Blow, Nocera and Collins

In “Guns, Smoke and Mirrors” Mr. Blow says the National Rifle Association blames gun violence on everything except the proliferation of guns.  Mr. Nocera looks at “Guns and Their Makers” and says it’s a little late for the firms behind the gun manufacturers to have a conscience after reaping all those profits.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Wish You a Gun-Free Christmas:”  Did that National Rifle Association press conference have you wondering if the world had imploded per the Mayan calendar after all? No wonder!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

What was that?

Seriously, what was the National Rifle Association performing on Friday? I thought it was going to be a press conference. It wasn’t. I really don’t know how to describe it. A soliloquy of propaganda? A carnival of canards? A herding of scapegoats?

Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, blamed gun violence in general, and mass shootings in schools in particular, on everything except for the proliferation of brutally efficient, high-capacity guns and his organization’s efforts to resist virtually any restriction on people’s access to those weapons.

It was an appalling display of deflection and deception. So much smoke and so many mirrors.

He blamed American culture, and the media, and video games and even natural disasters. But not a society saturated with guns that spray bullets the way that Super Soakers spray water and have made us the embarrassment of the developed world.

He blamed “every insane killer,” “monsters and the predators,” and “people that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them.” It is true that America has those types of people, but so do other countries. The difference here is that help can be too hard — and guns too easy — to come by.

The simple truth is that more guns equal more death.

An analysis this year from the Violence Policy Center found that “states with low gun ownership rates and strong gun laws have the lowest rates of gun death.” The report continued, “by contrast, states with weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership had far higher rates of firearm-related death.” According to the analysis, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut had the lowest per capita gun death rates. Each of those states had “strong gun laws and low gun ownership rates. On the other hand, “ranking first in the nation for gun death was Louisiana, followed by Wyoming, Alabama, Montana, and Mississippi.” Those states had “weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership.”

What’s more, deaths may be a misleading statistic that minimizes the true breadth of gun violence. Another report this year by the Violence Policy Center, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that while gun deaths remained relatively flat from 2000 to 2008, the total number of people shot went up nearly 20 percent since 2001. Why the difference between rates of shootings and deaths? “Advances in emergency services — including the 911 system and establishment of trauma centers — as well as better surgical techniques,” the report said.

Just because more people aren’t dying doesn’t mean that more aren’t being shot. And the report points out that survivors’ injuries are “often chronic and disabling.”

LaPierre didn’t talk much about the broad societal implications of all this. Instead, he kept his “solutions” (if you want to call them that) to school safety. His big thought: Put armed guards in school. As LaPierre said: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

That seems to be quite an apocalyptic gun policy, especially since lax gun regulations pump an ever-increasing number of guns into our country, thereby increasing the chances that “bad guys” will get them.

How about taking the opposite approach and better regulating guns? How about not giving up on so many children that we label “bad boys” so that they grow up without hope or options and become “bad men?”

As the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association said in a joint statement on Thursday:

“Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.”

The statement continued:

“But this is not just about guns. Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.”

It’s time to call out the N.R.A.’s sidewinding and get serious about new set of sensible gun regulations.

When pigs fly, Charles, when pigs fly.  Next up is Mr. Nocera:

“It takes a lot of men to make a gun,” wrote Stephen Sondheim in his 1990 musical “Assassins.”

Men in the mines

To dig the iron,

Men in the mills

To forge the steel,

Men at machines

To turn the barrel,

Mold the trigger,

Shape the wheel-

It takes a lot of men to make a gun…

One gun …

I thought of those lyrics earlier this week when I read that Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm run by the secretive financier Steven Feinberg, was going to sell Freedom Group, a motley collection of gun and ammunition firms it had gathered together under one umbrella company.

Since 2006, it has paid around $158 million to acquire 15 companies, according to an analysis by Andrew Silton, who writes the blog Meditations on Money Management. Although many gun manufacturers are small, Freedom Group now employs a lot of people to make guns — over 3,000. Until last Friday, when Adam Lanza slaughtered 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — using, among other weapons, a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle made by Freedom Group — it proudly called itself the world’s largest manufacturer of guns and ammunition. Now, Cerberus and Feinberg are trying to wipe the blood off their hands.

It’s a little late for that. Go look at some of the Web sites of Freedom Group’s companies. The Bushmaster home page, for example, shows an Adaptive Combat Rifle, an assault rifle that looks like something out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Did you know, by the way, that one of the guns used by James Holmes when he allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 in the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., was a Remington pump-action shotgun? Freedom Group makes those, too.

One reason Cerberus gave for wanting to sell Freedom Group is that, with the Newtown shootings having “raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,” it didn’t believe its role was to “attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate.” This is complete nonsense. Freedom Group’s chief executive, George Kollitides, has run for the board of the National Rifle Association and serves on several N.R.A. committees. The N.R.A. has described Cerberus executives as “strong supporters of the Second Amendment.”

My guess is that what really bothers Feinberg is all the bad press. After Cerberus bought Chrysler in 2007 — not to worry: It got most of its money back from the taxpayers when the government bailed out Chrysler the following year — Feinberg told a group of Wall Street investors that he almost didn’t do the deal. “We knew it would get an insane amount of press, and, boy, we don’t like that,” he said. Daniel Roth, who managed to get into the session for Wired Magazine, also quoted him as saying that if anyone from Cerberus gets his picture in the paper “we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him.” It probably seemed funny at the time.

