Mojo - December 2012

Obama Commits on Gun Control

| Wed Dec. 19, 2012 12:47 PM EST
President Obama visits Newtown for the Sandy Hook Elementary vigil.

At the memorial ceremony in Newtown on Sunday night, President Barack Obama declared that he would respond to the tragic shooting there with real policy action. This raised the expectation that he would take on the dicey matter of gun control. And at the White House this afternoon, he further fueled these expectations. The president announced the creation of an effort headed by Vice President Joe Biden. But, he noted, this would not be the typical "Washington commission" that takes months to produce a report that is pushed aside. Instead, Obama insisted, this Biden-led initiative would craft "real reforms right now" and cook up "concrete proposals" by the end of next month. Moreover, the president said, he would then push Congress to vote on these ideas soon. "I will be talking about these in my State of the Union," he said.

Obama suggested several steps he wants to see: some sort of ban on assault weapons, enhanced background checks for gun buyers, and an end to the gun-show loophole (which allows the purchases of firearms without such checks).

Obama, who has done little about gun violence since taking office, has committed himself to an issue he has heretofore avoided as president. While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, Obama backed permanently reinstating the assault weapon ban that had expired in 2004. And after he assumed office, his administration announced it would proceed on this front. But then Obama went silent. Nothing was done. The president was not willing to confront this hot and politically difficult topic.

Yet in the aftermath of the Newtown nightmare, Obama is not equivocating. "Words need to lead to action," he said today. He recited a list of Americans who have been killed by guns in the days since the Newtown shooting, noting that this group included several police officers and a four-year-old. He pointed out that gun violence claims the lives of 10,000 Americans every year and asserted this cannot be accepted as "routine."

"I will use all the powers of this office to aim to prevent more tragedies like this," Obama said. But, he added, ultimately, it "will take a wave of Americans" saying "enough."

With such remarks, Obama is making it clear: He has adopted combating gun violence as a priority. And he has now placed himself in the position where he will be judged on whether he gets anything done.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're still at War: Photo of the Day for December 19, 2012

Wed Dec. 19, 2012 10:34 AM EST
Blackhawk helicopters fly to Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2012. Department of Defense photo by D. Myles Cullen.

Bushmaster's Corporate Overlords Leaving the Gun Business

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 5:51 PM EST

The big-money buyout firm behind Bushmaster and many other gunmakers is getting out of the firearms business—and thanks may be due to public-sector workers in one of America's bluest states.

Chances are you didn't even know that Cerberus Capital Management, the Dan Quayle-employing, Manhattan-based private equity group that famously took a bath on Chrysler during the auto bailout, owned 15 gun manufacturers with $238 million in total sales last quarterincluding Bushmaster, which produced the assault rifle that was Adam Lanza's weapon of choice in Newtown last Friday. Cerberus managed this "family of companies" through a shell called Freedom Group, which grew so large that some rank-and-file NRA members feared a mysterious anti-gun purchaser was buying up the companies just to shut them down.

A Gun Rights Fanatic and Gun Control Advocate Meet in the Green Room

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 3:16 PM EST
Gun Owners of America's executive director Larry Pratt on MSNBC's "Hardball"

The Washington green room is usually a fun place where Democrats, Republicans, journalists, legislators, executive branch officials, policy advocates, and politicos of various bents—occasionally adversaries—await television hits and chitchat politely among one another. The discourse can yield intriguing gossip, interesting tidbits, and, most important for a journalist, productive leads. It's a microcosm of official Washington. But on Monday, as I cooled my heels prior to appearing on Hardball, the green room at the DC studio for MSNBC was filled with tension. In one chair was Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, a group that's more die-hard on gun rights than the National Rifle Association. Standing next to him was David Chipman, of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which was founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In essence, the nation's emotionally fraught debate over guns was jammed into this tiny room.

The NRA Goes MIA…Yet Again

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 2:50 PM EST

Update, 12/18/12: The NRA has issued an official press release about the Newtown shooting, dispatching it via Twitter and Facebook after four days of social media silence. "We were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown," it reads. The short statement makes no mention of specific gun laws or policies, though it states that “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” Read the full statement here.

