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Authors: Tom Diaz

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These actions were sufficient to galvanize the National Rifle Association (NRA), the principal voice of the gun industry lobby.
One month after Secretary Gates's announcement, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe introduced the “Service Member Second Amendment Protection Act of 2010,” which was designed to forbid any action by the Defense Department that might affect personal weapons.
“Adding more gun ownership regulations on top of existing state and federal law does not address the problems associated with Hasan's case,” Senator Inhofe stated in a press release. Referring to the proposed Defense Department regulations, he continued, “Political correctness and violating Constitutional rights
dishonors those who lost their lives and is an extreme disservice to those who continue to serve their country.”

Senator Inhofe offered his bill as an amendment to the Defense Department's authorization bill for FY 2011. It was adopted by the Senate, and although no similar provision had been passed in the House version of the authorization bill, it was included in the legislation as enacted, and thus passed into law.
Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), took credit for the legislation, announcing in a “Political Report” on the matter that “your NRA has sought, and achieved, remedies to some of the worst abuses our service members have suffered, through legislation recently passed by the Congress and signed into law.”

The FN Five-seveN and the accessories chosen by Major Hasan are neither aberrant nor unusual products on the U.S. civilian gun market. They are, rather, typical examples of the military-style weapons that define that market today. There is no mystery in this militarization. It is simply a business strategy aimed at survival: boosting sales and improving the bottom line in a desperate and fading line of commerce.
The hard commercial fact is that military-style weapons sell in an increasingly narrowly focused civilian gun market. True sporting guns do not.

Like the tobacco industry, the gun lobby has gone to extreme lengths to draw a veil of secrecy over the facts surrounding its terrifying impact on American life. The tobacco industry successfully fought regulation for decades after its products were known to be pestilential. But a crack in the industry's wall of deceit and influence was opened through the process of discovery in private tort lawsuits. Putting aside compensation for the ravaging illnesses tobacco caused its victims, “litigation forced the industry to reveal its most intimate corporate strategies in the tobacco wars.”
Discovery revealed that the tobacco industry “had not been dealing straightforwardly with the public but had been acting in deceptive ways to ease its customers' growing anxieties over the health charges.”
This revealing light on the industry's
darkest schemes helped accelerate tighter regulation—“perhaps the most significant change was the public recognition of the industry's extensive knowledge of the harms of its product, and its concerted efforts to obscure these facts through scientific disinformation and aggressive marketing.”

Knowing that the gun industry could only lose in any public forum in which information about the consequences of its products was freely available, the gun lobby's strategists marked well the tobacco industry's defeats in court. After tort litigation was brought against the industry by innocent victims of its lethal products and reckless marketing, the NRA succeeded in pushing though Congress the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2005.
This extraordinary federal law shields the gun industry against all but the most carefully and artfully crafted private lawsuits.

Another prong of the NRA's assault on freedom of information about the gun industry has been a series of so-called riders—prohibitory amendments attached to appropriations bills—that began in 2003 and have collectively come to be known as the Tiahrt amendments, after their perennial sponsor, former representative Todd Tiahrt of Kansas. These amendments have forbidden the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing to the public useful information about gun trafficking and gun crimes. Although some information may be released to law enforcement agencies and ATF occasionally publishes its own limited summary reports, the agency's top officials have chosen to broadly interpret these prohibitions, virtually shutting down their responses to information requests from the general public and researchers.

Section 1062 of Public Law 111–383 forbids the Department of Defense to “collect or record” any information about the private firearms of members of the military or its civilian employees, unless they relate to such arms on a defense facility proper, and further directs the department to destroy within ninety days
of the date of its enactment any such records it may have previously assembled.

It was noted above that the word
appears nowhere in the report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs regarding the shootings at Fort Hood. Like much of what goes on in Congress, the report's drafting was done behind closed doors, but some clue as to why the authors of the report chose not to mention Major Hasan's wondrously deadly weapon may be found in the words of one co-author, the committee's ranking Republican member, Senator Susan Collins, in her opening statement at the committee's hearing
Terrorists and Guns: The Nature of the Threat and Proposed Reforms

For many Americans, including many Maine families, the right to own guns is part of their heritage and way of life. This right is protected by the Second Amendment.

And so this Committee confronts a difficult issue today: how do we protect the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms, while preventing terrorists from using guns to carry out their murderous plans?

One way to “protect the constitutional right” is simply to ignore the consequences of that right. This has increasingly been the choice of the nation's political leadership. In the words of Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a group distinguished both by its poll-driven policy proposals and its influence among moderate Democrats, “guns seem like the third rail.”

Although Congress and the White House are perfectly prepared to “balance” other constitutional rights in pursuit of the so-called war on terror, neither has even the slightest inclination to do so in the case of gun rights, notwithstanding the massively disproportionate harm guns inflict on Americans. In 2009, for example, when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had the temerity to suggest that Congress should reenact the expired federal assault weapons ban, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
swiftly squelched the idea. “Echoing the position often taken by advocates of gun rights,” according to the
New York Times
, Pelosi observed, “On that score, I think we need to enforce the laws we have right now.”
The issue is considered “toxic” to Democrats, according to many political observers.

