Tuesday, 8 January 2013


Gabby Giffords, the Arizona ex-congresswoman shot by a right-wing loony two years ago, is to be applauded for weighing in on the need for changing our crazy gun culture. It was heartbreaking to watch her try to put sentences together in her interview with Diane Sawyer and see the damage done to her young brain and her sadness over everything she’s lost. She said Tuesday on ABC that she’s become angry post-Newtown massacre and has decided to join the campaign to establish civilization in the USA. (Well, she didn’t phrase it quite that way.)

But the early moves from some of the principals in what is going to be a long-term battle against the gun lobby are not terribly encouraging. The Obama Administration led by VP Biden is hosting a series of meetings to discuss what to do, which makes sense. But why is the National Rifle Association invited as announced today? Gun manufacturers and their paid shills like LaPierre & company are the sworn enemies of sensible gun policy. You don’t sit down with them to work out a reasonable compromise—not if you want to get something done that will have an effect.

There is a precedent in the decades-old anti-smoking lobby, now institutionalized in the explicit prohibition contained in the international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on any participation AT ALL by tobacco industry representatives in government policy-making bodies or public health discussions of any sort. This is based not just on the vast and well documented industry attempts to undermine and subvert all restrictions on tobacco use, including the perversion of science and the secret suborning of anyone they could get close to, but also the stark fact that the interests of tobacco marketers and the public health are fundamentally at odds.

Such an uncompromising posture sometimes is difficult for reasonable people to accept. Why not hear the other side out at least? the argument often goes. What’s to be afraid of?

The answer is that the government or tobacco control advocates get nothing from such meetings while the industry gets a lot. On the ropes for its blatant lies and decades of peddling death to unsuspecting consumers, the tobacco industry now needs to reinvent itself as a caring, listening concern. That is, it has to convince people that while its product is controversial, the industry itself is open-minded, understanding, serious about acting responsibly and ready to meet its critics halfway. That’s why Altria and BTI give away millions in charity and love to get their company logos on rock concerts, museums, or any public project that will accept its cash. It’s Pablo Escobar providing food to the impoverished of MedellĂ­n (for which they loved him).

Any measure to reduce gun violence in the U.S. is going to result in the sales of fewer weapons, and anything the gunmakers’ lobby will agree to will not be effective in doing that. It contradicts their raison d’etre. There is nothing to talk about.

However, if the goal is to reduce the heat on our political leaders by looking reasonable and concerned while doing nothing costly to themselves, then by all means, bring the NRA to the table! And have a bountiful lunch while you’re at it!

As for Giffords’ new political outfit just announced with her husband, it’s probably fine to have an anti-gun PAC out there to balance the NRA’s cash although I wonder what established groups like the Brady Campaign think about the drain on their shared donor base.

In any case, missing from the latest wave of indignation is any attempt to pin the violence on the NRAs’ defenders politically. When Giffords was shot in 2011, Sarah Palin (remember her?) had just published a reactionary screed complete with cross-haired target signs over certain congressional districts, including that of Giffords. What a wide-open opportunity to slam her and her whole huntress mystique with the real-world impact of her facile nastiness and, by extension, the whole surreal Tea Party/tinfoil hat universe.

But Gifford’s intimates and the horde of flabby liberals that came after responded with nothing more than the usual grief-stricken horror—appropriate, surely, but not very astute when the movement against these ongoing crimes needs to be tougher, sharper and, well, more targeted, especially when the perpetrators are not mere psychos but ideologues encouraged in their descent over the edge by the vicious rhetoric of today.

It’s an old, old tactic exploited promptly by the right-wingers when protests they don’t like turn violent. They paint the entire movement, whatever it is, with the broad brush of associative guilt and demand, purple-faced, that its leading spokespeople denounce the acts of violence just committed. It’s corny, but it works, and victims of political assassination like Giffords should use it to confront the guilty. By making them pay politically, you reduce the ease of the next hit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I so agree that the (appropriate) grief of liberals over gun violence is not enough - a flabby response on its own. I was surprised at how many people were moved by and somehow satisfied with the (no doubt truly felt) tears shed by Obama directly after the Newtown massacre, without questioning his very vague commitment to actually doing something. When it comes to what it identifies as overseas villains, this administration is not hesitant to blow them to little bits, whatever the legalities, along with anyone who may be standing nearby - and this without any kind of review or transparency. When it comes to deranged domestic villains, however, armed with weapons that can kill dozens (or hundreds) in minutes, our leader sheds tears, but will sit and talk endlessly (if precedence holds) with the NRA and other gun industry advocates and apologists, giving away all his cards one by one, and leaving us no safer on our streets and in our schools. I hope I will be proved wrong.