Lamenting the Dead, Not the Laws

Politicians and pundits are again lamenting the latest slaughter in Colorado, where a dozen moviegoers were murdered by a troubled young man who had no trouble buying an assault rifle and other guns. But the horror will be transient while the NRA’s clout has permanence, write Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

You might think Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of and spokesman for the mighty American gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, has an almost cosmic sense of timing. In 2007, at the NRA’s annual convention in St. Louis, he warned the crowd that, “Today, there is not one firearm owner whose freedom is secure.” Two days later, a young man opened fire on the campus of Virginia Tech, killing 32 students, staff and teachers.

Just last week LaPierre showed up at the United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in New York and spoke out against what he called “anti-freedom policies that disregard American citizens’ right to self-defense.”

The AR-15 assault rifle with various components. (Photo credit: TheAlphaWolf)

Now at least 12 are dead in Aurora, Colorado, gunned down at a showing of the new film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” a Batman movie filled with make-believe violence. One of the guns the shooter reportedly used was an AK-47 type assault weapon that was banned in 1994. The NRA pressured Congress to let the ban run out in 2004.

Obviously, LaPierre’s timing isn’t cosmic, just coincidental and unfortunate; as Shakespeare famously wrote, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. In other words, people — people with guns. There are some 300 million guns in the United States, one in four adult Americans owns at least one and most of them are men.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, over the last 30 years, “the number of states with a law that automatically approves licences to carry concealed weapons provided an applicant clears a criminal background check has risen from eight to 38.”

Every year there are 30,000 gun deaths and perhaps as many as 300,000 gun-related assaults in the U.S. Firearm violence costs our country as much as $100 billion a year. Toys are regulated with greater care and safety concerns than guns.

So why do we always act so surprised? Violence is our alter ego, wired into our Stone Age brains, so intrinsic its toxic eruptions no longer shock, except momentarily when we hear of a mass shooting like this latest in Colorado. But this, too, will pass as the nation of the short attention span quickly finds the next thing to divert us from the hard realities of America in 2012.

We are a country which began with the forced subjugation into slavery of millions of Africans and the reliance on arms against Native Americans for its westward expansion. In truth, more settlers traveling the Oregon Trail died from accidental, self-inflicted gunshots wounds than Indian attacks we were not only bloodthirsty but also inept.

Nonetheless, we have become so gun loving, so gun crazy, so blasé about home-grown violence that far more Americans have been casualties of domestic gunfire than have died in all our wars combined. In Arizona last year, just days after the Gabby Giffords shooting, sales of the weapon used in the slaughter a 9 millimeter Glock semi-automatic pistol doubled.

We are fooling ourselves. Fooling ourselves that the law could allow even an inflamed lunatic to easily acquire murderous weapons and not expect murderous consequences. Fooling ourselves that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a “well-regulated militia” be construed as a God-given right to purchase and own just about any weapon of destruction you like, a license for murder and mayhem. A great fraud has entered our history.

Maybe you remember a video you can still see on YouTube. In it, Adam Gadahn, an American born member of al Qaeda, the first U.S. citizen charged with treason since 1952, urges terrorists to carry out attacks on the United States.

Right before your eyes he says, “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check, and most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

The gunman in Colorado waited only for his opportunity. So there you have it the arsenal of democracy has been transformed into the arsenal of death. And the NRA? The NRA is the enabler of death paranoid, delusional and as venomous as a scorpion. With the weak-kneed acquiescence of our politicians, the National Rifle Association has turned the Second Amendment of the Constitution into a cruel and deadly hoax.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, “Moyers & Company,” airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

14 comments for “Lamenting the Dead, Not the Laws

  1. Bob Loblaw
    July 27, 2012 at 19:05

    Sorry Bill,
    As much as I love your works, I must disagree with your use of a terror instigator’s words to prove your point.

    “Assault weapons” are a cosmetic designation. Fully automatic rifles and pistols have been banned to the public since the 1930’s. No NRA knuckle-dragger will ever disagree with that ban.

    Semiauto action is legal, high capacity magazines may enable easier mass killings, and a ban may be applicable but appeals to emotions is no way to get votes, and no way to enact legislation and rally support from the other “side”.

  2. sig arnesen
    July 23, 2012 at 20:21

    Assault weapons at home and drones around the world!

