Sunday, October 21 , 2018, 10:59 am | Fair 69º

 
 
 
 

Mark Shields: When It Comes to Standing Up to the Gun Lobby, Leadership Matters

There once were four presidents who dared to take on America's out-of-control gun culture

Just consider this: In all the wars the United States fought in during the 20th century — World War I, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War — 659,783 Americans died.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

But just since March 30, 1981, when a deranged man tried unsuccessfully to assassinate President Ronald Reagan but did shoot and wound Reagan, presidential press secretary Jim Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and Washington police Officer Thomas Delahanty, more than 833,000 people have died from firearms in the United States. Of all the deaths from firearms in the 26 developed nations of the world, 86 percent of those deaths occur right here in the U.S.A.

Nostalgia can airbrush our memories, convincing us that there was a golden time, not that long ago, when neighbors were more friendly, children were more respectful of their elders, the beer was colder and our leaders were more deserving of our respect.

But it’s true that, not that long ago, we did indeed have national leaders who dared to stand up to the powerful gun lobby and publicly support a federal ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of semiautomatic assault weapons. That’s right — AK-47s and Uzis, and their equally lethal copycat models.

These particular leaders were four presidents, two Republicans and two Democrats: Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Reagan. Congress would respond to the four chief executives’ message and vote to impose a federal ban on assault weapons.

That federal ban expired in 2004, when President George W. Bush preferred to ignore the pleas of more than 1,100 chiefs of police and refused to ask his Republican Congress to keep these weapons, some capable of firing more than 120 rounds per minute, out of the hands of criminal gangs.

Carter has publicly spoken of his personal ownership of “two handguns, four shotguns and three rifles.” Both Clinton and Ford were hunters. Reagan was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. Reagan, the conservative icon, also publicly lobbied for the Brady law to establish a seven-day waiting period during which law enforcement officials could do a background check of the purchaser of a handgun before the firearm could be delivered.

To their credit, these four leaders did not cringe at the Washington wise-guy line that holds: Guns don’t kill incumbent politicians, the gun lobby does.

When leaders do lead, they can make a difference. This may help explain why, in May 1991, when the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked, “Do you favor or oppose a law to ban the sale of assault weapons and semiautomatic rifles,” 75 percent of those surveyed answered that they did favor such a ban. But by late 2009, with no leadership from the White House on the issue for eight years, when the identical question was asked, 49 percent favored the ban on assault weapons, while 45 percent opposed.

To give the devils their due, the gun lobby — by both relentless organizing and the use of intimidation as a political weapon — has silenced many would-be opponents. You have to acknowledge the gun lobby’s effectiveness in being able to convince otherwise rational people that police chiefs who seek to ban semiautomatic killing machines from their city streets, where they can overwhelm the cop on the beat, are somehow part of a diabolical conspiracy to take hunting rifles out of the hands of sportsmen.

On this issue of domestic arms control, the majority Democrats — including the top Democrat in the White House — have hardly been Captains Courageous. Many chosen to seek political safety through their silence.

As somebody wise once noted, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. But it is true that we did once have leaders named Ford, Clinton, Carter and Reagan who actually did lead and who dared to stand up to the power of the gun lobby.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.