Monday, March 28, 2005

On Guns

One of the three G's that keep the wingnuts going to the polls and voting against their own economic interests is guns. (The other two supposedly are gays and God.) I must come clean and admit that I have great difficulty understanding the American love affair with guns. I can see how banning guns now would be difficult to do, even if it wasn't against the basic beliefs of the country, because once you start riding the tiger it's hard to get off. Meaning that there are plenty of guns out there already, so that if you relinquish yours you might be toast when you meet someone who kept his or hers. But the idea that the right to bear arms is somehow a fundamental right is hard for me to grasp. Well, I have my lightning bolts and my magic, too.

Still, the National Rifle Association slogan about "guns not killing people but people killing people" is stupid. It's also true that nuclear weapons don't kill people and so on. What all these do is magnify the killing power of the people who use them, and the reason why the U.S. has such high murder death rates is in this magnifying power. Just think of someone who goes crazy in a school and decides to kill everybody in the building. How far would that person get with the plan without a firearm? Not very far at all.

Then there's the war against terrorism. One would think that making it hard for terrorists to acquire weapons would be an integral part of it. One would be wrong. In fact, terrorists could easily buy the most advanced weapons available in the United States, and if they did it in gun shows there might be no evidence of the purchase at all. If they shopped in the gun stores the evidence would be destroyed within twenty-four hours. Terrorists can't fly planes but they can buy automatic assault weapons! I hope that you sleep well knowing this little fact.

The reason for what looks like an inane policy by our administration has to do with the National Rifle Association (NRA). The Republican politicians are more afraid of the NRA than of the terrorists, as a new bill proposal makes clear:

But gun control advocates say they are dumbfounded by the timing of Congress' effort to indemnify the gun industry because it will come just weeks after the release of a troubling report on guns and terrorism. A Government Accountability Office report released earlier this month said that at least 36 individuals on the federal terrorist "watch list" have walked into gun shops and bought weapons. The report makes the current effort in Congress to provide immunity to the industry painfully ironic to the gun control crowd. "It really ought to be an embarrassment that Congress would push this bill in the wake of a report that terrorists are buying guns over the counter," said Dennis Henigan, legal action project director at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Observers say the strange juxtaposition speaks to the momentous clout of the National Rifle Association and the gun industry -- and may have exposed like never before a glaring blind spot in homeland security. Where the Bush administration's "war on terror" has conflicted with the interests and raw political power of the gun lobby, mounting evidence shows that the war consistently loses. Henigan noted that suspects on the government's terror watch list cannot board airplanes or cruise ships, but they can buy assault weapons. "There is no question that this radical pro-gun ideology trumps the war on terror," he said. "It is quite striking."

"Striking" isn't the adjective that comes first to mind here, but it will do. This particular law proposal would make it even harder for the government to fight terrorism but it would make the lives of gun-dealers more pleasant. A fair trade, some might argue. But then those are the people who also keep telling us that guns don't kill people...