The greater Great Neck area got a bit of a shock during the recent Reach Out America Gun Reform forum held at Saddle Rock School - the forum was practically overrun with staunch gun rights advocates - Oath Keepers they call themselves - who did their best to take over and dominate the meeting.
The surprise encounter was intimidating, but it was instructive. A group accustomed to uniform agreement with the need for sensible gun violence prevention measures- universal background checks, for example, which have the support of 90% of the population, and limits on the size of ammo magazines - felt itself slip down the rabbit hold of Alice in Wonderland non sequitors.
Apparently, we had just a small taste of what State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel experiences every day. Known as a staunch gun violence prevention advocate - she has championed microstamping for a decade, who actually began as an activist with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence - she is literally dogged wherever she goes, no matter what subject or issue she is addressing, be in environment, anti-fracking, education and the Common Core.
While she spoke, this group of a couple of dozen people shouted over her and did everything they could to drown her out - so much for Freedom of the Speech, which just moments later, they were demanding for themselves so that they could take over the program.
While the speakers were limited to just three minutes apiece, the Oath Keepers would stand and make long presentations, and made overtures to speak with people after the program. It was here that their position (I would characterize more as a warped perspective) was manifest.
They actually depict massacres as "normal," like a fact of nature or a "cost of doing business" like a fine that a company incurs for bribing a government official to win a contract - an acceptable (and apparently tolerable) inconvenience in exchange for unfettered "freedom" to bear arms.
They present gun owners as "good guys", "law-abiding" don't ya know. The guy that murders innocent people are not included in that equation (gun owner = good guy), as if there were another label, let's say "gun possessor" for those people who get guns and wind up being "bad guys." After all, how could a "good guy" legally possess a gun? There already are background checks, they say, and costly and cumbersome rigamarole to get a permit, so how could a bad person get a gun?
But the existing system - which has been rendered as inefficient as possible - means that 40% of gun purchases are made without any background check.
In fact, the NRA which masquerades as representing the "good guy gun owner" but actually represents the interest of gun manufacturers which are doing exceptionally well profit-wise, had supported gun control measures going back to the 1930s (the Prohibition-era gangs armed with machine guns), and as recently as 1999, when the NRA supported universal background checks.
Bill Cooper, president of the NYS chapter of Oath Keepers (which he said has 30,000 national members, who "when we join, swear an oath to defend the Constitution. "We're not political but we’ll stand our ground against incremental steps to take away Second Amendment rights, guaranteed to defend ourselves), said they were concerned with registration, gun stamping.
"We're not opposed to background checks but we don’t necessarily answer to the NRA," he said when asked about the NRA supporting background checks in 1999 and now opposing any expansion of background checks. But his group regards any increase in background checks as the "slippery slope" to national registration which of course will inevitably slip sliding into confiscation of all guns.
You know what I noticed? Not a single one of the Oath Keepers dared show any compassion whatsoever for the victims of gun violence - not the Newtown children represented on stage by Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, who had to console a family whose child was murdered that day. But Praver has a connection to a Great Neck shooting victim also: he grew up here and was a classmate of Susan Schaffer, a young mother murdered in her own home exactly five years ago by two teenagers suspended from school who had stolen a gun from a house they had burgled. The Reachout Gun Forum was organized by Susan's mother, Lois Schaffer, who had been a gun control advocate before the incident, and now has used the unimaginable grief to energize her activism. The Oath Keepers were not moved by Rabbi Praver presenting Lois with a glass heart, pierced by the number of gun deaths, "But it still holds together."
That takes something, or rather demonstrates some of the same lack of empathy that is manifest in these slayings. That good guy? It demonstrates that there isn't that great a separation.
When Rabbi Praver tried to explain why the Second Amendment provides for regulation (as in "well-regulated militia"), at one point they shouted him down saying something incomprehensible about religion, as if a rabbi had no right to discuss the Second Amendment at all.
But what I couldn't figure out is why these people, who claim that only good guys get guns and you need more good guys with guns, wouldn't support universal background checks (essentially an expansion to close loopholes that presently leave 40% of guns purchased without checks), when they already live under a regimen of background checks.
The answer, they say, is a phantom fear of a federal registry and ultimate confiscation, even though the Senate bill (which failed not because it did not receive a majority, 54-46, but failed to get the 60 to stop the Republican filibuster) despite being supported by 90% of Americans, including the vast majority of NRA members) - in the clearest demonstration of the failure of democracy and all those principles enshrined in the Constitution which the Oath Keepers purport to defend.
