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September 29, 2008

The NRA Cries Wolf...Again

Over the years I have observed the underhanded and sleazy political campaign tactics of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA). It has been my experience that their practices hew to a familiar pattern—wait until near the end of an election cycle, then attack those who support common sense gun laws with a series of unsubstantiated and false claims.

This election cycle, the NRA-ILA has announced that it will spend $40 million on campaign activities. $15 million of that amount will be used to portray Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama as a threat to individual gun ownership in the United States. The NRA-ILA is circulating fliers and mailers that claim to expose "Barack Obama's 10-Point Plan to Change the Second Amendment." This bogus "plan" is really an NRA invention that purposely distorts the Senator's voting record and public statements.

In addition, the NRA is running TV and radio ads that claim that Obama plans to "ban use of firearms for home self-defense," "ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns," and "close 90% of gun shops and ban hunting ammunition" if elected. These accusations are a familiar mixture of misrepresentations, twisted language, fabrications, unsubstantiated conjecture and outright lies. To any informed voter, the NRA’s tactics are pure political satire worthy of Saturday Night Live. The ads themselves are so ridiculous that they would be funny were they not so dangerous.

You can check out the accuracy of the NRA’s claims about Senator Obama at the nonpartisan Annenberg Political Fact Check website. A recent editorial by American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA) President Ray Schoenke also refutes the NRA’s Confiscation Myth.

Let us remember that just two election cycles ago it was Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain who was in the NRA’s crosshairs. In 2001, the NRA lambasted McCain as one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment. Now, NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox brags about “over 20 years of high-profile agreements” with the Senator.

Like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” the NRA will continue to raise their confiscation fears as long as there is money to be raised and politicians to intimidate. The moral of that famous story is "Nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth.” At least Wayne LaPierre & Co. will never find themselves in that situation...

September 22, 2008

Viva El Sentido ComĂșn

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence was a founding member of the vibrant and creative International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). IANSA is a global movement against gun violence—a network of 800 civil society organizations working in 120 countries to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. IANSA seeks to make people safer from gun violence by securing stronger regulation on guns in society and better controls on arms exports. It represents the voice of civil society on the international stage (i.e., by participating in the current United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms) and draws on the practical experience of its members to campaign for policies that will protect human security.

Another member of IANSA is an exciting group in Brazil called Viva Rio. The country of Brazil has experienced debilitating levels of gun violence. In recent years, more than 100 Brazilians have died daily from gunfire, many of them young men from poor urban communities. Young men are more likely to be killed by firearms than all other external causes of death combined, including traffic accidents, illness, and other kinds of injuries.

In part due to the leadership of Viva Rio, in 2003 the government of Brazil enacted strong gun control measures. I was excited to read in the August 23-29, 2008 issue of The Economist an article reporting on the falling murder rate in Brazil—particularly in the country's largest city, Sao Paulo. The article cited gun control reform as one of the main reasons for the decline. A 2003 law restricted the right to carry guns. A subsequent amnesty and gun buyback program took half a million weapons off the streets.

Brazil is yet another example of a democracy that refuses to put up with the scourge of gun violence that is endemic to the United States. Many nations have found creative and effective ways to deal with the problem that we have chosen to ignore. Perhaps it is time to once again pull our heads out of the sand, look around at other nation's "best practices," and take some coordinated national action to Stop Gun Violence.

September 15, 2008

Beyond Right and Wrong

This past weekend, I had the privilege of participating in the annual "9/11 Unity Walk." As the event’s website describes it: "Jolted by horrific acts of 9/11, discouraged by religious intolerance, yet inspired by the movements of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, religious leaders and lay people alike have embraced their differences in a dramatic display of unity, the Unity Walk. Since 2005, in Washington, DC, and, now, New York City, every church, synagogue, mosque and temple on Embassy Row and near Ground Zero opens their doors to each other, and symbolically, the world. The Unity Walk seeks to build bridges of understanding and respect in a post September 11th world.

The poet Rumi once said: "Out beyond right and wrong there is a field. I'll meet you there." It was very exciting to be among a throng of people of all different faiths and beliefs who were able to meet on that field and put aside our differences and walk hand in hand. As we concluded the walk at the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, we were reminded by Arun Gandhi of his grandfather's plea: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

These are good lessons for us in the gun violence prevention movement. Once in a while, we should lay aside our minor differences of approach and come together for our common overall goal—to make this a safer country for all our people.

September 8, 2008

Seeking a Newer World

This weekend, I participated in a memorial service for a great, dear friend, Frances B. Stevens, a gentleman of the South who became a fierce advocate of the civil rights of all people. His passing reminded me that it is up to us to work for a better world for those to follow.

In memory of Frances, I offer this selection from Ulysses written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1833 after the death of his own dear friend. Frances Stevens was one who fit Tennyson's words: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

"The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

September 1, 2008

To Dream the Impossible Dream

Forty-five years ago my wife-to-be and I stood amongst a huge multitude of people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and heard a young black preacher spell out his dream of a future for America. It was a stirring vision of a society that, "one day," could become a reality.

At the time, his dream seemed like a beautiful but unreachable goal. However, last Thursday, exactly 45 years to the day, we sat in another crowd to witness a young African-American fulfill the promise of that long-ago dream. We heard Barack Obama spell out his own vision of the future of America. Like the dream of the preacher, it seems like an unreachable goal. But we now know that dreams can come true with lots of hard work, dedication and sacrifice on the part of the dreamers.

I was pleased to hear the Democratic candidate for President of the United States include the following in his vision of our future:

"The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals."

That is an important goal for a candidate running for public office in this day and age when gun violence has become an epidemic and most politicians are trying to ignore or run away from the issue of gun control.

A day later we were presented with a stark contrast when a self-proclaimed "lifetime member of the National Rifle Association" was chosen to be the candidate for Vice-President on the Republican ticket. It was a curious and disappointing choice for a presidential candidate who had hinted at his independence from the gun lobby when he recently reiterated support for closing the Gun Show Loophole.

In the days ahead, we will have an opportunity to find out who is the real John McCain: the maverick willing to buck special interests to better the lives of everyday Americans, or the politician eager to court right-wing favor even if it means betraying his principles?

Soon we will have a clear choice of visions. And then the future will be in our hands when we head to the polls in November...