This is a tale of two female politicians, one a longtime supporter of gun rights who is now coming down on the side of more gun control. The other is also a longtime supporter of gun rights who, even following the Newtown, Conn., mass murder of innocents, is still walking down the aisle with the National Rifle Association.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly this week launched an anti-gun violence group called Americans for Responsible Solutions. The move came sadly on the second anniversary of her near-fatal shooting at an Arizona shopping center where she was meeting with constituents.
Before being shot, Giffords, a Democrat, was nonetheless a pretty ardent supporter of gun rights. One needs to recognize, after all, that it’s virtually impossible to get elected from a gun-happy state like Arizona without supporting gun ownership.
While in Congress in 2008 she opposed Washington, D.C., prohibitions on possession of handguns in the home as well as having usable firearms in the home when she signed onto an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to support its overturn. Conservatives in Congress, who normally stand up for states’ rights, went out of their way to take over what should have been local control of gun laws.
Despite Giffords’ support of the override of that law, gun-rights groups saw her as a turncoat. Nothing but absolutely fealty to unlimited access to even military-style weapons will satisfy those groups. She received a D-plus rating from the National Rifle Association. Again sadly, her attempted assassination apparently at the hands of a mentally disturbed man, gave her the courage to speak out on this issue.
Then there’s North Dakota’s newest senator, Heidi Heitkamp, also a Democrat from a gun-happy state.
Last week on ABC’s “This Week” she said of a reported plan from the White House to pursue a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks and stricter penalties for giving guns to minors: “I don’t think that proposal necessarily fit the bill for me . . . I’m not a big believer that this is a one-size-fits-all solution. We need to have a balanced approach and we need to live in reality, what can you actually get passed.”
I understand the politics of coming from a Western, rural state where hunting is still a sine qua non. But Heitkamp is in a unique position to help change, “what you can actually get passed,” and she relinquished that opportunity by sticking by the NRA’s playbook.
The NRA describes itself as a civil rights group. It is anything but. It may have started out that way. But today it is nothing but a shill for weapons manufacturers. According to an April 2011 report by the Violence Policy Center, “since 2005 contributions from gun industry ‘corporate partners’ to the NRA total between $14.7 million and $38.9 million . . . The vast majority of funds – 74 percent – contributed to the NRA from ‘corporate partners’ come from members of the firearms industry: companies involved in the manufacture or sale of firearms or shooting-related products.”
The NRA is as much in the business of selling weapons as are the gun manufacturers that support it.
Of course, the NRA would see the solution to the Newtown massacre as putting an armed security person at each public school in America. That move alone would sell hundreds of thousands more weapons.
Women should be leading the charge to end gun violence. As givers of life, they should challenge societal norms that lead to the destruction of children and innocent civilians. We cannot afford to lose even one to the dark side.
Bonnie Erbe, a TV host, writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. Email [email protected]