October 4, 2017
One of the most tragic consequences of Donald Trump's razor-thin electoral college victory was the fact that whatever progress had been made in raising the consciousness of the American people on the issue of mass shootings and gun safety was set back decades. It's not that the country was making great progress legislatively or judicially before. But the numerous mass shootings, including the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary School, where twenty first-graders and six of their teachers were slaughtered by a deranged young man who should never have been let anywhere near lethal weapons, shed light on the fact that more than 30,000 people a year die and tens of thousands more are injured because of the United States' uniquely loose gun laws.
The gun proliferation activists and organizations were on the defensive for the first time in decades and the moral outrage over the endless mass killings was gaining steam. Sadly, that momentum has abruptly stalled. The Trump administration is the most openly pro-gun of any presidency in history. And it's obviously not because of his reverence for the Constitution. The 2nd Amendment is a campaign slogan to him and he is unaware that any other Amendments exist.
As inexplicable as it is, the horrific massacre that took place in Las Vegas on October 1st, won't change anything. President Donald Trump was endorsed by the NRA earlier than anyone in its history and he ran for office on an unfettered gun rights platform. On the stump, he often extolled the virtues of the organization and its agenda, including the concept that all civilians should be armed and ready to shoot at all times. He endorsed vigilantism at the same time that he fetishized "law and order." The common denominator was guns.
There were a number of mass shootings during the campaign and the response varied depending on the ethnicity and race of the gunman. If the perpetrator was a Muslim who claimed some kind of allegiance to terrorist groups, he took the position that the government should stop at nothing to stop them.
It was after the attacks in San Bernardino in December of 2015 that he announced his ban on all Muslims entering the country "until we can figure out what the hell is going on." When asked what else he would do if he were president he said: “I would handle it so tough, you don't want to hear. You don't want to hear how I'd handle it. I would get myself in so much trouble with them, we are going to handle it so tough. And you know what we're going to do? We're going to get it stopped.”
This was the same occasion in which he suggested that "we have to take out the families" and otherwise use unconstitutional and illegal tactics against Muslim terror suspects. In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando the next year, he doubled down on his call for a ban.
And after the shooting in Dallas, in which an African American man targeted and killed police officers, he called it "an attack on our country" and said "we must restore law and order" a longstanding racist dog whistle about African American crime. But when the shooter is white, he chalks it up to "evil" as he did with the Las Vegas shooting or mental illness about which he shrugs, "What are you going to do, institutionalize everybody?"
So Trump has shown on this and many other issues that he's willing to go to extreme lengths to deal with problems. He ran explicitly on a message that said he was willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the American people, even if it means religious tests and suspension of civil liberties. After the Paris attacks in November of 2015, he said it explicitly: “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule ... we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”
In the wake of Las Vegas, there has been some rumbling that Trump might get together with "Chuck and Nancy" as he did with the debt ceiling and (reportedly) the plight of the DREAM kids and do something on gun control. After all, in years gone by, before he made his hard-right turn, Trump used to back some sensible gun regulations like the banning of assault rifles.
That's not going to happen. If there's one group of people he's not going to "upset" it's the NRA. Their membership forms the backbone of his base and they have been his staunchest supporters. In fact, in all of his talk of protecting the nation, he has never once even hinted that there is any problem with the fact that the country is awash in guns.
He's said quite the opposite, in fact. After mass shootings, Trump has inevitably parroted the NRA line that the problem stems from the fact that not enough people are armed. He would often talk about the Paris attacks at the Bataclan theatre on the stump and say: “So the bad guys can have guns but the good guys can't. So these thugs walked into various places and just started shooting people. And there were no guns on the other side. The bullets were going one way, not the other way. And if they were, if somebody had protection, a few people, not all, a few people had protection we would not have had 130 people dead.”
Obviously, that is an absurd statement on its face since having more bullets flying around in a darkened theatre would have only killed even more people. And the Las Vegas massacre shows how fatuous is this insistence that the only answer to gun violence is more people having guns. Every single person in the crowd on that Sunday night could have been carrying a loaded weapon and it would have made no difference. This man was shooting down at a crowd from a 32nd-floor window with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons. On this one, they are all just muttering about "evil" and lecturing everyone about the inappropriateness of even talking about the means by which hundreds of people were murdered and injured. It might as well have been an earthquake or a tornado, an act of nature that can't be stopped.
