It is a somewhat noteworthy sequence that soon after some big players in the power-and-influence game got their comeuppance at the polls, there’s been attention drawn to another of the self-assured “untouchables” of power wielding, albeit via a tragic circumstance in the world of sports. The unfortunate murder-suicide involving pro footballer Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend brought in its wake the gun violence issue, which bubbles up whenever there’s a headline-making incident to remind us, fleetingly for sure, that the gun ownership matter is still there, still unaddressed, thanks to those high-rolling influence traders.
The catalyst for this latest focus on guns being used in senseless acts of violence was NBC broadcaster Bob Costas who devoted a commentary last Sunday evening to the tragic turn of events thrust upon the Kansas City Chiefs as a result of Belcher’s actions. Costas quoted sports writer Jason Whitlock who had written that had Belcher not owned a firearm, he and his girlfriend would be still alive. That, of course, is conjecture. But the eruption of controversy that followed Costas’ remarks became perhaps more of a front page news nugget than what prompted the comments he made.
As one would expect, most of the braying about Costas having used an inappropriate forum (halftime of a football game) to say his piece, or critical of his point of view, came from the usual apologists for the status quo on guns – people unalterably opposed to even basic, common-sense controls being imposed on the accessibility of firearms. Quite absurdly, the anti-Costas frenzy extended to a TV discussion on one network of whether Costas should be fired.
One immediately saw, overhanging all this palaver, the ogre of the gun lobby’s major players – the NRA and its big-money cronies in the firearms industry. They didn’t have to weigh in on the larger issue to which Costas had linked the deaths of those two young people. They had for so long so effectively done the demagogue bit on guns and the travesty of considering gun-control legislation, they could rest comfortably that there were surrogates enough to quell any mini uprising in the bleeding-heart ranks.
But just as the great financial fix now required in Washington will likely provide insight into how many Republicans are ready to declare themselves no longer beholden to Grover Norquist and other nut-job advocates of no tax increase, regardless of whatever, so too does one hope for a lightning bolt on the firearms front that sets in motion a reversal of the intimidation that has cowed lots of seemingly well-meaning folk. Fear of the gun lobby’s wrath has reduced many a progressive or moderate to absolute silence on the gun issue. It’s been an unhealthy shackling of public officials that, like Norquist’s tax noose on Republicans, cries shame on their collective wimping out. Nothing has more dramatically demonstrated the lily-livered ways of Washington on the gun issue than that shooting rampage in Arizona a couple of years ago that invaded the very halls of Congress, Rep. Gabby Giffords suffering incapacitation that would halt her career in public life, even as other victims paid with their lives. Congress remaining largely unmoved even by this assault on its own institution said it all; loss of a moral compass in Washington was never more clearly telegraphed.
What’s been downright scary in this debate on gun violence is the unobstructed path to zero opposition that the pro-gun element has been able to carve. There was juice enough in 1994 — notably aided by the active involvement of Jim Brady, wounded in the Reagan assassination attempt – to get an assault weapons ban passed in Congress. Ten years later when the ban was up for renewal, the dynamics had so changed that serious discussion of Congress following through and doing right became a non-starter. This, mark you, had to do with removing restrictions on the acquisition of assault weapons, items whose open-market availability no civilized society should countenance.
There have been some few who have dared to buck the tide of surrender. Long Island’s Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose life was personally touched by gun violence, has been a tireless crusader and has publicly criticized her Congressional colleagues’ spinelessness in not standing up to the NRA. And to his credit, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been unfailingly resolute in his advocacy of strict gun control laws. Bloomberg was moved to assail what was practically a non-inclusion of gun control in the recent presidential debate that centered on domestic matters. But such scant opposition amounts to odds the NRA and those in bed with them would take any day of the week.
We are, however, in the down-draught of an election that some believe to have been transformative. The wackos ran a right-wing extremist to challenge a “too moderate” Senator Richard Lugar in a primary in Indiana and wound up losing the seat to Democrats in November. Another extremist tried to knock off the Democratic incumbent senator in Missouri and failed. The Republican brass swear they had the presidency figured to be securely in the bag for Mitt Romney. Maybe we aren’t done yet with this succession of “sure things” on the right that turn out not quite so. And maybe, to the NRA’s chagrin, the timing could prove right, after all, for gun proliferation getting, via Bob Costas, that front-burner play it deserves.