As the country has reeled from the Newtown massacre, the National Rifle Association has been noticeably silent. Its Twitter account has been mute since Friday morning, and its Facebook page has been taken down. Its online radio program has been saying guns aren't to blame, and "sources close to the issue" tell Fox News that the NRA will speak up after "a proper period for mourning." But as of this writing, the gun rights advocacy group has yet to issue any official statement on the worst grade school shooting in US history.  

Virtual silence immediately following mass shootings is the NRA's usual M.O. In 2011, following the shooting that wounded Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, NRA president Wayne LaPierre boasted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, "Ladies and gentlemen, in the days after the tragic events in Tucson, the NRA refused to respond to the media's demands for reaction." (Italics and bold in original transcript.) Earlier, the group acknowledged its code of silence in a leaked 2006 brochure, though it also noted that it eventually might lift its self-imposed gag rule:

NRA has rightfully declined to join the debate, because no effective solution includes infringement of the Second Amendment. Although tragic, these incidents have called for no more anti-gun measures than any other crime committed with firearms. But the advent of domestic terrorism, compounded with recent high-profile school shootings, force America's gun owners to join the national discussion in a way we can no longer decline. Not because the Second Amendment is at fault, but because the Second Amendment is at risk.

But the NRA remains reluctant to join in the national discussion that immediately follows many mass shootings. We searched for the NRA's public statements following the 62 mass shootings of the past 30 years and we found few formal responses to most of them—that includes press releases or mentions on the sites of either the NRA or its lobbying wing, the NRA-Institute for Legislative Action.

When the NRA does acknowledge a shooting, it almost always does so a few days after the event. It often skips past expressing sympathy to make a political point: Gun control is definitely not the answer to preventing the next tragedy. Or as one NRA official put it shortly after a gunman killed 6 people and wounded 29 in a Stockton, California, schoolyard in 1989, "You're not going to be able to legislate crazy people sane."

Since the advent of the internet, the NRA often does not make such statements in its own name, instead citing or linking to third parties who have expressed similar sentiments. More recent examples of the NRA's record of trying to say as little as possible about mass shootings:

Aloha, Daniel Inouye; Senator and Amazing WWII Hero, Dead at 88

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 11:39 AM EST

On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) passed away due to respiratory complications at the age of 88. His last word before dying was, according to his office's press release, "Aloha."

Inouye, the second longest serving senator in American history, was noted for his involvement in both the Watergate and Iran-contra investigations. He delivered the keynote at the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was the first Japanese American to serve in the US Congress. He was the father of Kenny Inouye, the guitar player in the DC hardcore punk band Marginal Man.

Inouye also served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—a unit made up almost entirely of Japanese Americans who wanted to show allegiance in the face of internment—during World War II. (The team went on to become the most decorated infantry regiment in US Army history.) He is probably best known for this one time in which he killed throngs of Nazis in a manner closely resembling the climactic scene in the movie The Wild Bunch. But unlike the protagonists in The Wild Bunch, he somehow made it out alive at the end.

Here's an excerpt from a Hawaii Reporter piece, which details how a young Inouye responded to getting his arm blown off by Germans during a firefight in Italy:

On April 21, 1945, Dan's company was ordered to attack a heavily defended ridge guarding an important road in the vicinity of San Terenzo. His platoon wiped out an enemy patrol and mortar observation post and reached the main line of resistance before the rest of the American force. As the troops continued up the hill, three German machine guns focused their fire on them, pinning them down. Dan worked his way toward the first bunker. Pulling out a grenade, he felt something hit him in his side but paid no attention and threw the grenade into the machine-gun nest. After it exploded, he advanced and killed the crew.

Dan continued up the hill, throwing two more grenades into the second gun emplacement and destroying it before he collapsed from loss of blood from his wounds. His men, trying to take the third bunker, were forced back. He dragged himself toward it, then stood up and was about to pull the pin on his last grenade when a German appeared in the bunker and fired a rifle grenade. It hit Dan in the right elbow and literally tore off his arm. He pried the grenade out of his dead right fist with his other hand and threw it at the third bunker, then lurched toward it, firing his tommy gun left-handed. A German bullet hit him in the leg. A medic reached him and gave him a shot of morphine. In his typical stoic manner he didn't allow himself to be evacuated until the position was secured. In the hospital, the remnants of his right arm were amputated.

