Bob Schwartz

Tag: Newtown

Forget the Senators, Love the Mayors

Mayor Annise Parker

If you are one of those angered and ashamed of members of the U.S. Senate today, you are not alone.

Forty-six U.S. Senators voted against the Manchin Amendment to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. This amendment to the gun violence bill was crafted by Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) to be the mildest, least objectionable expansion of background checks conceivable. They tried.

The amendment was rejected. The vote was 54 Yeas to 46 Nays, less than the 60 votes needed under the Senate rules. All the other amendments attempting to enhance regulation also failed.

Three Republicans voted for the amendment, including Toomey, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona. McCain deserves special mention. From the year 2000 on, including the 2008 Presidential election, his “maverick” and “straight talk” credentials have been an on-again, off-again affair. At least for this amendment (though he did not support any other regulation), he took a stand.

Here are the Senators who voted against any expansion of background checks, no matter how small:

Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Baucus (D-MT)
Begich (D-AK)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coats (R-IN)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)
Enzi (R-WY)
Fischer (R-NE)
Flake (R-AZ)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Heller (R-NV)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (R-WI)
Lee (R-UT)
McConnell (R-KY)
Moran (R-KS)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rubio (R-FL)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

For a change, we have a post-partisan moment, where some Democrats and Republicans can agree on something: the status quo of guns in America is just fine.

Forget the Senators. Whether they believe it or not, a political steamroller is on its way that, no matter how they calculate home state interests or expect the NRA to protect them, will flatten them like Wile E. Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon. Too wily by half.

Let’s talk about mayors, the politicians who can’t distance themselves from the harsh realities of American life, politicians who, unlike others, have to actually work for a living and try, as best they can, to do a little something to make things better.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a coalition of over 900 mayors from big cities and small towns across the country:

As mayors, our highest responsibility is to enforce the law and to protect the people we serve. One of the most difficult challenges we face in meeting this responsibility is preventing criminals from illegally obtaining guns and using them. The issue of illegal guns is not conservative or liberal; it is an issue of law and order — and life or death.…

[W]hat binds us together is a determination to fight crime, and a belief that we can do more to stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.  We have seen how the polarizing rhetoric of gun politics on all sides only obscures the tragic reality we see every day on our streets: violent criminals with easy access to illegal guns.

Above is a photo of Mayor Annise Parker of Houston. She is shown as a representative mayor against illegal guns because Houston is also the home of Senator Ted Cruz, one of the most vocal opponents of any gun legislation.

Maybe what we need to do is replace these Senators at the next available opportunity with almost any of these mayors. These mayors aren’t all angels, but they don’t have time to be blowhards or ideological purists. They know how to get the job done, know what it is to tackle difficult issues, and know what it’s like to do the dirty work of cleaning up messes—and most of all figuring out how to avoid some of those messes in the first place. They could do better, in part because nobody could do worse.

Arm Postal Workers

United States Postal Service
It seems that the National Rifle Association and an incongruously growing number of fearful politicians are currently lining up behind a proposal to train and arm teachers to fight the threat of gun violence. In the view of some, this makes more sense than requiring universal background checks and limiting assault weapons and oversized ammunition magazines.

The scenario is that when psychopaths like Adam Lanza try to force their way into Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, they will be shocked and awed to find themselves facing a militia of teachers, a special forces unit capable of both taking out terrorists and teaching reading to six-year-olds.

Good plan. But it doesn’t go far enough.

It is time to arm postal workers.

We know, to begin, that postal workers have faced their own sort of psychopathic terror over the years. Not often, and certainly not often enough to have earned the undeserved meme “going postal.” But on the principle that you can never have too many guns in the hands of good guys and gals, it would be a welcome preventative.

On top of that, postal workers walking their delivery routes regularly navigate the mean streets of America, just as our police do. Why not, then, train, arm and deputize these postal workers as sworn peace officers? This has many benefits: the streets will be safer, and the Postal Service will be playing a vital role—a role that should fend off any questions about their budgetary problems, especially with changes in the use of mail.

Part of being a good American is coming up with good ideas to keep our country safe—especially ideas that increase the number of guns and gun owners. Saving the Postal Service is just a bonus. You’re welcome, NRA.

Who Killed the Assault Weapons Ban?

Hoover Tactical Firearms
A ban on assault weapons is dead, at least for this session of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Democratic gun bill moving forward will not include it.

The political math is that 60 votes are needed to pass a bill in this new and not improved super-majority Senate voting, and there weren’t enough Democrats, let alone Republicans, to make passage possible. The political reality is fear. There are Democratic Senators who believe that a vote for anything that looks like a gun ban, however reasonable and popular, would cause them grief or worse back home and in the voting booth.

We had a ban on assault weapons for ten years, signed by Bill Clinton, allowed to expire under George W. Bush in 2004, and never revived. It was far from perfect or comprehensive, but at least it represented recognition that as a modern civilization, there are things we try not to do or allow to be done. This isn’t heaven, but we can make it a little less hell.

An earlier post mentioned that we have not seen, and as a matter of decency (we are civilized people, aren’t we?) will not see, the photos of the dead children at Sandy Hook School in Newtown. Since then, though, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing at which a vivid word image was painted by a first responder. Maybe not a thousand words, but we got the picture.

Harry Reid could tell us, name by name, which Democratic Senators did not want to have a vote on this so they wouldn’t have to be accountable. They wanted to avoid the double-edged sword, cut once politically by supporters and voters who believe that any banned weapon is one too many, then cut again by those who can’t understand why military weapons are needed by the hunter or the psychopath next door. By Adam Lanza’s mother and, in the end, by Adam Lanza.

Maybe we are asking the wrong questions of our politicians. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking whether they believe in a ban on assault weapons, or in the possibility that such a ban might reduce the number of gun deaths by even a little, and might reduce the brutality of an already brutal world.

