The Fight We Knew Was Coming Is Here
By Russ Thurman
Editor, Shooting Industry Magazine
The mind-numbing events surrounding the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16 provided a stage for some of the most bizarre actions of the anti-gun movement. On one side, there are hard-core, anti-gun advocates screaming for action, shamelessly seeing in the tragic shootings a grand moment to advance their cause. On the other side, there are the near-humorous antics of the Congressional leadership, who are more interested in power than advancing "gun control" — for now.
But make no mistake, there's a firestorm raging. While most of us grappled with the tragedy, desperately trying to cope with the shock, terror and magnitude of the killings by a deranged 23-year-old student, the hardcore, anti-gun movement rolled out its well-prepared message: "Guns are to blame."
Even before the killer had been identified, even before the bodies had been removed from classrooms, even before relatives knew if their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers or sisters were among the dead, the call for more gun control sounded across the country, encouraged by a willing media that thrives on "if it bleeds, it leads."
Not even a rebuke from Virginia Governor Tim Kaine deterred the overly eager anti-gun media. At a press conference on April 17, following the emotion-filled convocation at Virginia Tech, a reporter asked the governor if it wasn't time for more gun control. Governor Kaine responded harshly: "I think that people who want to take this within 24 hours of the event and make it their political hobby horse to ride, I've got nothing but loathing for them. To those who want to try to make this into some little crusade, I say take that elsewhere."
But hard-core, anti-gun advocates would have none of that. The call for more gun control, even an outright ban, grabbed large chunks of talk radio airtime and network and all-news television segments. In a shameless pampering of the anti-gun movement, Chris Matthews threw the softest of pitches on MSNBC's "Hardball," as he provided House Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) a soapbox she never thought possible a few days earlier.
In February, McCarthy introduced H.R. 1022: "Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2007," which is a greatly enhanced version of the Clinton-era law. H.R. 1022 would ban hundreds of present firearms and "Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device(s)." On March 15, the proposed bill had 26 cosponsors. On April 19, it had 38.
On "Hardball," McCarthy greatly misrepresented her position on gun control, sounding supportive of the Second Amendment. She misstated the effectiveness of the original Assault Weapons Ban and the purpose of H.R. 1022. Matthews eagerly fed her the "right" questions.
McCarthy, who most Americans would not have recognized before April 17, was featured on all the television news programs and ABC placed her interview with Sam Donaldson on its Web site. Overnight, McCarthy was the face of "reasonable gun laws," one who wasn't afraid to prod her colleagues into action.
"For too long Congress has stood idle while gun violence continues to take its toll. The unfortunate situation in Virginia could have been avoided if Congressional leaders stood up to the gun lobby," McCarthy said. Translation: It's not the fault of the person who pulled the trigger, but those who made the trigger and those who support gun ownership.
The Brady Campaign stooped to a new low following the shootings. On April 17, it spewed its standard mantra about guns, the "gun lobby," etc., etc., including its ever-present, "Please make a contribution to keep the momentum going." By the end of the week, the Brady Campaign had taken its fundraising to a despicable level. Instead of the Brady home page, visitors to bradycampaign.com, were greeted with a fundraising pitch: "CRISIS RESPONSE: Elected officials continue to ignore our gun violence epidemic. It's time to answer one question, 'What are YOU going to do about it?' DONATE NOW!" Obviously, Brady didn't see blood in the Virginia Tech shootings, but money.
Gun Control? Never Heard Of It.
Despite the screeching call for action, the Congressional Democratic leadership wasn't about to step into the gun-control fray. No Congressman of any prominence is going to publicly utter the words "gun control." Yes, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the shootings would "reignite the dormant effort to pass common sense gun regulations in this nation," but the normal anti-gun shrillness was missing.
