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August 25, 2008

No Hoorays for Hollywood

I was disturbed to turn on the television this weekend and see trailers for two bid-budget—and extremely violent—films being released by Hollywood this month.

The first was for "Righteous Kill," which stars Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. The trailer certainly lives up to the film’s name, glamorizing the use of handguns and assault weapons and implying that some forms of homicide are both moral and acceptable:

Unknown: "Somebody shot another bad guy."
DeNiro: "We got to find out who did this."
Pacino: "Give him a medal."

In another segment, DeNiro quips, "Nothing wrong with a little shooting, as long as the right people get shot."

The "Bangkok Dangerous" trailer with Nicolas Cage is every bit as audacious in glamorizing murder. In it, hitman Cage boasts that “there is no right and wrong” and is shown shooting multiple people.

These films follow closely on the heels of others that have glamorized vigilantism and murder, including "The Brave One" with Jodie Foster, "Shoot 'Em Up" with Clive Owen, and "Wanted" with Angelina Jolie.

What is most baffling is that many of the same actors who are appearing in these movies have made strong statements about the need for tougher gun laws in the past. Cage was the lead in the thought-provoking film "Lord of War," which catalogued the tragedy wrought by the illicit international trade in small arms. DeNiro has been vilified by the gun rights community for his support for sensible gun laws. Foster stated that she was “absolutely” for gun control after “The Brave One” was released. It’s hard to see what is driving this apparent contradiction outside of a large paycheck.

One thing is for sure…when it comes to idolizing guns and glamorizing “justifiable” homicide, Hollywood can certainly give the gun lobby a run for its own money.

August 18, 2008

No Pain, No Gain

Over the years, I have often been struck by the number of people who say they want to see something positive done about the problem of gun violence, but do not want to become involved in political action or vigorous public debate. They seem to think it somehow unseemly or impolite to engage on this serious issue in the political or public relations arena. This is a recipe for total failure.

The great 19th century American political philosopher, Frederick Douglass, accurately described the problem when he stated: "The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters." "Power concedes nothing without a demand," Douglass concluded. "It never did, and it never will."

Right now, the gun lobby holds a tremendous amount of power in this country, and legislators are doing its bidding because they are not hearing often enough from the majority of Americans who want sensible gun laws and safe communities. If we want something done about the problem of gun violence, we will have to get our hands dirty, get ourselves involved in the political struggles—local, state and federal—that can make a real difference. We have to write letters to the editor, attend local community meetings, meet with state legislators, participate in demonstrations, raise our voices. And yes, even be willing to face the nasty, vitriolic rants of those who disagree with us and want to intimidate us into remaining silent.

Otherwise, our fate has already been written by Douglass: "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them."

August 11, 2008

Leadership in Faith

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is so named because we originally started as a coalition of national religious organizations working to prevent gun violence. The Coalition eventually grew to include all of the major Protestant, Catholic and Jewish organizations in the country. Over the years, we have added a wider range of civic and public safety organizations to the Coalition.

A few years ago, one member of our Board of Directors, who is a Presbyterian minister, wondered why there seemed to be a dichotomy between the actions of the national church groups and their local constituencies. He did a survey of local pastors. To no one's surprise, the survey revealed that although almost all the pastors agreed with the national denomination's positions on gun violence, they were loath to raise the subject at the local level because it "might anger" a few local members or raise hostility from local pro-gun groups.

I was recently heartened to learn of the action of the delegates to the 2008 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. They adopted a resolution which states, in part:

"Whereas bringing concealed weapons into the church sends a message that is at odds with what the church wants to communicate and violates the religious character of religious property, and;

Whereas the work of the church does not involve or require weapons;

Now be it resolved that the delegates to the 2008 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference oppose any attempts by the state legislature to allow anyone other than law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons in houses of worship;

And be it further resolved that we invite members of other churches and faiths in Georgia to join us in this effort."

Our thanks go out to the members of the North Georgia Annual Conference of the UMC who have chosen to take a public moral stance on this vital issue even though it may not be a popular position with every single parishioner in the local church pews.

August 4, 2008

The Trouble with Mary

By now you will have heard the story of Mary Lou Sapone/Mary McFate, the woman who since the late 1990s has covertly infiltrated gun control groups for a private security firm hired by the National Rifle Association (NRA). I knew Mary McFate. I considered her an ally in the campaign to stop gun violence in this country. Like others in the movement, I felt deeply betrayed by her mendacity and duplicity.

I am particularly dismayed by the pain felt by many victims and survivors of gun violence who befriended Mary and poured out their own personal stories to her. At times, they relied on her for solace and for assistance. What they got was betrayal. To me, this is the greatest damage done by this spy in our midst.

I suppose that we should take comfort in the fact that the National Rifle Association was so frightened by our activities that they were willing to pay Sapone/McFate huge sums of money to spy on our organization and betray those who considered her a friend and co-worker. I can express shock that Mary McFate was the agent, but no shock that the NRA would stoop so low. This high-priced, unethical operation confirms the manner in which the NRA works. As Bryan Miller of States United to Prevent Gun Violence recently observed, the NRA has "no rules, no question of fairness or honesty. Anything that they can do they will do to protect the profits of the gun industry." In the words of James Jay Baker, who was executive director of the NRA's legislative arm when Mary was hired, "We got information from whatever sources we can." This incident is but one in a long list of dirty, underhanded activities undertaken by the NRA. Anti-gun violence advocates across the nation—indeed around the world—can bear witness to the varied and vicious skullduggery of this mouthpiece of the gun industry.

As sad as this incident is, we must not let it make us paranoid. It should not color our attitude toward the good people who step forward to become involved in the vital campaign to stop gun violence. Mary Lou Sapone will have to live with her betrayal; we do not have to bear that burden. We have the responsibility to past and potential victims of gun violence to do all within our power to reduce the death and destruction caused by our country's lax policies regarding firearms. Let us bury the memory of Mary with our re-dedicated activity.