Robert Farago, who writes about the firearm business on his blog, The Truth About Guns, told me that Cerberus has never been shy about “using its juice in Washington.” Dan Quayle, the former vice president, and John Snow, the former Treasury secretary, are both Cerberus executives.

Farago also told me that Cerberus has been a terrible steward of Freedom Group. It has shuttered factories and laid-off employees, in the name of efficiency. Its executives are called “the Borg” by others in the industry — a reference to a pseudo-race of cyborgs in the Star Trek series. Its guns are considered shoddily made and full of problems. In one infamous case, Bushmaster had to recall the Adaptive Combat Rifle because the trigger sometimes got stuck. The gun kept shooting even after the shooter took his finger off the trigger.

Not that it’s mattered. Since President Obama’s election in 2008, gun sales have steadily risen, which has helped Freedom Group’s bottom line. Although Cerberus had to cancel a public offering for Freedom Group in 2011, it doesn’t actually need an I.P.O. to come out ahead. According to Silton, it has already pulled out $248 million, nearly $100 million more than it paid for the companies it bought. Even if it gives Freedom Group away for nothing, it will still have made a profit.

Not that that’s likely. The rumor is that Taurus, a Brazilian company with an American presence, is likely to make a bid for Freedom Group. The company, strong in handguns, would use the acquisition to bolster its “long gun” portfolio. (Representatives for Taurus, Cerberus and Freedom Group did not respond to inquiries.)

The sad truth is, you can always find a lot of people to make guns. And you can always find people like Feinberg, only too happy to profit from the violence guns can do.

Last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, the Mayans were sort of right.

The world didn’t implode when their calendar stopped on Dec. 21. But the National Rifle Association did call for putting guns in every American school in a press conference that had a sort of civilization-hits-a-dead-end feel to it.

And we learned that negotiations on averting a major economic crisis had come to a screeching halt because Speaker John Boehner lost the support of the far-right contingent of his already-pretty-damned-conservative caucus. We have seen the future, and everything involves negotiating with loony people.

Wayne LaPierre, the C.E.O. of the N.R.A., has major sway in Congress when it comes to gun issues. So the press conference, in which he read a rambling, unyielding statement in a quavering voice, while refusing to take any questions, could not have inspired confidence that the national trauma over the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school was going to be resolved anytime soon.

LaPierre immediately identified the problem that led to a deranged young man mowing down children with a semiautomatic rifle: Gun-free school zones. (“They tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem.”) Then he demanded a police officer in every American school. Or maybe a program to recruit armed volunteers.

At around the same time he was speaking, a gunman in Pennsylvania killed three people after shooting up a rural church. We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.

The idea that having lots of guns around is the best protection against gun violence is a fairy tale that the N.R.A. tells itself when it goes to sleep at night. But an armed security officer at Columbine High School was no help. And history also shows that armed civilians generally freeze up during mass shootings — for good reason, since usually the only way a crazed gunman gets stopped is when he runs out of ammunition. So what we continue to have is an excellent argument for banning weapons that spray lots of bullets.

However unhinged LaPierre might have seemed to the casual observer, he sent a clear message to members of Congress who fear the wrath of the N.R.A.: No compromise on banning assault weapons or any gun control issue. That made it hard to imagine any reform getting past the great, gaping maw that is the House of Representatives.

We witnessed the magic of the House Republican majority when the Tea Party forces blocked Boehner’s plan to continue the Bush tax cuts for incomes under $1 million a year. This was around the time the speaker recited the prayer, much beloved by 12-step programs, about seeking the serenity to accept things you cannot change.

Boehner’s bill was mainly a political ploy, so in a way, its defeat was meaningless. Except that it would be comforting not to believe that one of the critical players in Washington was always at the mercy of the loopy-extremist wing in his caucus.

Like, um, Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. On Friday, Huelskamp represented the House resistance forces on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” in an appearance with great Mayan overtones. First, he gradually acknowledged that he was never going to vote for anything that raised taxes on anybody, even if it was understood by the entire world to be a negotiating tactic to win massive spending cuts, and avert massive tax increases on 99.8 percent of the population.

Then the discussion turned to the Connecticut shootings, and Huelskamp quickly announced that the nation did not have a gun problem. “It’s a people problem. It’s a culture problem,” he insisted. Anybody who disagreed — like President Obama — was, he said, using a tragedy “to push a political agenda.”

In conclusion, the congressman announced that he had an 11-year-old son, “and I have a choice whether he’s allowed to play those video games. What I would suggest to moms and dads across this country is look at what your children are doing. … And I’m not saying to pass a single law about that, because I think that would be politicizing the issue.”

Which we really hate. Politicizing.

There are so many ways we’d rather be celebrating the holidays. We would like to be gathering around the tree with loved ones, discussing current events in the form of that story about the theft of 6 million pounds of syrup from the strategic maple syrup reserve in Quebec.

But we are where we are. President Obama bid a Merry Christmas to the nation after announcing that he would try to re-avert the feared “fiscal cliff” with a bill that resolves virtually nothing but avoiding tax increases for the middle class. “At the very least, let’s agree right now on what we already agree on,” he said. This is what currently passes for a wildly optimistic statement.

Meanwhile, a congressman from Wisconsin, angry about the failure to pass a farm bill, warned that the nation was about to fall over “the Dairy Cliff.”

At least there’s still eggnog. God bless us every one.


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