over the country. They need to be able to coalesce around a wing of the Democratic Party that will provide the leadership. It's that political wing that is necessary for the mass movement to win. It's asking a lot of politicians who have been trying to avoid the wedge issue of gun control, but perhaps this is the moment. 

At Monday night's meeting, one woman spoke of a niece of hers who had died in the Connecticut shooting. She spoke of the many parents who had to make the decision about whether to bury the corpse of their child with her favorite doll, or whether to save it as a remembrance.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]) 


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