As the senseless deaths of twenty six-year olds and their teachers sank in, we sensed that there might be a glimmer of hope. Cynically, we noted that at least twenty children of color from disadvantaged homes were victims of gun violence every year in the United States and those "incidents" made barely a ripple on the national stage . . . perhaps the deaths of these twenty white children from privileged Connecticut would shake our nation out of our complacency and spur some serious gun control legislation and enforcement.
In truth, it's a mixed bag: In a number of states, proactive and balanced gun legislation was passed (including in New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and California). According to the New York Times (December 10, 2013), 109 new state gun bills became law in the year since the Newtown shootings. 39 of these new bills tighten gun restrictions. 70 of these new bills loosen gun restrictions. 14 of the 39 new bills relate to gun possession and mental health issues (including the creation of a task force here in Rhode Island mandated to review existing laws related to firearms and behavioral issues). 10 of the 39 new laws relate to strengthening or establishing background checks for the purchase of firearms. In Rhode Island, a bill became law in July making it illegal to receive, transport or possess any firearm whose identification has been altered.
The fact that more bills loosened gun restrictions than tightened them is an indication that we as a nation are struggling mightily with this issue. We need to conduct respectful and focussed and informed conversations about the place of firearms in our society.
We do not need fear tactics. We do not need polarizing rhetoric.
And yet, guns and public safety researcher, Timothy Johnson of MediaMatters.org reported today: As the one-year anniversary of the December 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School approaches, National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent is blaming "the self-inflicted scourge of political correctness" for the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut.
In his regular column for conspiracy website WND, Nugent wrote on December 11 that unless America followed a series of his policy recommendations -- including arming teachers, eliminating "gun-free zones," and getting "deranged people off the streets" -- "then those precious little 20 children and their six teachers and faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary died for nothing."
In the week we are mourning the death of Nelson Mandela--a man who never let himself be swayed by the assumptions and biases of others-- it is anathema to evoke the Holocaust as a support for the loosening of gun control. In a January 24, 2013 press release, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) reported:
Several national pundits and others outside of politics in recent weeks have compared the issue of gun control in the U.S. to actions taken by the Nazi regime. Some have suggested that President Obama’s proposals are reminiscent of Hitler’s gun-control policy. Others have argued that if the victims of the Holocaust had better access to guns, the Nazi regime would not have been able to systematically murder six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust.
Some examples of those bringing Nazi and/or Holocaust analogies into the discussion over gun control include:
The Drudge Report, under the headline “White House Threatens ‘Executive Orders’ on Guns,” featured photos of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin (Jan. 9).
Former Major League pitcher John Rocker wrote on WorldNetDaily.com about what he described as “…the undeniable fact that the Holocaust would never have taken place had the Jewish citizenry of Hitler’s Germany had the right to bear arms and defend themselves with those arms” (Jan. 15).
During an interview on the Fox News Channel, Lars Larson suggested that, “…if the president does it that way, everybody in America will be required to go in and give fingerprints…. It will be ‘your papers, please’ like Nazi Germany” (Jan. 9).
More recently, National Rifle Association board member Scott Bach wondered on NRA News how the mayor of Jersey City could support a gun safety survey because the mayor is a retired Marine and his grandparents survived the Holocaust.
Bach is the head of the official New Jersey NRA affiliate organization, Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, and has served on the NRA board since 2003.
On December 10, Associated Press reported that Jersey City, New Jersey Mayor Steven Fulop included a six question survey about gun safety in instructions for gun vendors to bid on contracts worth $350,000 to provide Jersey City with firearms and ammunition. Among the survey's inquiries are questions about whether the vendor sells assault weapons to the general public and if they take steps to prevent illegal gun trafficking.
Fulop told AP that he hopes other cities will follow his lead of inserting a "social responsibility component" into the bidding process for government contracts:
A 37-year-old former Marine, Fulop said he hopes larger cities will join the effort. Nearly every other industry, from construction to the garment industry, has some social responsibility component, he said, so why not gun manufacturers, dealers and vendors?
On the December 11 episode of NRA News' Cam & Company, Bach claimed that Fulop's survey was evidence he "is not getting it," in part because his grandparents survived the Holocaust. (www.mediamatters.org blog/Timothy Johnson, December 12, 2013).
We also acknowledge that the Jewish people do not hold exclusive rights as victims of Nazi genocide: there is just as solid documentation that the lives of gypsies, homosexuals, those suffering mental illness and political dissidents were just as callously discarded as were the lives of 6 million Jews.
Nonetheless, no one has the right to distort these truths to make political hay. Do you want to defend the status quo in gun possession? Speak with integrity and make your case, don't throw around emotional bombs like "Holocaust" and "Nazi." Do you have confidence that loosening gun restrictions is the responsible next step in our country's civic life? Speak with integrity and make your case with logic, accuracy and integrity: do not take the names and lives of the Newtown victims in vain.