By Jim Allen, Editor, NuVote Reach and Examiner.com
Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Aftermath
Photo Credit: Reuters
In late 2008 and early 2009, I shared office space with and daily socialized, laughed, debated and broke bread with the editors of National Rifle Association’s Freedom magazine, NRA spin masters, NRA radio staff and/or other high-level NRA executives and their affiliates. The NRA’s advertising agency hired me for an unrelated energy-and-environment news network start-up, which was delayed for months, leaving me often in breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings with the NRA brain trust. I occasionally traveled with them and got to know many of them. I found them to be really decent folks and not at all to be the three-headed, gun-waving monsters they are sometimes portrayed to be. Fairly or unfairly, the NRA name will no doubt emerge prominently in upcoming news cycles. But as a political exercise, as the Sandy Hook massacre details unfold and given recent history, is it a fair question to ask about street-legal weapon-modification systems and/or super high-capacity magazines whose only purpose is to up the body count in assaults on human beings?
Many of my NRA-affiliated former associates enjoy hunting and take great pride in passing on the legacy of safe firearms use as a family tradition. That’s not my cup of tea, but, more power to them.
Even though while a college student I was trained and worked part time as armed security, at this point in my life, fear for my personal safety, or that of my family to the point of wanting to own or carry a firearm, particularly a handgun, is just not in my spirit. And, as long as there is a supermarket and I can afford to shop there, fortunately for me, I will not be out stalking and shooting my dinner.
Moreover, one of the most chilling true stories I have ever heard is a one-on-one, first-hand account of what happened on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Boulder, CO, from someone who was a student there – then a ninth grader in their first year of public school.
They and a younger sibling were in the Columbine school cafeteria when shots rang out, causing all to flee, and were in their twenties and the elder was a DC-based intern under my watch when their story was shared with me, in confidence – so I will not write further about their personal story. But the weapons they heard report and fatefully avoided were the Intratec TEC-DC9 assault pistol, Hi-Point 9mm Carbine, Savage 67H pump-action shotgun, and a Savage 311-D 12-gauge shotgun.
In light of the massacre Friday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, President Barack Obama, fighting back tears, may have adequately echoed the sentiments of the entire nation.
“These neighbors are our neighbors, and these children are our children, and we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this – regardless of the politics,” Obama said.
In 2008, in a 5-4 ruling the US Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling in the landmark DC v David Heller case that struck down DC’s gun laws which barred the registration of handguns, required licenses for all pistols and mandated that all legal firearms must be kept unloaded and disassembled or trigger locked, saying the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to defend themselves and their homes with a firearm.
On the day the High Court ruled on Heller, I happened to end up in a room with a quietly beaming Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, who told me the ruling was “the opening salvo” in a series of planned legal challenges across the country aimed at ensuring individual gun rights, “starting with San Francisco and Chicago,” he told me.
He told me he found it to be somewhat “racist” that some believed that DC residents couldn’t be trusted to own firearms at their own discretion.
In a separate conversation that same day, NRA General Counsel Robert Dowlut told me he was “surprised” that then-DC Mayor Adrian Fenty chose to “go forward with the Heller case as a Second Amendment test case” because David Heller was a licensed special police officer who already “had a special permit to carry a handgun in Federal office buildings,” but could not legally deploy his weapon at home.
The high court’s Heller ruling did leave open the possibility of “reasonable” gun restrictions and DC officials quickly codified some of the nation’s most stringent gun laws. The modified gun laws required residents to have trigger locks, make multiple trips downtown to register the weapons, and forbad certain categories of firearms.
In 2009, when DC was closing in on getting voting rights in the House of Representatives, a gun amendment advanced by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), would have repealed the District’s restrictive laws on possessing handguns and its ban on certain types of semi-automatic weapons. The bill was ultimately scuttled and the DC voting-rights debate was suspended.
In 2010, then-DC Mayor Fenty, then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) were willing to accept gun-rights provisions in order to secure a voting representative in House.
DC Mayor Vincent Gray, who was the chair of the DC City Council and a candidate for mayor at the time, did not support the DC voting rights bill that restricted the city’s ability to set its own gun control laws.
He said the gun amendment was “too high of price to pay” for securing a vote in Congress. “I do not support a bill that would have us give up our right to legislate and have us give up our gun control laws,” said Gray.
That bill was quashed. DC’s vote in the Committee of the Whole was revoked by the newly elected Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which left DC residents without any meaningful voting representation in the United States Congress.
US District Judge Ricardo Urbina upheld DC’s revised gun laws in 2010 finding that the new regulations were designed to make DC safer and did not violate the Second Amendment guarantee of a person’s right to own a gun for self-defense.
“It is beyond dispute that public safety is an important – indeed, a compelling – governmental interest,” Urbina opined.
The judge ruled that the District’s handgun registration process, which requires owners to submit fingerprints and allow police to perform ballistics tests, is constitutional, as is the ban on most semiautomatic pistols.
Robert Levy, chairman of the board at the Cato Institute, a muse of the gun-rights movement and a major figure in Heller, told NBC News, after the January 8, 2010 Gabby Giffords-related mass shooting and murder in Tucson, AZ that he saw no constitutional objection to banning the sorts of high-capacity magazines used by the Tucson shooter in his Glock 19 — one of the weapons of choice of the Virginia Tech Shooter, in addition to the Walther P22 he used to kill 32 people.
NRA-Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox in a statement following the Gabby Gifford’s-related mass shootings: “These magazines are standard equipment for self-defense handguns and other firearms owned by tens of millions of Americans.”
Except for the obvious use by the Sandy Hook shooter of high-capacity magazines to massacre 20 innocent little children, 6 of their institutional caretakers and his own mother, we have the sketchiest of details about what happened and why. In the coming days the NRA will likely become an easy political target as we try to deal with our collective grief and begin to get those answers.
We are seeing copycat tendencies, with the dark-commando-like clothing of several of these shooters, but what stands out to me more is what Cato’s Levy said about banning high-capacity magazines, designed only to kill humans. That would seem like a really good place to find some political common ground for Democrats and Republicans, for starters – in addition to requiring universal background checks.
In between my sobs today, it will be interesting to hear what my former associates at the NRA will have to say – knowing enough about them to know they likely feel as sad as I do right now. Especially since the Sandy Hook shooter apparently shot his mother in the face with one of several firearms she legally bought.
The NRA will likely reserve comment until more Sandy Hook details are confirmed.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) weighed in on Sunday.“I’m going to introduce in the Senate and the same bill will be introduced in the House, a bill to ban assault weapons. It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession. Not retroactively but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets. So there will be a bill. We’ve been working on it now for a year,” Feinstein said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.
The Hill newspaper reported on its website on Friday:
The incoming chairwoman of the House Republican Conference urged caution in passing new gun laws.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), speaking in an interview with C-SPAN set to air Sunday, was asked whether it was time to review current gun laws in light of a shooting rampage in Connecticut.
“We need to find out what happened and what drove this individual to this place,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I think we have to be careful about new —suggesting new gun laws. We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions and make sure that we’re enforcing the laws that are currently on the books. And yes, definitely, we need to do everything possible to make sure that something like this never happens again.”
What may be “crazy” is how we talk about and treat mental illness and the mentally ill in this country. But for right now, as a father and grandfather, I am crazy with waves of grief for those families and the survivors at Sandy Hook — and I know of a great example of someone who came through Columbine, has made a great life and makes people feel good to be around them.
I have been in touch with them (the Columbine survivor) this weekend, and wouldn’t you know it, they are looking for a way to help us all deal with Sandy Hook, in between their own tears.