(This column appears here a week after its newspaper release as required by my syndicator)
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FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, DEC. 25, 2012
THE POLITICAL GUNBATTLE BEGINS
BY BOB FRANKEN
Maybe there is hope. Maybe something effective can be done to interrupt the cycle of gun violence in this country. But we’re sure not going to find it from the National Rifle Association. After hiding out in the aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., and then promising a “constructive contribution,” the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre had a destructive idea instead. He would place “armed police officers in every school in this nation.” “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun,” he went on, “is a good guy with a gun.” Yup. Nothing like a shootout to protect our children.
LaPierre and his accomplices know full well that furor over even such unspeakable slaughter doesn’t match the fury of the millions of Americans over any efforts to take away their precious pistols and assault rifles. All they have to do is wait out the politicians. Expedience and campaign contributions usually catch up with “enough is enough.” Memories fade. “Meaningful action,” as President Barack Obama demands, is elusive, and the gun lobby knows that. Already, Republicans are indicating they will resist any new legislation. If the president is successful in getting an assault-weapons ban through Congress, it could be riddled with loopholes, like the law that went into effect in 1994. Even that was allowed to expire 10 years later.
There is, however, one tool that can be used to bludgeon the lethal interests into submission: money. Choke off financing to the merchants of death, and maybe they will shrivel away. Look what happened when the California State Teachers’ Retirement System threatened to pull the $750 million it had invested in the private-equity firm Cerberus. Among its holdings, Cerberus owns Freedom Group. Freedom Group’s various companies manufacture guns, one of them the Bushmaster assault rifle Adam Lanza used to mow down his mother and the innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary.
All it took was one phone call from CalSTRS, one suggestion that it might pull its chunk of assets, and Cerberus suddenly announced it would be selling Freedom Group. Other public pension funds are examining the placement of their millions. Meanwhile, shares of the arms makers are dropping like a stone. So, of all things, the path to a moral result might run through the decidedly immoral world of high finance.
While our government dithers with the various selfish interests, we can exert our own influence. We can demand that the various entities we entrust with our earnings keep getting them only if they choke off the murderous weapons corporations. And that’s just a start.
A citizens campaign can be directed at all levels of the industry. Similar to the drug wars, we can address “manufacture, sale and possession.” Boycotts of any retailer that sells guns would be effective. The Dick’s Sporting Goods chain already has announced that it is suspending sale of certain rifles and should be encouraged to make that permanent. Protests outside any gun show would be appropriate, although probably dangerous. Most importantly, we should make ownership an object of ridicule, and turn guns into something not just unsafe but decidedly uncool.
Give the NRA’s LaPierre a little credit. He would just put a cop in every school, as opposed to the armed teachers that some districts are placing in their classrooms. The sane residents of these communities need to protect their babies against such irresponsible action. If the administrators cannot be persuaded that the danger to their students far exceeds any protection, they need to be replaced. Communities that support such policies need to be financially isolated. Let’s face it: The resolve after the Newtown bloodshed will fade. It always does. What never subsides is the zeal to make money. Hit the arms suppliers there, and maybe eventually our society will be forced to give up its gun addiction.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.