Gun Madness v. Gun Sanity

As the gun carnage continues across the United States, the Right won’t stop peddling its bogus historical claims about the Second Amendment and rallying its gullible supporters to fight even modest safety laws. But victims of gun violence are finally fighting back, write Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

This week, we spent time with Francine and David Wheeler, parents of six-year-old Ben Wheeler, one of the 20 children and six educators shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Francine and David moved from New York City to Newtown to raise a family somewhere safe. They could never have imagined that in that quiet place on a Friday morning, just days before Christmas, gunfire would take their younger son’s life.

The Wheelers’ courage and commitment deeply touched us. Since their son’s death, they have managed to cope with memory and hold together their lives, and the life of their surviving son, Nate, with uncommon grace.

Along with other Newtown families, they lobbied the Connecticut state legislature, which now has the toughest gun law in America, and in Washington, they walked the halls of Capitol Hill, urging senators to vote yes for the amendment that would expand the use of background checks for people buying guns.

Although a majority favored the legislation, they fell six votes short of the 60 votes necessary for passage, but the Newtown families, friends and neighbors do not intend to quit. They are part of a growing nationwide movement committed to changing our gun culture. They call it Sandy Hook Promise.

“America is in desperate need of a new path forward to address our epidemic of gun violence,” they write. And then comes the promise: “THIS TIME THERE WILL BE CHANGE.”

You want to believe with all your heart that this is one promise that will be kept. But arrayed against them are mighty forces, mountains of money, a corrupted political system, and habits deeply ingrained in the human psyche.

That Minnesota radio host who told the Newtown families “to go to hell” is hardly alone in placing his freedom to own weapons over a child’s right to live. The gun industry’s most conspicuous pitchman, Wayne LaPierre, is the walking embodiment of the sociopathic mentality, one radically devoid of empathy.

His National Rifle Association spent $18.6 million on the 2012 elections and then at least $800,000 lobbying the federal government in just the first three months of this year, pushing back against those like Sandy Hook Promise who have been calling for change after the Newtown massacre.

But Gregg Lee Carter, the editor of the encyclopedia Guns in American Society, told the Center for Public Integrity: “The issue is not so much how much the NRA gives any senator or member of the House, it’s how they can make their lives miserable. And how they make their lives miserable is they e-mail ’em, they call ’em, they fax ’em, they show up at meetings. They’re much more activist than the other side and that’s what really produces their gains.”

As the NRA holds its annual meeting in Houston this weekend (expected attendance: more than 70.000), you see their tracks everywhere. A kindred, pistol-packing spirit, the Arizona Citizens Defense League has been raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic at their website’s online store, similar to the weapon Adam Lanza used at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They’ve taken it down from their site now, when we first saw the offer, there were only five tickets left, so maybe it’s sold out, but here’s what the offer looked like (including the Statue of Liberty brandishing a rifle, Rambo-style).

A page, since removed, from the Arizona Citizens Defense League website, raffling off an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

That same group cheered on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer this week as she signed two pro-gun bills, one that prohibits local governments from keeping lists of people who have firearms not that any of them were and another that requires police to take guns that are voluntarily surrendered in buyback programs and instead of destroying them, sell them back to the public. That’s right: get them off the street and then get them back on the street as fast as you can. Perhaps they should install a drive-through window at the precinct houses.

Granted, this is in Arizona, where the OK Corral is hallowed ground (reenactment daily at 2 pm) and there’s even a TV station in Tucson with the call letters K-GUN, but the mindset pervades across the country, even as there have been eight school shootings since Newtown and more than 3,800 gun deaths.

The killing field that is America never calls a truce. In Kentucky this week, a two-year-old girl was accidentally shot and killed by her 5-year-old brother who was playing with a rifle he had received as a gift. In Alabama, a stray bullet fired nearby killed a 24-year-old mother holding her 10-day-old baby in her arms. She fell onto a couch by the door still clutching her child.

Hold that image in your head and in your heart, so emblematic of a country that has taken leave of its senses. Remember all the dead from all the solitary shootings and all the massacres. Some senators suggest there may be another vote on background checks before the end of the year. If, as David Wheeler suggested to us, this is a tipping point for the movement against gun violence, the moment has come to push harder than ever.


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

13 comments for “Gun Madness v. Gun Sanity

  1. Stu Chisholm
    May 6, 2013 at 02:16

    Saying nonsense such as, “… placing his freedom to own weapons over a child’s right to live” shows that you’ve failed in recognizing the enormous gap between true American gun culture and criminal culture. A question to Mr. Moyers: do you own a video camera? Do you place your right to own it above a child’s right to not be exploited in child pornography? THINK (if you can): this is exactly the same! If I, or any other law abiding gun owner, gives up our guns, NOBODY is made safer! (And the innocent are then powerless against criminals.) This is simple applied logic. Also, nobody voted against background checks. Haven’t you heard? Even most NRA members like the idea! No, another thing that you and your media hacks missed was that the vote was against a SLOPPY, terribly written bill! As tempting as it is to wave the bloody shirt of emotion, creating laws in its clutches ALWAYS produces bad law. We need sound legislation based on cold logic, fact and reason so that it stands a chance of actually working.