Maybe we should be asking our politicians whether they believe in ghosts. The kind of ghosts who visit all of us, in the moments before sleep, in sleep itself. Ghosts of things done or not done. For Senators, ghosts of bills passed, unpassed, and too many times, never voted on at all. Ghosts that aren’t abstract, but that take stark, all too real form. Ghosts that look like mangled, barely recognizable angels, just wanting somebody to speak—and vote—for them.

NASCAR Follows NRA Off the Roof

NRA 300
The National Rifle Association jumped off the public relations roof in the wake of Newtown and the legislative attempts to curb gun violence.

Which is fine. The First Amendment guarantees the right of individuals or groups to jump off any rhetorical roof, so long as no one is harmed (except maybe for the jumper). There is money to be made and power to be gained by taking extreme or contrarian positions, sometimes the louder and more insistent the better.

But as your parents advised you—though you may have willfully ignored the advice—just because Johnny jumps off the roof doesn’t mean you should do the same.

As recently as last September, the NRA sponsored a NASCAR race, the NRA American Warrior 300 in Atlanta.

Today it was announced that the NRA will be sponsoring a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway this April, to be called the NRA 500.

Something happened between September and April: Newtown, Sandy Hook, twenty children slaughtered.

The NRA believes that if anything happened, it only makes it more important than ever to pretend that nothing happened, or to pretend that whatever happened can’t be prevented by any proposed measures, or to pretend that what happened is being unfairly used to threaten their existence and the Second Amendment. The NRA believes it has the support of millions, and that its obstruction is massively appreciated, all national polls to the contrary. It believes that even if it is jumping off some roof, there is a safety net to catch it.

NASCAR may believe that it will be caught by that same safety net, since many NASCAR fans are also gun owners, if not NRA members. NASCAR may feel it is caught between a rock and a hard place: damned if they continue to work with the NRA, damned if they don’t. Of course, even many NRA members are skeptical, some embarrassed, by the NRA’s current extremism and obstruction. On top of that, the NRA PR safety net, even if it does still exist, is probably big enough for just one.

Maybe an NRA race this April won’t be such a big deal for NASCAR. But maybe it will be. If it is, NASCAR shouldn’t expect that there will be a net to catch it. We will know in the days to come whether this is a brilliant move, just business as usual, or a thud.

God Does Not Like Guns

William Strutt - Peace
God does not like guns. God is also not crazy about nuclear weapons, and about all the easy to use and widely available tools of destruction in between.

This isn’t obvious. As scholars of religion and violence point out, the Old Testament is a compendium of both divine and divine-inspired and endorsed human mayhem. In the continuing battle against moral evil, which often has a religious component or context, the imperative to take up arms goes unquestioned among some, but not all. Finally, an entire eschatological theology is based on a battle that ends and transcends history as we know it, leading once and for all to the heaven on earth we have all been awaiting.

Let us pull back to the now and here, particularly last night in Newtown, Connecticut, where clergy of all faiths talked about God, if not for God.

The events in Newtown opened up a door to a new world. It was not Armageddon in an epic sense, but it was the end of the world for some, and everyone felt that. The door is a passage to the place where we leave the theology of the Second Amendment behind, where we stop listening to the priests of the National Rifle Association and their interpretations of what the founding gods meant.

This is the time to extend last night in Newtown to every congregation in America. There, leaders will explain to congregants whether God loves guns, and particularly whether God loves guns in such massive quantities and destructiveness.

The leaders can then cite Isaiah 11, and explain how “a child will lead them” is not merely some hermeneutic puzzle pointing to a messiah. Instead, it is reflected in the instruction by Jesus: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

The leaders will close by acknowledging that the faithful congregants will hear and themselves espouse practical arguments that stand in the way. Leaders will then patiently explain that all faith is ultimately impractical and heedless of impossibility. God does not like guns, but as his instruments, we are bound to do the worldly work of reducing their number and universal availability. If we claim to be faithful, that is more than just a good deed. It is a divine mission. God, it appears, will be more disappointed than ever if we fail.

If Not Now When: Today Is the Day to Talk About Guns

National Rifle Association - Newtown
In the immediate hours after the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, Presidential spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether this would move the President on the issue of gun control. “Today is not the day to talk about guns,” he replied. The focus, he said, should be on the victims and their families.

A few massacres ago, around the time of the Colorado movie theatre shootings, that sounded better. The boldness of those activists wanting to instantly seize the moment and make a point about gun control seemed insensitive. There would be time enough, soon, to talk about public policy.

“Today is not the day,” doesn’t sound so good or so responsible any more. Whether or not we go for years without another incident like this, or whether, as is more likely, it is a matter of a few weeks or months, the day to talk is today.

The National Rifle Association and the related Second Amendment groups are the most powerful and successful lobby in modern America. Grover Norquist is a pretender, thinking that his threats of losing elections have changed America. As much as Americans hate taxes, many love having their guns, and the NRA has helped those Americans get them, keep them and be allowed to use them.

The NRA’s biggest, though not only, problem is that they have constitutional paranoia. They perceive even the slightest hint of regulation as the first step on a slippery slope. That paranoia has mutated and spread to politicians of almost all types. Except that those politicians aren’t pathologically afraid of guns being taken away; they are pathologically afraid of losing their jobs.

Fortunately for him, the President just got his contract renewed for four years. Even if he has something to propose that won’t get the support of his own party, let alone Republicans, even if what he proposes will have trouble passing constitutional muster, that should not stop him, if he is the man of principle we believe him to be.

The dead can’t vote, and in the case of the children killed today at Sandy Hook Elementary School, they weren’t old enough anyway. So we have to speak for them and vote for them. Today is the day. President Obama, lead us and show us what to do.