Joanne Knight

February 14, 2014

Reflections on the Gun Debate

gun debate

Last Saturday, I attended a forum organized by Sally Lieber, California Assemblywoman, titled “Local Action for Gun Violence Reduction.” The list of speakers included Mattie Scott from Mothers for Healing our Families and Nation; Professor John Donohue, Stanford Law School; Laura Cutilletta, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and community activists, Ian Johnstone, Gun by Gun; and Josh Wolf, Organizing for Action.

Mattie Scott lost her son and nephew to gun violence. Her son was shot when attending a graduation party and he attempted to intervene in a fight. He was killed with a semi-automatic weapon. The group Mothers for Healing attend at hospitals as first responders and give support to families who are victims of gun violence such as funeral arrangements, grief support groups, foster families and support to young women who are victims of violence. She asked “Where is the homeland security for us?”

At this point certain rumblings were coming from the back of the room. How long is she going to speak? When are you going to let us speak? What about people who support guns? And of course the favorite NRA slogan “Gun don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Eventually the voices subsided and another speaker took the podium to describe her experiences with gun violence. When she mentioned the need for measures to ban assault weapons, the room erupted. People, mostly men, were yelling, “They are criminals…” One man yelled out, “Are you calling me a murderer?”

This question pulled me up short. Of course the logic of this question stems from the slogan “Gun don’t kill people, people kill people.” If the presence of guns is not the reason for so many gun deaths, then you must be saying that every gun owner is responsible for every gun death. The convoluted logic of this was mind-bending.

The session was scheduled to last for two hours and the pro-gun people in the room undertook a concerted campaign of disruption for the entire time. The objections became so aggressive at one point that my seat was being bumped by an angry man sitting behind me. I was afraid. If these people supported gun ownership and did not believe in gun violence, then there was no telling what would happen.

It became clear to me as the session progressed that this was an organized disruption of the event presumably by NRA members. Every piece of NRA propaganda was trundled out and every piece of researched evidence presented by a law professor and a lawyer was ridiculed and dismissed or was questioned according to NRA disinformation. The speakers handled it all admirably but I was truly shaken by the end.

Was this democracy in America? Where the loudest and most aggressive voices are the only ones to be heard? Where local community events are invaded and wrecked by bussed in activists who are backed by powerful corporate interests? It was clear from this spectacle that corporate America has no interest in hearing the views of ordinary people.

In unison, pro-gun protestors denied that there are gun industry representatives sitting on the NRA board. However an article written by Frank Smyth from MSNBC last year named gun industry executives sitting on the NRA’s board including Pete Brownell, CEO of Brownells Inc., America’s largest supplier of firearms parts, tools and accessories, his father and chairman of the Brownell’s board, Frank R. Brownell III, is President of the NRA Foundation. Ronnie G. Barrett, CEO Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, sits on the NRA board and Stephen D. Hornady, CEO of ammunition-making firm, Hornady Manufacturing is an NRA board director and NRA Foundation Trustee.

One NRA disrupter claimed that the speakers were exploiting the memory of their dead family members for their own political gain. This was an obscene thing to say to people who are obviously grieving and in psychological pain. The logic of this statement also stems from NRA propaganda about who is behind measures to institute gun control. Given the clear political disadvantage of supporting gun regulation, it is difficult to see who would put themselves in that position. It didn’t make sense. But making sense is not the NRA’s strong suit.

There is clear evidence from other countries that reducing the number of guns in a society reduces the number of gun deaths and prevents tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting.

Another choice quote from a disrupter was “That’s the price of freedom.” So the deaths of twenty 6- and 7-year-old children is an acceptable outcome for these individuals to keep as many guns as they want to. It seems like the statement of a psychotic to argue this line. It is acceptable to have innocent lives ended to protect an absolute right to keep guns? Surely nobody really believes this. The men at this event were so passionate in their defense of their right to have guns, I began to wonder if guilt lay behind it. Whether they had to prove absolutely that gun ownership was not the reason for this horrific tragedy. At some deep psychological level, maybe the guilt of Sandy Hook was gnawing at them.

Homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop         Average firearms per 100 people

United States            2.97                                              88.8

Australia                    0.14                                               15

New Zealand            0.16                                                22.6

France                       0.06                                                31.2

Finland                      0.45                                                45.3

England and Wales 0.07                                                  6.2

Canada                      0.51                                                 30.8

SOURCES: UNODC & Small arms survey

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