Elliot Fineman: Gun lobby turns on its own

Only collective action can achieve reasonable gun control

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Many are horrified by news of a Philadelphia “rat” website that exposes to retaliation crime witnesses who help police. “Post some new rats,” one avenger wrote, “I needa put a hit out on them.”

Yet just as chilling are gun advocates savaging their own for appearing to cooperate with the other side.

This month, a simple plea for mandatory gun-owner training in the magazine Guns & Ammo led to the firing of the contributing editor, Dick Metcalf, and the resignation of the magazine’s editor, Jim Bequette.

According to the National Rifle Association’s paranoid absolutism, gun training is the first step toward confiscation. So are universal background checks, limitations on large-capacity magazines, limiting gun purchases to one a month and requiring the reporting of lost or stolen guns.

Confiscation paranoia is why the results of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System must, by law, be destroyed within 24 hours by firearms dealers. Like many paranoid laws the gun lobby has gotten on the books, these are unabashed gifts to straw buyers and other criminals.

This is not the first time gun advocates have taught one of their own a lesson. A few years ago, the top firearms and hunting commentator, Jim Zumbo, dared to suggest that AR and AK rifles had “no place … among our hunting fraternity.” Hunters have always been proud to use “sporting firearms,” not assault rifles and should resist being “lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them,” he wrote.

Calls for Mr. Zumbo’s head on a mount were swift and merciless. He was dropped by Remington Arms, Gerber Knives, Mossy Oak and Outdoor Life and temporarily dropped by the Outdoor Channel. He was reinstated only after a re-education trip to the ranch of NRA member Ted Nugent to learn appreciation for so-called black rifles for killing prairie dogs and other animals.

As the CEO of the National Gun Victims Action Council, I have seen the retaliatory wrath of gun rights avengers turned against my own organization. An informative piece called “My Month With a Gun,” written by council board member Heidi Yewman, was driven off the Ms. magazine website by threats and aggressive responses this past summer. Amazon ratings of a book by council senior editor Martha Rosenberg were sabotaged by gun advocates this summer. The quick tempers of many gun lovers and their desire to “shoot first and ask questions later” are one of the biggest arguments for better gun regulations.

Some gun advocates may be loud, threatening and tenacious but their numbers are minuscule. Polls consistently show extremists number only 1 million versus 100 million Americans who desire sane gun laws. Starbucks’ disavowal of guns in September and the defeat of pro-gun Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli this month suggest how small the gun extremist numbers are.

Gun and outdoor magazines may have to cave to angry gun advocates but Starbucks doesn’t. And it’s now feeling pressure from those who seek reasonable gun control. The National Gun Victims Action Council, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation launched a boycott against Starbucks last year and it worked.

It is time for Americans fed up with blood in the streets, courtesy of the gun lobby, to stop saying “please” to politicians who haven’t passed one meaningful federal gun regulation in 19 years. From Mahatma Gandhi’s salt march in the 1930s to the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1960s, successful social movements need an economic vehicle to convey the will of the majority when lawmakers aren’t listening.

This is why the action council and supporting groups urge the 14 million Americans affected by gun violence to use their buying power to influence gun-friendly corporations, services, lawmakers and even states with our “Tell and Compel” pledge. Starbucks’ disavowal of guns is just the first example of our collective power.


Elliot Fineman is president and CEO of the National Gun Victims Action Council, which is based in Chicago (gunvictimsaction.org).

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