About Us| Issues & Campaigns| Media| Get Involved| New to the Issue?| Donate

December 21, 2009

Seek the Path of Love

As we prepare to say hello to a second decade of this new century, I am mindful of the wisdom of the ancient prayer we have come to know as "The Lord's Prayer." The prayer has been adapted by many cultures over the centuries. I am particularly taken by one rendition that comes out of Central America. I offer it as my wish to you for a Happy New Year.

Our Lord, whose Spirit is with us here on earth,
Even the hungry sing praise to your Holy Name.
They look to your "Kin-dom,"
a land rich with milk and honey.
Enable us to do your will,
to stand while others sit,
to speak when others remain silent.
We thank you for bread,
for the song of the bird,
for the miracle of the corn.
Forgive our silence in the face of injustices,
for burying our dreams,
for keeping our bread and wine to ourselves.
Help us to resist the temptations,
to turn our heads from hunger and injustice in resignation,
to close the doors of our hearts,
to take up the same arms as the oppressor.
Deliver us from all evil,
Enable us faithfully together,
to seek the path of love though it be only lightly trodden,
to persist despite hardships.
For it leads to your everlasting "Kin-dom."

It is my hope for all of us that we may be enabled to stand while others sit, to speak when others remain silent, and to persist despite hardships.

Happy New Year!

December 14, 2009

Stress in the Workplace

In Joshua Ferris’ national bestseller, Then We Came to the End, he details the foibles and tedium of modern office life through the story of a group of Chicago advertising employees attempting to find meaning and continued employment during the dot-com bust. The novel was a National Book Award finalist and deemed “One of the Ten Best Books of the Year” last year by at least seven top book reviews. It’s one of the funniest novels I have read in a long time.

In the midst of the humor, one episode in the book struck a chord with me. After one employee, Tom Mota, is fired, his fellow workers begin to wonder if Tom might return to the office seeking retribution. As Ferris describes it:

Tom subscribed to Guns and Ammo. He had a sizeable collection of firearms in his possession. Most of those guns, however, were collector’s items and probably couldn’t even fire anymore. Well, some of us thought, what’s stopping Tom from going out and buying new guns? How easy it is to visit a gun show and later find yourself in possession of the assault weapons ideal for a situation like the one we were envisioning...[or] after some less-than-truthful data entry, using a shady Internet dealer, he might be taking possession of those unsportsmanlike items from a UPS man even as our debate raged.

Ferris succinctly captures the real possibility of workplace violence and the touch of anxiety many workers feel. An average of 500 homicides occur in U.S. workplaces every year and a 2005 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that workplaces where guns are permitted are five to seven times more likely to be the site of a workplace homicide compared to workplaces where guns are prohibited. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that, since 2005, the National Rifle Association has pressured at least 12 states to enact laws that restrict employers’ ability to exclude firearms from their premises.

Hopefully, our legislators will acquire the backbone necessary to stand up to the gun lobby at some point in the near future so future readers will see novels like Then We Came to the End as nothing more than fiction.

December 7, 2009

A Profile in Courage

Over my many years in the gun control movement, I have been privileged to work with, for, and against many interesting people. One of the most interesting is a man named Bob Ricker who, sadly, was taken from us on Friday after a bout with cancer.

As a promising young lawyer, Ricker was hired in 1981 to be the Assistant General Counsel for the National Rifle Association (NRA). Ricker represented the NRA in many important federal and state legislative battles and gained a deep understanding of the political and legal process. Eventually, he became the executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council (ASSC), the gun industry’s leading trade organization at the time.

In this position, Ricker participated in a series of gun industry meetings between 1992 and 1997, during which manufacturers questioned whether they should take voluntary action to better control the distribution of guns. As Ricker later stated, gun makers had long known that “the diversion of firearms from legal channels of commerce to the black market” takes place “principally at the distributor/dealer level.” This is because corrupt dealers make it easy for criminals and juveniles to buy guns by allowing practices like “straw purchases,” in which an individual with a clean criminal record buys a gun(s) on behalf of someone who is prohibited under federal law from doing so (i.e., a convicted felon, domestic abuser, “mental defective,” drug addict, etc.).

During these industry meetings, Ricker heeded Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice that, “A little integrity is better than any career.” At a time in life when men are supposed to be incapable of real change, he had the moral resolve to transform his thinking regarding the gun industry’s business practices. Ricker proposed strict standards and guidelines to his industry colleagues. Under his plan, firearm manufacturers would have been able to sell guns only to distributors and retailers who could demonstrate that they had a firm understanding of applicable laws, safety rules, and warning signs for illegal firearm trafficking. Dealers would have also been prohibited from selling multiple guns at one time to a single individual. His plan was rejected. As Ricker described it, “the prevailing view was that if the industry took action voluntarily, it would be an admission of responsibility for the problem.” Ultimately, the industry’s lawyers decided that even holding the meetings was “dangerous” and they were stopped altogether.

Ricker was not done, though. Following the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, he traveled to the White House on behalf of ASSC to meet with President Bill Clinton and see if something could be done to prevent future school shootings (the teenage killers had acquired their guns through unregulated private firearm sales). For an NRA run by “right-wing wackos,” this was the last straw. Ricker was forced to resign and the ASSC was disbanded in favor of the more conservative National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

In 2003, Ricker would go public with his concerns about the gun industry when he provided testimony in an affidavit for a lawsuit by 12 California cities and counties against the gun industry. A few months later, he appeared on “60 Minutes” to tell his full story. When he was asked why he would risk his reputation and the wrath of gun rights activists by coming forward, Ricker stated, “I don't want to have to come home some night from the office and have my wife tell me that, ‘Your son was shot in a drive-by shooting,’ or, ‘The neighbor's kids were killed.’ And these people who sit up there in their corporate offices, they know about the problem. They've known about it for a long time. And the time is up.”

In his final years, Ricker backed up those words. He worked with the Virginia Center for Public Safety as they campaigned to close the Gun Show Loophole in that state. He was also a co-founder of the American Hunters and Shooters Association, a more moderate gun rights group that has been willing to acknowledge the legitimate public safety concerns aroused by gun violence in this country.

In the end, Ricker left quite a legacy of good works. But what I admire most about him is his courage to reexamine his beliefs and priorities. He risked—and lost—a lot of friendships in the pro-gun movement because of his determination to be a responsible citizen in our society. He was pilloried, mocked, and made an object of scorn for making this stand—but he never wavered. Even in his last months, Ricker was focused on making good public policy for the benefit of all.

Perhaps the best epitaph for Bob comes from Psalms 112 from the King James Bible:

1. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.

2. His descendants will be mighty on earth,
The generation of the upright will be blessed.

3. Wealth and riches will be in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.

4. Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness,
He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.

5. A good man deals graciously and lends,
He will guide his affairs with discretion.

6. Surely he will never be shaken,
The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.

7. He will not be afraid of evil tidings,
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

8. His heart is established,
He will not be afraid,
Until he sees his desire upon his enemies.

9. He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor,
His righteousness endures forever,
His horn will be exalted with honor.

10. The wicked will see it and be grieved,
He will gnash his teeth and melt away,
The desire of the wicked shall perish.