If not for the seriousness of the week, the actions of some ardent anti-gun politicians would have been comical. Democrats in Congress did everything they could to avoid talking about "gun control." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's unwillingness to address the possibility of such legislation so exasperated the anti-gun editors at ABC News, they panned her on their Web site, saying, "But this week, when directly asked (by ABC) about Congress' mood to pass gun control after the worst school shooting in American history, liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acted as if she'd never even heard the term."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "I hope there's not a rush to do anything. We need to take a deep breath."
If you didn't know any better, you would have thought Pelosi and Reid were on the NRA's board of directors.
Why the seeming lack of backbone by the Democratic leadership? Timing. Power. Now is not the time to push for gun control in Congress. The Democrats' control of Congress is razor-thin, and a number of freshman Democrats, who gave the party control, are not rabid anti-gunners.
More important, Democrats remember 2000 well. Gore's anti-gun position contributed to his losing Tennessee, Arkansas and West Virginia. Had Gore taken one of the states, he would not have needed Florida to take the presidency. With that misstep, word went out, "Abandon gun control in future elections."
Make no mistake, the fight we knew was coming is here. The tragedy at Virginia Tech is being used to its fullest by hard-core, antigun forces to change the way Americans view gun ownership and those who make firearms. This is indeed their grand moment and they are exploiting it to the fullest.
For anti-gun forces in Congress, they are just waiting for the right time. The seemingly pro-gun, or at the least, neutral-gun position of the Congressional leadership has nothing to do with the issue, it has to do with staying in power. Democrats want to stay in power, increase their numbers in Congress and elect a Democrat president. Once that's accomplished, anti-gun legislation and laws will again become fashionable and the order of the day.
For the industry's part, this is not a time for the faint of heart. While there's plenty of fighting ahead, there's also optimism. The American people are not buying the anti-gun rhetoric wholesale.
On ABC News, Donaldson, in opening his April 18 interview with Rep. McCarthy, said, "Our latest polls, and consistently for the last 20 years, show that over 60 percent of the public wants stricter gun controls."
However, on its Web site, ABC asked, "Do you think this incident is a reason to pass stricter gun control legislation?" As of April 19, here are the results:
- 78,139: No. Violent shootings are isolated incidents and it's irresponsible to link them to gun control.
- 25,169: Yes. This shows the violence that can occur when someone has access to handguns.
- 1,873: I'm not sure. I need more information.
So, despite the ranting of anti-gun advocates, the American people are not stupid. However, their minds can be changed and often are in the volatility of a national election. The 2008 elections loom even more important now.
To prevail in this fight, it will take banding together as an industry as we've never done before. Fortunately, over the past 10 years, the industry has developed a strong solidarity.
The Hunting & Shooting Sports Heritage Fund of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) was pivotal in defeating industry-wide litigation cases, the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, the Vote Your Sport campaigns and other initiatives. However, there was an imbalance in the number of companies contributing to the fund and those benefiting from its work. Less than 150 companies took part in the fund. That is remarkably low, considering there were 1,846 exhibiting companies at SHOT Show 2007. If you were a member of the Heritage Fund, thank you. If you were not, now is the time to join the fight.
As the industry prepares for the battles ahead, the vital work of the Heritage Fund is now being assumed by the entire NSSF organization. We at FMG Publications were longtime members of the Heritage Fund and as members of the NSSF will continue our support of the organization as it battles lawsuits and hostile legislation, and unveils its voter education programs. If your company is not a member of the NSSF, now is the time to join. If your business profits directly or indirectly from the firearm industry, you need to support its fight against those who would destroy it. Visit nssf.org. Join.
We also need to strongly support the NRA and its efforts. It really was the NRA's strength that pushed through the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and the organization has fought alongside the industry in countless battles at all levels of government. The NRA will play a vital role during the upcoming presidential campaigns and election. We need to support them.
A major industry-backed campaign will launch soon to strengthen the NRA membership, its get-out-the-vote campaigns and its support for the firearm industry.
As always is the case following such tragic events, everyone has an answer as to how it could have been prevented. One side proposes eliminating guns and the industry that makes them. It's up to us — all of us — to ensure that doesn't happen.