The Fierce Urgency of Now

Published: January 6, 2016

By Jim Lichtman
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Before President Obama held a press conference Tuesday to announce that he was signing executive orders to help reduce gun violence, two Brooklyn New York legislators, Senator Roxanne Persaud and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, were threatened by America’s 1st Freedom, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association.


In a story reported by The New York Daily News (Jan. 5), “The [above] image ran alongside an editorial mocking the two Democrats’ plan to introduce legislation that would place new restrictions on the sale of ammunition in the state.”

In Monday’s edition of the Daily News (Jan. 4), Sen. Persaud writes, “A legislative colleague, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, and I have announced plans for a common sense way to limit ammunition purchases and protect New Yorkers from those who would use firearms to commit crimes and violence. Is it sensible for a shotgun owner to purchase 3,000 rounds of ammunition for an assault rifle? … They tweeted out a picture of myself and my colleague surrounded by bullets. Outrageous, but unfortunately not surprising. The NRA has consistently proven that they are more concerned with creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear than protecting our rights.”

“Throughout history,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement, “New York has stood up to those who use fear and intimidation to advance their agenda and we will continue to do so.

“We took a stand and passed sensible gun control when Washington wouldn’t and this disturbing behavior is more evidence that the NRA and the gun lobby has lost touch with the rest of the country, and certainly with the average New Yorker,” Cuomo said, referring to the state’s 2013 SAFE Act gun control measure.

“Tom King,” The Daily News writes, “president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, an NRA affiliate, disputed the claim that the image was an attempt at intimidation.

“ ‘Get over it,’ King said… ‘It’s not a threat. We are not violent people. We do not like our Second Amendment being attacked.’ ”

Looking at the image, I don’t know how any reasonable person could not interpret this as either intimidation or a direct threat against the lawmakers.

The legislation proposed but not yet introduced in the New York legislature by Persaud and Simon would limit the amount of ammunition gun-owners would be able to purchase to no more than twice the capacity of their weapons every 90 days.

In a striking graphic, The New York Times reported that after 9/11, Obama’s election, and other shootings, gun sales skyrocket. “More guns were sold [last] December,” the Times writes, “than almost any other month in nearly two decades, continuing a pattern of spikes in sales after terrorist attacks and calls for stricter gun-buying laws, according to federal data released on Monday.”

The same story points out that “Gun sales rose in New Jersey in 2013 after [Republican presidential candidate] Gov. Chris Christie proposed measures that included expanding background checks and banning certain rifles. (Mr. Christie later vetoed one of the most stringent parts of the proposals.)”

In announcing a series of executive orders to help stem gun violence, President Obama spoke in common sense language. The takeaways are italicized.

“I am not on the ballot again. I am not looking to score points. I think we can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable. We don’t need to be talking past one another, but we do have to feel a sense of urgency about it.

“In Dr. King’s words, the fierce urgency of now, because people are dying. And the constant excuses for inaction no longer do, no longer suffice. That’s why we are here today. Not to debate the last mass shooting, but to do something to prevent the next one. …

“Now, I want to be absolutely clear at the start. I have said this over and over again … I believe in the Second Amendment. It is there, written on the paper. It guarantees a right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try to twist my words around — I taught constitutional law, I know a little bit about this — I get it.

“But I also believe we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment. I mean, think about it — we all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech. But we accept that you cannot yell ‘fire’ in a [crowded] theater. We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people.

We cherish our right to privacy, but we accept that you have to go through metal detectors before being allowed to board a plane. It’s not because people like doing that, but we understand that is part of the price of living in a civilized society. And what’s often ignored in this debate is that the majority of gun owners actually agree — a majority of gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, lawbreaking feud from inflicting harm on a massive scale.

Today, background checks are required at gun stores. If a father wants to teach his daughter how to hunt, he can walk into a gun store, get a background check, purchase his weapon safely and responsibly. This is not seen as an infringement on the Second Amendment.

“Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this has not been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation. Contrary to claims of some presidential candidates, apparently before this meeting, this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns. You pass a background check, you purchase a firearm. The problem is, some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules. A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked. A recent study found that about one in 30 people looking to buy guns on one website had criminal records. One out of 30 had a criminal record.