The Oath Keepers were completely unmoved, though by the facts presented by Amy Wright of Mayors Against Illegal Guns that the legislation explicitly and categorically prohibited a federal registration (a felony) or confiscation. But they dismiss this, ignore it, obfuscate or simply lie - not unlike the style of attacks ("death panels"!) that have been attached to Obamacare.
Same with plastic guns. They oppose any further limit that would take into account the new 3D technology. Why? Kevin Gray says because they aren't efficient. Basically you can't kill very many people with a plastic gun (yet). He is completely unfazed by the possibility of even a single gunshot on an airplane (no danger of taking the aircraft down, so it's okay if only one bullet is fired), or any other "safe zone." They don't like safe zones at all. They mock safe zones (they see them as shooting galleries because they are not protected by 'good guys with guns.').
Take Sandy Hook. The solution to school shootings, they insist, is having armed guards. Even though airports have armed guards but a TSA officer got shot dead (he only died because the TSA held up paramedics for 30 minutes, so it's okay that he was shot).
And it doesn't at all faze them that armed people have murdered innocents - like the police who killed a man (black) injured in a car accident, who simply knocked on someone's door seeking help and a woman (black) who was shot dead after she too sought help from a homeowner after a car accident.
The Gun Rights No Matter What folks are also shape shifters. skilled at contorting to dodge a question, deflect and divert. For example, instead of addressing the easy access to military-grade weapons meant for the battlefield and ammo clips of 30, 50 and even 100 rounds by deranged individuals, criminals and terrorists, they shift the focus to the woeful inadequacy of mental health, yet the same gun violence advocates are the ones who block health care reform -Obamacare as a subjugation of freedom - that puts mental health in parity with other health care.
But practically speaking, how would you patrol mental health before a psychotic sprays a crowd with bullets from a 100 round clip?
Who makes the decision to intrude into one's private thoughts? Do we lock these people up just because they act weird? or are loners? or play video games? or do we ban video games altogether (warning, First Amendment protections, not to mention 4th, 5th and 6th, ahead!)
And how does their focus on the mentally ill jibe with a mentality that is so fearful of the government that it will confiscate guns in violation of Second Amendment rights, that they would somehow acquiesce to a government that determines who should be locked up?
Oh, I get it. You wait until the massacre happens, and then you give mental health help. But don't do a background check or make mental health records part of the background check and heaven forbid you empower the government to confiscate a gun from a schizophrenic.
In fact, the Gun-Rights-No-Matter-Who-Gets-Killed advocates are vehemently opposed to the provision of New York's new SAFE Act that allows guns to be confiscated from the mentally ill. And they have pushed for legislation which would allow veterans who were deemed to have PTSD or mental illness to get their weapons back (recall the DC Sniper).
And yet, there already is gun regulation. It isn't that there aren't any such things as background check, or registration, or licensing or permits. And it hasn't stopped the United States from being the most heavily armed in the world.
But regulation has lagged behind technology and reality.
Just like plastic guns that had been prohibited - the ban was just days away from expiring, but Republicans have refused to update it to reflect new 3-D technology. The ban was finally renewed - in fact the only "gun control" measure that has been passed since the assault weapons ban in 1994 (which expired in 2004), but without any update.
That renders screenings at airports, schools, courthouses, government buildings, the Capitol and the White House meaningless.
But the Gun Rights-No-Matter-How-Many-Die people have drawn the line in the sand: no regulation at all.
And it all stems from this irrational insistence that any regulation at all is a slipper slope that will inevitably lead to confiscation.
So here's how the "conversation" went:
Asked their objection to background checks, especially when the NRA favored universal background checks in 1999 – they said it would lead to registration and confiscation – even though there presently are background checks, since the 1930s, and hasn’t led to confiscation. Or a federal registry. In fact, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, records have to be destroyed after 24 hours (compare that to the No Fly lists).
They were not deterred by anyone telling them that the Senate bill specifically prohibited a federal gun registry (it would be a felony) or confiscation (also a felony).
Background checks “can’t be enforced without confiscation” . That makes no sense, but this is how they phrase it.
"Okay, but not universal."
"Everyone should have a gun."
"Well every good person."
How do you know who is good? Who decides? (and isn’t everyone good before they do bad?), you have to do bad first. Suppose the first bad thing you do is take a semi-automatic and 100 round magazine and kill 50 people.
"More guns, less crime."
I try to phrase it differently.
“So you are in favor of mass murder? They look at me quixotically. I mean it seems as logical as theirs – (in fact, he said to me I must hate old people and women because I want sensible gun control).
"Of course not," Kevin, who describes himself as an NRA member but not an Oath Keeper, replies.
So what is your solution? "Good guys with guns."
How do you know if someone is a good guy? "Through a background check."
(But not an expanded background check…. You see?)
He tells me, “You hate old people and women" - implying that because I think there should be univeresal background checks, somehow that keeps women and old people from having a gun to defend themselves.
I say, “You hate children.”
But I say, No one is suggesting you not be able to keep a gun for defense or to hunt. But surely you will agree there is no reason for a 100 round magazine.
"I want one," Kevin says "because I might miss."
I say, "Do you mean you couldn't hit an intruder with 10, 20, 30 or 40 rounds? You must be a terrible shot."
His friend says that even police miss their target 4 out of 5 times – under the heat of the moment.
That's exactly the point! I say.
If police, who are trained not just in shooting, but in handling specific situations, how could "Everyman" who is rarely in that intense situation.
His answer? "I’m a trainer," as if that means that he wouldn't make a mistake, but he just said he needs 100 rounds because he might miss the first 99 times. And apparently his two other buddies were also trainers, because they also insisted they knew exactly what they were doing.
The point I tried to make went completely over their heads.
But I say, what about the incidents where a family member came home in the night and surprised, and got shot – or the two recent (separate) incidents where a person had a car accident, went to a house for help and in one case was shot dead by police, and in the other by the homeowner (both victims were black) – and by the way, what about the 4th amendment which prevents against harsh and unusual punishment – where is burglary a capital offense? And what about presumed innocent and right to a jury before someone pronounces guilt – as was the case of the two dead accident victims.
I marshal all my wits to somehow consolidate into the most simple terms: all we want, I say, is to make it less easy to get a weapon that can murder 26 people - 20 children - in the space of 7 minutes.
They insist that places are safer where there are more guns – really. What about Australia? What about England, which instituted strict gun control and has 35 gun deaths a year, compared to 35 gun deaths each day in America, the land of the free and the home of the exceedingly well armed.
At some point, they like to shout out about NAZIS and STALIN, and maybe a little Pol Pot, and throw out the figure of 200 million. That's the number of people they claim have been killed by “gun registration” – that is, government oppression (they have a word for that, it’s “gov-ecide”. Try telling them that regardless of background checks, registration or actually being armed, the government could still kill you.
They also insist that background checks don't do anything because criminals will always get guns.
But Wright points out that since the background check system was put into effect in 1993, 2 million sales to prohibited individuals have been blocked. "The system works, needs to be strengthened and eliminate loopholes."
And also in 1993, there was no Internet, no Craig's List, no armslist.com where a person who would otherwise be prohibited - a domestic abuser, someone deemed mentally ill - can purchase a gun without a background check.
Even if you couldn't prevent all gun sales without a background check, you can still stop many - like the Virginia Tech mass murderer.
Most of the gun deaths in America, they insist, are suicides. Or gang violence.
I have two problems with this: “Most” – the fact is that the US has a gargantuan number of gun deaths, - so “most” still leaves a helluvalot.
And what about the innocents who are killed in the crossfire, like the 15-year-old Chicago girl, Hadiya Pendleton, an Honors Student who went to school a mile from President Obama’s house, who had just been in Obama's Inauguration Parade in Washington, and reportedly came to Washington for the inaugural weekend was shot and killed in a park.
Second: aren’t the lives lost to suicide or gang violence also something to be considered? People who attempt to commit suicide by pills or some other form are much less successful than a person who uses a gun.
Oh yes, he includes in this suicide by cop- the people who kill random innocents but stop when the police come and then commit suicide. Like Adam Lanza.
So the answer is to have an armed officer at every school? Yes. That’s his solution.
And what about fame by another name? Who would remember Lee Harvey Oswald, this pipsqueak of a wannabe except for his dastardly deed, using a $12 mail-order gun, or the next Adam Lanza looking to make a new record.
The Oath Keepers seem to be completely incapable of comprehending the point: you already have background checks. You accept those background checks. Your gun has not been confiscated. You say only “good people” should have guns, and the way to know who is “good” (at least up until they do "bad') is through a background check.
Or the simple point: no one wants to take your gun away. We just want to make it less ridiculously easy for psychotic, violent, criminals, terrorists to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
They seem to accept mass murder as a par for the course, “normal” course of doing business, like a fine a company pays to bribe an official to get business.
The lack of compassion for those lost.
Cyrus Garrett talked about the need for each side to understand each other's position, finding common ground in the middle. He sounds like Obama, who wasted five years of his presidency trying to compromise with Republicans before finally figuring out that anything he was for, even the proposals that originated with Republicans, they would oppose.
In this climate, there is no middle ground - there is only Stand Your Ground. Gun control has become one of those litmus tests, like Women's Reproductive Rights or Climate Change, tax reform, or just about anything you can name, where you are not allowed to "compromise." These people don't give an inch. That was clear on the comparatively tame Manchin-Toomey bill and on the refusal to renew the ban on assault weapons (passed in 1994, it expired in 2004).
They throw out these absurd numbers pretending they are statistics (200 million dead because of gun control, by gov-ecide, murder by government) , and disregard actual statistics and facts.
But in comments like these, they betray the truth of who they are and why they are so desperate and why there is really no interest in "compromise" or "sensible gun protection".
When they say they are "defending" the Constitution, what they really mean is they identify with the rebels against a colonial power. They do not see government of "We the People" - they see government like labor sees management: them. They claim to stand for law and order, but distrust police or anyone else that goes against them, even when they are the minority in a political system where the majority is supposed to rule (yes, while protecting the rights of the minority).
What about the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The right to live?
And this is obvious because except for a phrase taken out of context of the 2nd Amendment, they disregard all the rest of it: trial by jury (they get to decide guilt), unreasonable punishment (execution for minor crime), free speech. The Oath Keepers were intimidating enough; now imagine if these several dozen people wore semi-automatic guns on their hip instead of the Oath Keeper black t-shirts (what the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense experienced in Dallas, Texas, when a meeting at a restaurant brought the sudden appearance of 40 men armed with semi-automatic rifles ). How free would that conversation have been? (See Armed protesters rattle Texas moms' gun-control meeting).
Amy Wright and Cyrus Garrett of Mayors Against Illegal Guns try to make the case that politics is on the side of gun violence prevention - but that is hard to square with the reality that since Newtown, The New York Times reported this week that about 1,500 state gun bills have been introduced since the Newtown massacre - 178 passed at least one chamber of a state legislature. 109 have become law. But of these, astonishingly, 70 actually expand gun rights, only 39 enact sensible gun violence prevention measures. " Most of those bills were approved in states controlled by Republicans. Those who support stricter regulations won some victories — mostly in states where the legislature and governorship are controlled by Democrats — to increase restrictions on gun use and ownership."
Indeed, Andy Pelosi, founder and director of Gun Free Kids and the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus (armedcampus.org) notes that in some states there is pressure to force campuses to allow concealed weapons.
"If you do not want your child to attend college where people are carrying concealed weapons, then pay attention. In 2014, we anticipate gun bills in Georgia, Indiana. And even if this is not New York where your kids are from, you still need to care because a lot of fine college all across country – Indiana, Texas, Michigan, Ohio, where we will see bills introduced to change the law to allow concealed weapons."
Campuses are particularly hot spots for mass shootings - Virginia Tech, University of Arizona (a Long Island girl was killed by a jilted boyfriend), Delaware State University, Louisiana Technical College in Baton Rouge.University of Texas-Austin, Cal State Fullerton, Northern Illinois University.
(Note to Parents: contact colleges your children are considering applying to and ask if they allow weapons on campus or if they plan to, and tell them you will not allow your child to apply if they do. For a horrifying glimpse into the campaign to expand guns on campus, see Carry on College Campus?).
"Put simply, gun-free zones are defense-free zones," David Burnett wrote, advocating for more guns on campuses. "They create free-fire, target-rich environments, appealing to any criminal gunning for the notoriety of a high body count. Colleges even advertise their defense-free policies, practically inviting armed psychopaths, and giving them a government guarantee that they won’t face armed resistance until police arrive."
The Oath Keepers introduce themselves as being the defenders of the Constitution - as if they are the only ones who value or uphold this founding document of a government "of the people, for the people, by the people."
These people really don't care about the truth, or law. And the Oath Keepers especially don't actually care about the Constitution.
Because they would also care about the first amendment (speech, press, religion, assembly), the fourth amendment, the 6th amendment (the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, as opposed to summary capital punishment), the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted)
This came out clearly when Rabbi Praver attempted to discuss the Second Amendment and was shouted down by those saying something about religion.
Undeterred, he asks who could recite the Second Amendment, and in unison, they loudly proclaim, "The right to bear arms shall not be infringed.”
But, he says, you missed the beginning of the amendment:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Well-regulated. There is it: regulation is in the Constitution. Not just "arms" but "regulated" (one of the Oath Keepers said "regulated" did not refer to "regulation" but rather, "regular" as "everyday").
Militia. Without a standing army, citizens had the obligation to protect their community.
The rabbi said, yes, militia means everyone. That means that everyone is subject to regulation.
The Oath Keepers went crazy over that.
The rabbi quoted the Scalia court’s opinion in two cases which established the individual right to have a gun – it also provided for regulation – they get the “individual right” but not the “regulation.” Or the part about public safety.
I insist: no one wants to take your gun.
Everyone recognizes your right to defend yourself.
Indeed, "being necessary to the security of a free State."
That is, to protect this nation and this government "of the people, by the people, for the people." "We the People."
It is not that we should have the right to take arms against our own government, presumably elected by a majority of our own people.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented from Heller case which asserted an individual's right to bear arms (we are all the militia), but did not challenge the government's right to impose regulations for the public good, explained it better. In an interview with John Hockenberry of NPR's "The Takeaway" (Sept. 16, 2013)
"My view of the Second Amendment is one based on history. The Second Amendment has a preamble about the need for a militia. Because there is a need for a militia to be at the ready, therefore the right to keep and bear arms must be secured. Historically, the new government had no money to pay for an army, so they relied on the state militias. And the states required men to have certain weapons and they specified in the law what weapons these people had to keep in their home so that when they were called to do service as militiamen, they would have them. That was the entire purpose of the Second Amendment.
"But when we no longer need people to keep muskets in their home, then the Second Amendment has no function, its function is to enable the young nation to have people who will fight for it with weapons that those soldiers will own. So I view the Second Amendment as rooted in the time, totally allied to the need to support a militia. So my answer would be, yes, the Second Amendment is outdated in the sense that its function has become obsolete. And, in my view, if the Court had properly interpreted the Second Amendment, the Court would have said that Amendment was very important when the nation was new, it gave a qualified right to keep and bear arms but it was for one purpose only, and that was the purpose of having militiamen who were able to fight to preserve the nation."
Here's how the It's Okay to Kill with Guns Crowd is marking the Sandy Hook Massacre Anniversary:
The Second Amendment Foundation is launching a nationwide television advertising effort, calling attention to “Guns Save Lives Day” on Dec. 15, in conjunction with Bill of Rights Day.
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb announced the campaign, noting that the organization has bought “hundreds of thousands of dollars of air time” on Fox News, DISH TV, and Glenn Beck’s Blaze Network. He has also purchased air time on national conservative radio talk shows, SeriusXM satellite radio and major radio stations.
“Our message points out that guns do save lives,” Gottlieb said, “and that it is not in the interest of public safety to create so-called ‘gun-free zones’ where people are defenseless against violent criminal attack.”
“While others will exploit national tragedies to push an agenda of victim disarmament,” Gottlieb observed, “those of us involved in ‘Guns Save Lives Day’ have a different message that the public has a right to hear. The proper use of firearms in emergency situations can make a difference to the safety of would-be victims, whether they are night-shift grocery clerks, single moms, senior citizens or small business owners.”
"Americans protect themselves from violent crime with firearms up to two million times annually, by some estimates."
"Nearly half of those incidents occur away from home, demonstrating the effectiveness of concealed- and open-carry laws. In the majority of those cases, a shot is not even fired, but the presence of the firearm serves as a deterrent to violence," he insisted.
(Really? Based on what? The number of incidents where a civilian actually prevented a tragedy before it happened are virtually nil - how about the school aid, Antoinette Tuff, who simply talked an armed lunatic who invaded an Atlanta, Georgia elementary school into giving himself up without firing a shot?)
Gottlieb was especially critical of Organizing for Action, the group created from the Barack Obama campaign organization, and Moms Demand Action, for exploiting the Sandy Hook tragedy, while trying to silence firearms rights groups.
“There have been meetings in the White House to coordinate how gun prohibitionists can use the Newtown anniversary to push their political, anti-rights agenda,” Gottlieb said. “While they have criticized the ‘Guns Save Lives’ effort, these organizations have hypocritically worked with the Obama administration to dance across the graves of the innocent in a campaign to destroy the Second Amendment.”
(That's really cold.)
“Nobody should have the right to prohibit another person from exercising his or her right of self-defense,” Gottlieb said. “This notion that ‘gun free zone’ decals or signs will prevent a violent crime is at best delusional. Criminals and crazy people pay no heed to such restrictions on law-abiding people, and in fact they take advantage of such situations.
“Our television effort will provide an opportunity to millions of Americans to express their support for a fundamental civil right,” Gottlieb said. “At the same time, we will send a message to the gun prohibition lobby that Americans will not sacrifice their right to self-defense on the altar of political correctness.”
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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