  3. Cliff Gieseke
    July 22, 2012 at 17:58

    Such senseless violence should not surprise us. We have killed vast numbers of people in Iraq and Afghanistan have tortured large numbers of people, kill our own people with a false flag operation (9/11), support death squads, use weapons of mass destruction that will kill and cause birth defects and cancers for a very long time (Depleted Uranium munitions). We have the highest percentage of people in prison of any nation on earth, which reflects this madness. We won’t even support a national health care system as other developed, more civilized nations do. As a result large numbers of people are bankrupted and lose their homes. We desperately need to reform.

  4. Frances in California
    July 22, 2012 at 14:49

    Thanks for the reminder, JRG: No, no one remembers Op. NWoods; generations born later don’t even remember “Bowling for Columbine” and that, fairly recent. Moore cited statistical comparisons between gun-ownership and gun-violence in USA and Canada. Canadians own more guns per capita than do United States-ians, but they have WAY less gun violence. This prompted his remark during a speech in 2004: “You remember the Canadians? They’re just like us only better.”

  5. JRG
    July 22, 2012 at 13:33

    All of this has a familiar ring to it. Remember Operation Northwoods in the ’60s? JFK rejected a plan by the Joint Chiefs to sponsor a campaign of domestic terror conducted under false-flag pretenses by the military. Could it have been proposed again but this time not rejected? Just asking.

  6. Leo
    July 21, 2012 at 23:43

    If guns kill people, all of mine are defective! When oh when will the bleeding heart, do it for the childern learn, no matter what, IF someone is crazy, they will find a way to kill as many people as they want. Had the laws permitted it and people in that theater were all armed, there would have been ONE person shot, and the loon would’ve been shot-no tragedy. Gun laws only allow the criminal to possess guns while disarming the innocent.

  7. Benjamin
    July 21, 2012 at 22:28

    How about instead of more laws that don’t work and half-stepped regulations on ammo capacity and barrel lengths. Owning a firearm should have a prerequisite of a standardized firearm safety course and a regulated licensing procedure. We require education and certification for everything from driving to massage therapy, it is absolutely a necessity for firearm ownership. I own many firearms myself and have attended various firearm courses to improve my skill and safety with a tool designed specifically to kill.
    More laws are never the answer, make yourself aware and educated.

    • Frances in California
      July 22, 2012 at 14:46

      Thank you, Benjamin: YOU are good at problem solving.

  8. Straight Shooter
    July 21, 2012 at 18:08

    Here we go again – guns are the problem, not the demented individual that decided to carry out these attacks. Take firearms away from everyone and we’ll all be safe right? Think again, and when you do, maybe this time consider human nature. You don’t think for one second that he may have done this with a knife, machete, baseball bat etc? Get real!
    Maybe instead of focusing on firearms as THE problem, how about we actually get creative as a society and start thinking about how much violence hollywood spews to our children in the form of TV and movies every year! I never understood how someone can see gore and sadism in the military, come home and we all recognize it as PTSD, but go see a sadistic murderous movie and we expect that to be fine, no problem? Face it- we are a society of sadists hell bent on the next ultra violent movie / media headline etc of the day. Considering that angle for once would be a refreshing change for all of us.

    • Frances in California
      July 22, 2012 at 14:45

      Dear SS (unfortunate initials there . . .), Hollywood is no more the problem than guns are the problem. Hollywood reflects the problem. Only people good at problem solving can do anything about the violence. Hotheads with firearms don’t sound to me like people who are good at problem solving.

  9. lilbear68
    July 21, 2012 at 16:28

    its also interesting to note that DOJ is refusing to arrest holder too
    and how bout not calling to impose laws on the population for the actions of a lone shooter

  10. john r. benford
    July 21, 2012 at 16:03

    How about a law requiring people who would never want to own one of these so called assault weapons to own one to level the playing field.

    • Frances in California
      July 22, 2012 at 14:43

      john, that’s fighting fire with fire. If you never wanted to own one nevertheless, knew how to use one, you would be capable of fighting fire with fire – as do trained firefighters in their milieu; arming people just to arm them is insane.

  11. Guy McCullough
    July 21, 2012 at 14:04

    It is interesting to note that the Justice Department was unable to conduct successful prosecutions against those buying numerous military style assault weapons at one time because of the vary NRA sponsored laws plaguing this nation and leading to the “Fast and Furious” investigations.

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