  2. Mark B
    May 5, 2013 at 23:19

    The Second Amendment was put there “to fight government tyranny”? Really?! Then why didn’t the original signers of the Constitution and the first ten Bill of Rights allow a large percentage of the U.S. population – black people – the right to bear arms against one of the worst kind of tyrannies of all?

  3. Ben
    May 4, 2013 at 20:55

    “The Second Amendment was not put in the Bill of Rights to guarantee Americans the right to hunt or target shoot, but rather to protect them against government tyranny.”

    That’s a pile of shit. The Founding Fathers you clowns revere so much violently put down tax rebellions … gasp …

  4. BillB
    May 4, 2013 at 17:21

    “The Second Amendment was not put in the Bill of Rights to guarantee Americans the right to hunt or target shoot, but rather to protect them against government tyranny.”

    Would you care to expand on that? My understanding is that George Washington was very concerned about the threat to the government by the Shays Rebellion and wanted to have a “well regulated militia” to protect the government against future rebellions, hence the Second Amendment.

    Have you ever considered what the United States might be like if the people who believe this juvenile fantasy about an armed resistance were to rise in armed revolt against the government? Take a look at what is going on in Syria today and multiply the carnage by 20 or 30 or more. If you should ever join an armed march on Washington and look over your shoulder to see who is with you, don’t be surprised if those windbags who talk about using their guns to defend against tyranny don’t show up when it comes to walkin’ the walk.

    But first, check into a little history and note the successes of non-violent campaigns. Tunisia, Egypt, various parts of the former British empire. Not to mention the civil rights movement in the southern United States.

  5. BillB
    May 4, 2013 at 12:39

    Unfortunately, what has been proposed to counter gun violence is too little, too late. At a minimum, if there is to be any reduction in the use of guns to kill people all guns should be registered and their owners held responsible for any crimes committed. That’s not going to happen. So, with an estimated 200 million guns out there it will always be easy for thousands of individuals to get a gun to kill another person each year. It will also be easy for two, three, four or five or more mass killers each year to get the guns they need for another massacre.

    • don norris
      May 4, 2013 at 21:19

      So, you would suggest we do…? Nothing?

      • BillB
        May 5, 2013 at 13:56

        Not at all, but there is a lot to be said for realizing a band-aid won’t cut it when major surgery is called for.

    • Stu Chisholm
      May 6, 2013 at 02:25

      How would registration stop crimes? The guns used in Newtown were legally registered and even complied with their local “assault weapons” ban. Registration doesn’t make our roads any safer. With zero benefit from a crime prevention/solving perspective, registration is useless. Plus, there is a significant downside, the least of which is expense. What people must realize is that most shootings aren’t done by droves of disgruntled NRA members. It’s not a band of people with CCW permits committing drive-by shootings in Detroit and Chicago! Most of this is gang/drug related. Throwing more laws in the way of criminals who don’t follow the ones already on the books is a textbook definition of insanity: repeating the same actions and expecting different results. It’s far better to ratchet-up penalties for misusing firearms, come down harder on gangs and drug operations. When the police union in Detroit tells people that they’re on their own and that visitors enter the city at their own risk, I tend to believe them. Some police have even suggested that citizens get armed and trained for their own safety’s sake. Good advice, IMO.

  6. Raymond Foster
    May 4, 2013 at 11:08

    It will not solve the problem to take gun rights away. If you do only criminals will have guns. We as far as I know already have background checks. The answer is to make the punishment more for the illegal use of a firearm in any manner. Make the punishment a minimum of 20 years for illegal use of a fireman. That way only sane people will be able to have their firearms to protect them and their family, and property.

    • Ben
      May 4, 2013 at 20:54

      Start with criminals, then police, and then the general population.

    • Mike
      May 5, 2013 at 23:52

      It seems that criminals are let out waiting for trails in the distant future. They are offered plea bargains to do little time and the prosecutor gets a win in his/her column for a win-win situation for both parties. 80% of criminals where I live never go to court. They are offered plea bargains and out on the street quickly either doing no time or very little. Does any sane person think that America’s war on guns would be any more successful than its war on drugs. What we will end up with is a large portion of our population buying guns illegally turning once law abiding citizens into criminals. We will have a bigger problem than we do now.

  7. Ben
    May 4, 2013 at 09:48

    The most effective form of gun-control entails disarming American society (cops, citizens, and criminals). However, since there are too many dumb asses and cowards in this nation, we can not go that rout.

    • Ben
      May 4, 2013 at 09:50

      Quick correction: I typed rout when I intended to write route.

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