Staying clear of the third rail of gun control thus has become a political byword in Washington. If there was any debate at all on Senator Inhofe's amendment to the defense authorization bill, none of it appears in the public record. The proceedings both of the Senate Armed Services Committee and of the committee that reconciled the different versions of the House and Senate were closed to the public. No public statement in opposition was issued by any member of Congress nor by the Obama administration.

Thus, as the Fort Hood affair demonstrates, the gun lobby has successfully shut down information, intimidated any political opposition, and endangered all Americans by its reckless militarization of our public space. The consequences for public health and the safety of ordinary Americans are grim. We all are placed in danger by the gun lobby's actions and by the deafening silence in response from America's political leaders.

This book sets out to expose this shameful and entirely preventable record of inaction in the face of needless death and injury and to sound a sensible, fact-based call to action to end the needless bloodshed.

Chapters 1
mount a thorough inquiry into the numbing level of gun violence and its effects in America.

Chapters 4
explain the fundamental cause of that violence: a mercenary industry and a cynical gun lobby, working hand in hand to sell the last gun to the last buyer.

Chapters 7
counter the conventional wisdom that the pro-gun forces in America are too powerful to be broken. They ask, “What would happen if Americans decided to take on the industry and its powerful allies?” The chapters' answer is that the gun lobby can be defeated, and that well-framed, fact-driven solutions work to save lives.


Nobody knows what happened within Michael E. Hance's interior life between 1978—his senior year of high school, when he was chosen Most Courteous because of his “consideration and good manners toward everyone”—and about eleven o'clock on the morning of Sunday, August 7, 2011, when he took deliberate aim with his recently-bought Hi-Point 45 caliber semiautomatic pistol and shot eleven-year-old Scott Dieter below the terrified boy's right eye.
Scott Dieter was the last of seven people whom Hance, armed with two handguns, calmly hunted down and shot to death in the archetypical white, middle-class suburb of Copley Township, Ohio.
An eighth victim, Rebecca Dieter, Hance's longtime girlfriend and Scott's aunt, was severely wounded; she was hospitalized but survived. A policeman shot Hance dead moments after he killed young Scott Dieter. The entire episode from first shot to last took less than ten minutes.

“Unclear in all of this is the motive for these killings,” Summit County Prosecuting Attorney Sherri Bevan Walsh noted in her report clearing the police officer of wrongdoing in shooting Hance.

What is not “unclear” is that in spite of Hance's long-term and increasingly bizarre public behavior, his angry interactions with his neighbors, the judgment of several members of his family that he had severe mental illness, and a 2009 incident report by Akron police that concluded he was a “signal 43,” or, as a police lieutenant later explained, “basically . . . crazy,”
Hance was easily
and legally able to buy from a pawn shop the two handguns with which he fired more than twenty rounds at his fleeing family and neighbors.
In addition to the Hi-Point pistol, which he bought five days earlier from Sydmor's Jewelry, a pawn shop in neighboring Barberton, Hance used a .357 Magnum revolver that he bought in 2005 from the same store.
He also bought several ammunition “reloaders” that he carried with him.

In the days between the time he bought the Hi-Point pistol and the morning that he unleashed his fury on his family and neighbors, Hance visited a local shooting range several times to familiarize himself with his new gun and practice shooting it.
Hi-Point asserts on its website that it “offers affordably-priced semi-automatic handguns in a range of the most popular calibers,” and that its guns “are very popular with recreational target shooters, hunters, campers, law enforcement and anyone seeking an affordable, American-made firearm.”

Events like that Sunday morning in Copley Township have become quintessentially American. They are damning proof that modern guns not only kill people, they kill many people quickly. Variously called a “shooting spree,”
“shooting rampage,”
“mass shooting,”
“mass killing,”
and “mass murder,”
such carnage has become so common that a pattern of breathless but ultimately feckless ritual emerges from the news media's reporting.

The ritual starts with a “breaking news” alert (that often misstates both the circumstances and the actual number of deaths and injuries).
“And, as we deliver the information to you, it is quite shocking,” said a CNN news reader on the afternoon of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, in which thirty-two victims were shot dead and seventeen wounded. “Because, when we first started reporting this, this morning, it was simply a shooting on campus. We didn't know if anyone had been injured.”

After police gain control of the shooting scene, high-ranking police officials and politicians give interviews and press conferences, ostensibly to assure their constituencies that the event in question was an aberration, the horror is now over, and the
community is safe. Mayor Buddy Dyer, for example, told reporters after a mass shooting in an Orlando, Florida, office building, “The gunman has been apprehended so the community is safe.”
Bill Campbell, then the mayor of Atlanta, “took an accustomed role Thursday after a shooting rampage left nine dead in two midtown office buildings, briefing the media and updating the city on the police's investigations in press conferences that were carried live nationally,” the Associated Press reported, adding that “Campbell took the role usually handled by at best a chief of police and normally just a normal spokesperson.”

BOOK: The Last Gun
13.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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