Democracy Under Assault
Theopolitics, Incivility and Violence on the Right

Michele Swenson

U.S. Paralysis: The Stranglehold of Big Lobbies

It is a mark of the profound political influence of large special interest lobbies that, despite consensus about the atrocious state of U.S. health care and the horrific numbers of violent gun deaths, we are held hostage to failed policies by a culture of government-of-the-highest-bidder. Follow the money, as they say, to the source of our cultural paralysis. Big bucks are at stake for the profit-centered private health insurance industry that has been allowed to write policy to insure their bottom line (a la ‘Medicare Prescription Drug Reform’). Garnering greater profits requires covering the healthy and wealthy and eliminating all others. Compounding problems of inadequate health coverage have been the stigmatization and criminalization of mental illness, resulting in neglect or imprisonment of the drug-addicted and mentally ill at high human and societal cost.

Repeated U.S. massacres prove the lethal nexus of untreated mental illness and guns. Perhaps most cynical are those worshiping at the altar of gun-centered ideology. Leading hard-core gun advocates, the National Rifle Association has been described as a field and stream membership with a soldier-of-fortune leadership. The U.S. gun lobby has guaranteed that firearms would remain the only consumer product exempt from oversight since the 1972 inception of the Consumer Product Safety Commission — there is more oversight of teddy bears and toy guns. At the core of U.S. weapons idolatry are hard-core gun proponents, unwilling to leave vengeance to God, who view unlimited guns a solution to any perceived cultural challenge (Robert Jay Lifton, M.D., "The Psyche of a ‘Gunocracy’," Newsweek, 8/23/99). The 1997 book, Reducing Firearm Injury and Death: A Public Health Sourcebook linked increased U.S. gun deaths to the gun industry’s production of evermore lethal guns, and the gun lobby’s push for liberalized concealed carry (CCW) laws in every state.

With saturation of the market for hunting guns in the ‘80s, the gun industry employed fear-based marketing — the need for "more guns in more hands to make us safer" — coupled with the production of increasingly lethal firearms. The glutted handgun market in the ‘80s inspired the NRA promotion of liberalized concealed carry laws as a gun-promotion ploy. Subsequent relaxed gun laws have permitted concealed gun carry by individuals known to be mentally unstable, spouse and alcohol abusers, or gang members yet to be adjudicated, in such public venues as churches, college campuses, hospitals, parks, shopping malls, child care centers, workplaces, etc.. Former NRA lobbyist Tanya Metaksa boasted to the Wall Street Journal in 1996, "The gun industry should send me a basket of fruit - our efforts have created a new market."

The conceit that unlimited guns make us safer is belied by studies like that of the Harvard School of Public Health, contrasting numbers of gun deaths over a decade in five states with the highest level of gun ownership and five states with lowest gun ownership. The former experienced 16 times more accidental shootings, seven times more suicides and three times more homicides.

With workplace violence the second leading cause of occupational deaths in the nation, just over six years ago one mentally unstable man in Massachusetts was able to store his guns at work; he subsequently slaughtered his co-workers. In Indianapolis two women were accidentally shot when a concealed handgun fell out of a man’s pocket in a crowded Planet Hollywood restaurant. A young Boulder woman was killed when an ex-Marine certified in firearms safety cleaned his guns and one discharged through the common apartment wall (a similar misfire occurred to the head of a Canadian gun organization). An FBI study revealed that 20% of murdered police officers, highly trained with firearms, were killed with their own guns; 85% never returned fire. In the face of all evidence, the gun lobby mantra remains ‘free carry of unlimited guns.’

Masters of "bait and switch" manipulation, gun proponents paints a picture of government agents confiscating their ‘hunting’ and ‘sports’ guns, even as they promote ‘sport’ with lethal military-style automatic and semi-automatic guns and 50-caliber sniper rifles (deadly at a mile, with a range of over four miles). The manufacturer of the Barrett 50-caliber sniper rifle has hailed military weaponry as a "growth area" of the civilian gun market, and boasted of that sniper weapon’s ability to "wreck several million dollars’ worth of jet aircraft with one or two dollars’ worth of cartridge.." Indeed, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, promoters of annual ‘sports’ shoots with machine guns and sniper rifles — endorsed by the NRA — acknowledged that their year 2000 ‘Funshoot’ northeast of Denver was a bit too close to Denver International Airport airspace.

The market for U.S.-made military guns extends far beyond U.S. borders, even to agents of bin Laden, as revealed during the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. Such is the influence of the gun lobby that terrorist threats to U.S. national security are not enough to stop the export of 50 Caliber sniper rifles. Even the 2002 random murders with long-range sniper weapons in the Washington, D.C. area could not shake the stranglehold of the gun lobby on the U.S. Congress. Three bills to regulate 50-caliber weapons by reclassifying them under the National Firearms Act the same as machine guns have languished in committee since 1999. CBS "60 Minutes" reported in July 2005 that 50 caliber guns and other assault weapons continue to be shipped out of the U.S. as ‘hunting rifles,’ sometimes on commercial airlines.

Pistol-whipped legislators have done more to protect the bottom line of the gun industry than to protect citizens against gun assaults — passing legislation prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers whose irresponsible practices permit illicit purchase and trafficking of guns to criminals. The gun lobby selectively invokes local control, except when they wish to preempt city bans on guns in public places, or to endorse federal elimination of all gun safety measures.

In the wake of the 1999 Columbine slayings, testimony at the Colorado legislature promoted semiautomatic weapons like the TEC DC9 (a weapon of numerous massacres, including Columbine) for ‘home defense.’ Twenty-one lawmakers opposed restoration of state background checks, even knowing that Simon Gonzales obtained a gun while under a restraining order and murdered his three daughters.

U.S. gun idolatry elevates the rule of gun above the rule of law — the most lethal weapon prevails. The might-makes-right ethic reflects the darker side of human nature, whereby guns serve as counterfeit for true strength and character. Fond of drawing parallels between automobile and gun fatalities, the gun lobby disregards the fact that cars are registered, and drivers licensed and required to carry insurance. There is no reason not to require insurance for gun accidents and deaths, to support child safety features on guns, and thorough background checks on gun purchases — the kind that identify all felons, stalkers and the mentally unstable.