The attack concluded with 25 dead German soldiers, and eight others captured.

Here is Inouye in his own words:

When my platoon members told me [about what I had done], I said, 'No, it can't be. It can't be. You'd have to be insane to do all that.' I think it's all part of the training where you do things almost automatically. It's a sense of duty. That's what they told me, and the company commander who was also observing from the backside, he said, 'I couldn't believe what I saw, because you were a crazy man.'

In 1947, Inouye received over a dozen medals and citations for his heroic assault, including the Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts. (In 2000, his Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by President Clinton.)

Here's an old military photograph of Daniel Inouye, Nazi Pulverizer:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Government Agency Charged With Enforcing Gun Laws Has No Permanent Director, Tiny Staff

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 11:28 AM EST
ATF official seal

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, several members of Congress have pledged to push new gun control restrictions in early 2013. But the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the main federal agency charged with gun regulation—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—has been so kneecapped by the gun industry that it can barely enforce the laws already on the books.

The ATF hasn't had a permanent director since the Bush administration, and even then, President George W. Bush, no softie on guns, couldn't get his pick confirmed for the post. Idaho Republican senators Michael Crapo and Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (then and still a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors) blocked Bush's nomination of Michael J. Sullivan, the Massachusetts US Attorney, arguing that he had it in for gun dealers.

Part of the problem is that Congress, in its wisdom, removed ATF from the Treasury Department and turned it into a stand-alone agency in 2006, adding the agency's director to the list of posts that require Senate confirmation. Thanks to the NRA's lobbying power, the Senate has never confirmed anyone for the job since then, leaving the agency rudderless. The ATF's current acting director is working out of the US Attorney's office in Minnesota.

Lack of stable leadership isn't the ATF's only problem. The bureau employs fewer people than it did almost 40 years ago, with fewer than 2,500 people on hand to regulate the 310 million guns and 60,000 gun dealers in the US. The Post reports that the ATF is so shorthanded that gun dealers can expect an ATF inspection about once every eight years.

"If the administration and Congress are serious about addressing this problem, they need to fund the gun police, the agency charged with administering the firearms regulations," Michael Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director, told the Post. "Unless they are going to do this completely, simply passing some form of gun legislation is only part of the solution.”

After Newtown, Sales Boom for Kids' Body Armor

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 11:24 AM EST

A bullet-proof Disney Princess backpack from Amendment II retails for $300, plus shipping.

"Basically, there's three models," says Derek Williams. "A SwissGear that's made for teens, and we've got an Avengers and a Disney Princess backpack for little kids."

Williams is the president of Amendment II, a Salt Lake City-based company that manufactures lightweight body armor for law enforcement and military use. But lately they've moved into a different market: body armor for kids. Six months ago, Amendment II introduced a new line of backpacks, built with the company's signature carbon nanotube armor, designed to keep kids safe in the event of school shootings. Since Friday's massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school, sales have gone through the roof. "I can't go into exact sales numbers, but basically we tripled our sales volume of backpacks that we typically do in a month—in one week," Williams says.

VIDEO: Corn Debates a Gun Lobbyist: Why is US Gun Violence Unique?

Tue Dec. 18, 2012 11:10 AM EST

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn debated Richard Feldman of the Independent Firearm Owners Association on Britain's Channel 4 evening news Monday regarding the need for gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

Feldman said the United States is undergoing a "seminal moment" in the debate over gun policies, but he claimed the only issue at hand is "the problem of deranged individuals obtaining guns and causing mayhem." Corn noted that the problem is much larger and pointed out that gun violence in the United States is unique among industrialized nations. "There is not one other country…that has this sort of problem and this sort of history with gun violence other than the US," he said. "We do not have a monopoly on deranged individuals. What separates us from other countries is the population of… assault weapons… and the gun lobby doesn't want to accept that. 

For more of David Corn's stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

We're still at War: Photo of the Day for December 18, 2012

Tue Dec. 18, 2012 10:41 AM EST
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Duane O'Keefe, an infantry platoon sergeant assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, looks into a valley for signs of insurgent activity near Combat Outpost Bowri Tana in Khost province, Afghanistan, Nov. 30, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington.