Analysis: The Triumph of the Gun Lobby

Kelly says, "The right not to be murdered is the most important civil liberty."

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The epidemic of shootings in New York over the July 4th weekend points up again the craziness of our policies on gun control.

    The flood of illegal guns continues to afflict us. The National Rifle Association wages a perennial campaign against gun control. And in that effort the NRA is successful: the gun manufacturers and gun owners' lobby are still setting national policy. Basically, they have thwarted any effort to limit the number of guns on our nation’s streets.

    The wild west, celebrated in old movies and novels, still flourishes. The guns are still available and that’s why, in New York City and other large cities, crime continues to flourish. It is sad that the main victims of crime --- and the criminals --- are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic.

    On a hot summer Friday night within eight hours at least seven New Yorkers were murdered and 21 more shot, stabbed and slashed. There have been 672 shootings this year as of July 1, a nearly 11 percent increase over last year. In one incident, a group of men armed with an AK-47, after a fight in a night club, sprayed an SUV with 63 bullets, killing three.

    It is sad, too, that in this election year, neither President Obama nor his opponent, Mitt Romney, has shown the guts to confront the NRA and its misguided agenda. Certainly, for every voter, the safety of his or her family is the primary consideration. For too long, the two major political parties have allowed the NRA and its allies to have their way. The politicians have accepted meekly the argument that the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, gives citizens a virtually unlimited right to use them.

    The founding fathers never intended to empower people to mow each other down. Clearly the Second Amendment has been distorted. It was intended to protect people, not allow them to destroy each other. The presidential candidates are ducking this issue -- and that could be considered a political crime -- a bi-partisan campaign against the people.

    Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, points out that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has ruled that guns can be regulated without violating the Second Amendment. New York, says Gross, has some of the strongest gun control laws in the country but 40 percent of the crimes committed here involve guns purchased in six other states. This, Gross told me, "makes it clear we need national legislation."

    Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have intensified their efforts to get guns off the streets of this city. Kelly told me: "The reason we are doing what we’re doing is to save lives." He was referring to the stop-and-frisk campaign and the NYPD’s vigorous pursuit of guns in the neighborhoods.

    "The most fundamental civil liberty is the right not to be murdered," he said. "There has to be a lot more focus on the fact that people are losing their lives --- and most are people of color. In the decade since Bloomberg became mayor there have been 5,430 murders. In the previous decade there were 11,058 murders, a reduction of 52 percent. Compare the previous decade, and you have to conclude that even with so many fewer cops we are saving lives --- and we want to continue to do that."

    Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of Nassau County, who lost her husband when a crazed gunman shot up a Long Island Railroad car in 1993, isn’t happy about the lack of progress in passing national gun control laws. She praises Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly for their efforts. "But," she told me, "I’m discouraged that it has taken so long to make meaningful progress against this scourge of gun violence." The congresswoman, a former nurse, regards gun violence as a health crisis.

    She concedes that the President has major concerns, especially the economy, on his mind. "But I hope to talk to him and get him to help lead the country in the right direction on this issue that has had such tragic consequences for so many people."