Egan begins: 'When it became clear in the early fall of 2008 that Barack Obama, son of a Kansan and a Kenyan, would be the 44th President of the United States, many citizens rushed to their gun shops, stocked up on ammo and camo, and tried to fortify their nests with all manner of lethal weapons. Though he had said nothing about gun control in the campaign, Obama, to a certain kind of person, appeared to be a grave threat to the Second Amendment.'
Handguns seized by the Los Angeles police. (photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
Gun Nuts in a Rut
02 Decemeber 11
hen it became clear in the early fall of 2008 that Barack Obama, son of a Kansan and a Kenyan, would be the 44th President of the United States, many citizens rushed to their gun shops, stocked up on ammo and camo, and tried to fortify their nests with all manner of lethal weapons.
Though he had said nothing about gun control in the campaign, Obama, to a certain kind of person, appeared to be a grave threat to the Second Amendment. He was urban - Chicago, not the kind of place where a man could shoot a coyote with a laser-sighted Ruger while on his daily jog, as Gov. Rick Perry claims to have done. He was professorial, with scholastic braising at that home of confiscatory consensus, Harvard. And he'd made that statement about rural people clinging to guns and religion.
Into the early months of the Obama presidency gun sales went though the roof. A nation of at least 200 million firearms reached for ever more, in a hurry and a frenzy.
And then, nothing. No legislation. No speeches about the ubiquity of guns in the most violent of Western democracies. Obama actually increased gun rights, signing a bill with a rider that allows people to pack loaded and concealed heat in national parks. Even after the slaughter in Tucson in January of 2011, when six people were killed and 13 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in a madman's spree, Obama did nothing to keep guns out of the hands of those at the margins of sanity.
At last, though, some evidence seemed to emerge of his real intent: the story of a federal agency, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, allowing high-powered guns purchased in this state to flow to Mexican drug cartels - a woefully misguided effort to catch bigger fish.
To the gun wackos, it was all a grand scheme, hatched at the very top, to move the masses against weapons. That is, guns like AK-47 rifles, sold with some restrictions by dealers here. If the government could prove, through an operation called Fast and Furious, that loose American gun laws were responsible in part for the firepower of Mexican drug gangsters, well, then surely they would move next to restrict the arming of private citizens in the U.S. of A. That was the logic, and the battle cry.
Fast and Furious was plotted at the top, proclaimed Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, "so they can stick more gun legislation on honest American gun owners."
The gun lobby, whose ownership of Congress rivals only that of Wall Street, started a television campaign to oust Attorney General Eric Holder, who said he never authorized the operation.
Congressional Republicans, eager to do the N.R.A.'s bidding, launched investigations. Subpoenas were issued. Fox News fanned the flames, without, of course, breaking any news. "Fast and Furious Just Might Be President Obama's Watergate," was one headline at Forbes.com.
Well, surprise, surprise, surprise, in the words of Gomer Pyle, simpleton and role model no doubt for this Congress. What the documents and testimony showed was that Fast and Furious originated with field agents here in Phoenix - not in the White House - and the tactic was first used under President George W. Bush. His attorney general, Michael Mukasey, was told in a 2007 briefing paper of gun border operations that were precursors to Fast and Furious, and of the need to expand them.
Oh. So Bush wanted to take everyone's guns. Case closed, yes?
The plain and simple truth is that Democrats learned from the last gun law episode, when President Clinton led Congress to ban certain kinds of assault weapons in 1994, not to touch this issue. And ever since then, after many Western and rural Democrats were voted out, they have been silent. Your typical Democrat from the West, now, is as likely to show off his gun collection as any preening Republican.
In American politics, some issues fade away naturally, while others recirculate. We are a violent nation. More people die from firearms (often their own guns, in suicides, domestic fights and accidents) in America than in almost any other civilized country. About 1 million people have been killed by guns in the United States since 1968.
But at the same time, violent crime is down considerably in most parts of the country - as in, levels not seen since Beaver Cleaver's time. You can argue that the crime decline is because of all the guns in our midst (protection). Or you can argue that we still kill our own at a much higher rate than most countries because of those same guns.
But there's no serious case that President Obama is trying to take people's guns. Guess what grade the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama after one year in office? He got an "F" for his gun stance, or lack of same. This after the N.R.A. predicted that he would be the most anti-gun president in history.
Of course, sensible laws might have kept people like Jared Lee Loughner, the clearly deranged accused shooter in the Tucson massacre, from owning - and legally concealing - his Glock 19 semiautomatic, with its multiple-round magazine. But Obama would not use his executive power to make even that case.
Left with nothing to fear but imaginary fear itself, the gun nuts are in a terrible rut. They need scary opposition in order to flourish. They need someone to hate. They need conspiracies. And, as always, they need donations.
So, in their world, Obama's silence, his reticence, his passivity is proof of a grand scheme.
"It's all part of a massive conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intention to destroy the Second Amendment," LaPierre told a major conservative gathering this fall.
Get it: he's a stealth threat! By design.
It's much harder to accept the nuance of truth, because that would imperil the power of the gun lobby. And it's difficult for many to accept the idea that the drift of civilizations in general is toward less violence.
"Believe it or not - and I know most people do not - violence has declined over long periods of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence," wrote Steven Pinker in his provocative new book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature."
Would you think the gun lobby could call a truce? Not a chance.
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