After Las Vegas, MSNBC interviewed a former sheriff named Bill Young, whose daughter had survived the shooting. He had rushed to the scene when his daughter called and ended up using his training to help people in distress. But he said something interesting that one hopes might be echoed in the minds of some other gun owners after this horror. He explained that he owns many guns himself and is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Then he added: “But at the same time, you know, I think that we all have to be cognizant of the fact that this world has changed in the last 25 years in such a way, with some people's fascination with guns that really don't have any business having a gun because of the result that we have here today.”
This country has changed in the last quarter century when it comes to guns and that's not a coincidence. Up until 1993, the National Rifle Association had mostly been a gun safety and hunters organization. That year a revolutionary leader ascended to the chairmanship, a man by the name of Wayne LaPierre.
LaPierre is one of the most important political figures of the modern era. He took control of the organization at a time when the Republican party was radicalizing and helped popularize the technique of total obstruction that has come to characterize the right's most successful defensive tactic. Until LaPierre took charge of the NRA it was possible for people to come together and hammer out some compromises on gun issues, but he took the position that the right to own firearms should be entirely unfettered and that there would be no negotiations. This was not only a method for staving off gun control, it created a fanatical movement that grew the membership and the political clout that came with it.
And because this tactic was part of a general rightwing trend at the time, the NRA started to actively position itself as a conservative special interest and align itself more explicitly with the Republican Party. The GOP's friends became the NRA's friends and vice versa. At the annual convention in 1993, the newly anointed LaPierre adopted the right's most potent trope, telling the audience: “Good, honest Americans stand divided, driven apart by a force that dwarfs any political power or social tyrant that ever before existed on this planet: the American media.”
He really got going the next year when the Democrats passed the "assault-weapons" ban. The base went crazy and the merging of the movement with the Party began to solidify. The militia movement and anti-government activist groups grew quickly with the NRA capitalizing on every federal authority controversy, commonly referring to their agents as "jack-booted thugs" a phrase picked up by congressional Republicans like Tom Delay and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
By 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but was narrowly defeated by a dubious electoral college outcome, the issue of gun rights had polarized almost completely and the Democrats decided that the NRA had sealed their defeat. They decided not to contest the issue going forward and the NRA became the most powerful lobby in Washington, loathed by Democrats and feared by both parties. The "assault weapons" ban expired, gun manufacturers started marketing semi-automatic handguns and rifles as a toy for the whole family. Gun control lost its political saliency.
Then came Newtown. There had been other mass shootings that shook the nation in recent years, notably the wounding of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011 and the terrifying massacre during a midnight movie in Aurora Colorado in 2012. But the heinous murders of twenty tiny first-graders and their teachers in an elementary school classroom awakened the conscience of America about the bloody mayhem of gun violence.
According to the PBS documentary "Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA" even NRA board members were convinced that it was time to consider some common-sense gun safety regulations. Wayne LaPierre had other ideas.
He went to Washington and held a surprise press conference. The media expected a conciliatory tone and an offer of compromise. They were disappointed. He doubled down on the NRA's standard response saying:
“The only way — the only way — to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. What if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday, he’d been confronted by qualified armed security?
Our children— we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.”
And that was that. He stood before the country and basically declared that not even the massacre of 20 tiny children would make him change course. And in doing so he made it clear, once and for all, that there was nothing that ever would. The air went out of efforts in Washington as they always do when LaPierre rallies his troops, the GOP settled back down and nothing was done.
The right-wing fringe immediately went to work undermining whatever consensus was forming, using a technique they would hone for future mass shooting: conspiracy theories. Led by the hugely popular conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, it became an article of faith among a subset of GOP voters and gun proliferation crusaders that the shooting didn’t happen and was instead staged with what they called “crisis actors” by the government and other shadowy figures to undermine gun rights. The same sort of conspiracies theories now make the rounds after every mass shooting, including the massacre in Las Vegas, causing terrible pain to victims and their families.
Nonetheless, gun safety groups like Everytown and Moms Demand Action continued to organize and there was some hope that if the Democrats won the White House and picked up seats in Congress they might be able to move the issue forward. Those hopes were dashed last November when Donald Trump won the election.
Wayne LaPierre took credit for the win immediately and with some justification. The NRA spent millions on ads in the states that gave Trump an electoral college victory with a few thousand votes. The NRA released a video called "Our Time Is Now" in which LaPierre said it was time for gun owners to "go on offense."
On October 1st, one fanatical gun owner took him literally. And the president whose inaugural address is known as the "American Carnage" speech could only say "warm condolences" to the more than 600 people who were shot.
Trump and LaPierre's "time is now" and if the past is prologue, it will still be their time the next time we have such a massacre of innocent people and the time after that. There is no indication that the NRA and its wholly owned political party have any intention of doing anything about this carnage. Why would they? No matter how many people are shot down for no reason, they just keep winning.