“We’re talking about individuals convicted of serious crimes — aggravated assault, domestic violence, robbery, illegal gun possession; people with lengthy criminal histories buying deadly weapons all too easily. And this was just one website within the span of a few months.

“So, we’ve created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by a different set of rules than a responsible gun owner who buys his or her gun the right way and subjects themselves to a background check. That doesn’t make sense. Everybody should have to abide by the same rules. Most Americans and gun owners agree.

“And that’s what we tried to change three years ago after 26 Americans, including 20 children, were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. Two United States senators, Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, both gun owners, both strong defenders of our Second Amendment rights, both with ‘A’ grades from the NRA — that’s hard to get — worked together in good faith, consulting with folks like our vice president, who’s been a champion on this for a long time, to write a common-sense compromise bill that would have required virtually everyone who buys a gun to get a background check. That was it — pretty common sense stuff.

Ninety percent of Americans supported that idea. Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea, but it failed because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against that idea.

“How did this become such a partisan issue? Republican President George W. Bush once said, ‘I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere to make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of people that shouldn’t have them.’ Senator John McCain introduced a bipartisan measure to address the gun show loophole, saying, ‘We need this amendment because criminals and terrorists have exploited and are exploiting this very obvious loophole in our gun safety laws.’

“Even the NRA used to support expanded background checks. And by the way, most of its members still do. Most Republican voters still do. How did we get here? How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people’s guns? …

“As Ronald Reagan once said, ‘If mandatory background checks could save more lives, it would be well worth making it the law of the land.’

“The bill before Congress three years ago met that test. Unfortunately too many senators failed theirs.

“In fact, we know that background checks make a difference. After Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks and gun safety courses, gun deaths decreased by 40 percent. Forty percent.

“Meanwhile, since Missouri repealed a law requiring comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, gun deaths have increased to almost 50 percent higher than the national average. One study found, unsurprisingly, that criminals in Missouri now have easier access to guns. …

“So let me outline what we’re going to be doing.

“Number one, anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks or be subject to criminal prosecutions. …

“Number two, we’re going to do everything we can to ensure the smart and effective enforcement of gun safety laws that are already on the books, which means we’re going to add 200 more ATF agents and investigators. …

“Number three, we’re going to do more to help those suffering from mental illness get the help that they need.

“And for those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts. Put your money where your mouth is. …

“Number four, we’re going to boost gun safety technology. Today, many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen or misused or discharged accidentally. …

“Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them, because our right to worship freely and safely — that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina.

“And that was denied Jews in Kansas city, and that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.

“Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our inalienable right to life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high-schoolers in Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown.

“First graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

Car owners were outraged when it was discovered that Volkswagen engineers created a program that effectively cheated on emissions tests. A civil complaint was filed in Detroit.

Honda announced that it would no longer use Japanese company Takata’s airbags in its cars when they discovered that testing data on the airbags was deliberately “misrepresented and manipulated.” In fact, an internal email from airbag engineer, Bob Schubert, wrote, “Happy Manipulating!!!” A class action suit has been filed against Takata.

We have safety standards for all manner of machines and drugs. And when individuals and/or companies violate those standards, they are held accountable.

Nonetheless, when it comes to gun safety, universal background checks – creating a level playing field for anyone selling a weapon – is left in the dust. It and other common sense measures are consistently defeated due to misrepresentation of the facts and unreasonable fear that any gun legislation, all gun legislation is a ploy to confiscate weapons. In an interview with Trump supporters, CNN’s Randi Kay asked at least 7 individuals if they believed the president was going to take their guns away. All responded, “Yes.”

Wouldn’t you think that if the president was going to implement such an extreme measure, he would have done it in the first quarter of his presidency when he had a majority in the House and Senate?

At a party I attended few years ago, I overheard a conversation between a former police officer and a friend. This former police officer told his friend that he was in the process of taking out a second mortgage on his house in order to buy a “boat-load” of assault-weapon ammunition.

We simply cannot allow ourselves to be controlled by irrational fear.


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