Archive for 2012

Op-Ed: On Weaponizing Schools and Other Big Ideas

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

By Les Francis
Special to Calbuzz

Not long after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, I was in Sacramento advocating for legislation of interest to the California Teachers Association, for whom I was working at the time. My boss and I happened to be in the Capitol when a hearing was taking place on a measure banning so-called “Saturday night specials” — the type of cheap and easily concealed handgun used to kill RFK.

The committee room was packed with opponents of the bill, including members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). My boss and mentor, Dr. Charles Hamilton, looked around the room and said, “This room is filled with two kinds of people — the hunters and the hunted.”

In the years since, on the occasion of assassinations and attempted assassinations, drive-by shootings and mass killings, I have recalled Charles’s observation and I have been outraged by the gun lobby’s unapologetic arrogance and intransigence. On December 14, in Newtown, CT, a heavily armed madman murdered his mother at their home and then gunned down twenty little kids and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. One week later the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre argued that the way to prevent such tragedies is to add even more guns to the mix.

My initial reaction to the NRA’s statement was more outrage and disgust. I thought their defense of the Second Amendment rests in part on the bizarre premise that citizens need guns so that they might be able to overthrow what the gun lobby considers a tyrannical federal government — a government that I and millions of other Americans probably elected. And, I would thereby become one of the “hunted” that Charles Hamilton identified that day in Sacramento.

A good friend countered my argument by suggesting that both its content and tone would serve only to aggravate the already polarized debate over gun control; he went on to point out that, “One of the problems with political polarization — and with trying to stoke polarization — is that it inhibits people from thinking that an idea pushed by an adversary might be worth considering.”

A fair point, I thought. It is time to go beyond where I typically come down on gun control (among other issues). I need to be more flexible, more open to new thinking, to be more imaginative. And that led me to conclude that I should pay more attention to some of the intellectual heavyweights on the political right, people like Rep. Louis Gohmert (TX), Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), former Governors Mike Huckabee (AR) and Sarah Palin (AK), the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, and so many others who seek to enlighten us every day, almost always on Fox News.

LaPierre and his cohorts say that the answer to gun violence in America (where more than 200 million firearms are already in private hands), is more guns. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant.

But we shouldn’t stop there. Too much hunger in the world? Let’s reduce the supply of food. Too much disease? Easy — decrease immunizations and treatment. Too much poverty? Reduce the number of jobs. Bothered by the number of babies born to unwed mothers? Cut off family planning. You think global warming is a joke? Increase the emission of greenhouse gases. And if you think our students aren’t learning enough, the answer is obvious: fire teachers, close schools and get rid of textbooks and school supplies.

According to LaPierre, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Let’s just assume, for the sake of discussion, that he’s right about that. And let’s also assume that he would agree that somewhere around 99.9% of all kids, at least those in elementary school, are good.


Another obvious answer: Give every child a gun — not just guards, principals and teachers, but the students, too. Now, some assault weapons would be too big and too hard for little tykes to handle, but not so with small caliber pistols, like the infamous Derringer used to kill Abraham Lincoln. Of course morning recess could get a little messy and teachers would have to think twice about disciplining or even correcting an armed first-grader, but that’s just the price we’ll have to pay to ensure that the NRA’s version of the Second Amendment isn’t abridged.

These proposals are truly modest. And simple. How could I have been so wrong for so long?  Shame on me

Les Francis is a former Democratic operative (Executive Director of both the DNC and DCCC), as well as Congressional aide (to former Rep. Norman Y. Mineta of San Jose) and deputy White House Chief of Staff during the Carter Administration.

How DiFi’s Past Shapes the Ban on Assault Weapons

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Dianne Feinstein, who says she will introduce a renewal of the federal ban on assault weapons when the U.S. Senate reconvenes in 2013, has a long, personal and painful relationship with guns.

She became mayor of San Francisco in the wake of the November 1978 murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk by Dan White. She was, as her most famous TV spot once proclaimed, “forged in tragedy.” In fact, as described in the (ahem) definitive biography of her, “Dianne Feinstein: Never Let Them See You Cry:”

Hearing the first shot, she thought that White had killed himself. But the firing didn’t stop and, besides, there was Dan, coming out of his office, “whipping by and out the door.”

Ninety seconds had passed since he shot the mayor.

Dianne rose as if in slow motion. She tried to force her mind and body to work together, her head thick with dread and confusion as she forced herself up from her desk and looked down the hall and saw all the doors along the narrow hallway closed.

She pushed open the door of White’s office, which was pinned shut by the body of Harvey Milk. She saw him splayed on his stomach, blood and brain matter splattered on the wall.

The daughter and widow of doctors, she instinctively reached to find a pulse. Her fingers slipped into a bullet hole.

A few years ago, in a speech on the Senate floor during debate over another weapons measure, Feinstein recalled another incident she experienced in San Francisco – one she often used to retell on the campaign trail:

I believe passionately about this. I will never forget, many years ago, before I was mayor, walking into the robbery of a corner grocery store. When people die of gunshot wounds, it is not the way it is on television or in the movies. I saw brain matter all over the walls. I saw the husband, a proprietor, the wife, a proprietor. This individual who came in even shot the dog. People are capable of terrible criminality. We should not encourage that criminality by making their access to weapons so very easy. 

After a gunman, wielding an automatic weapon killed eight people and wounded six in an office building at 101 California St. in July 1993 in San Francisco, Feinstein led the charge for a federal ban on assault weapons – a ban that lasted 10 years and expired in 2004. (BTW, since the expiration of the gun ban in 2004, the number of shootings per year has doubled, and the number of victims per year has nearly tripled.)

“Are we helpless in the face of these horrible tragedies, doomed to witness these scenes of carnage again and again?” Feinstein asked at the time – a question echoed by President Obama at Sunday evening’s memorial service in Newtown, Conn., where he said:

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage?

Now, Feinstein says, “As a first day bill, I’m going to introduce in the Senate and the same bill will be introduced in the House. A bill to ban on assault weapons.

“It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession. Not retroactively but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets. So there will be a bill,” Feinstein added. “We’ve been working on it now for a year. We’ve tried to take my bill from ’94 to 2004 and perfect it. We believe we have. We exempt over 900 specific weapons that will not fall under the bill. But the purpose of this bill is to get just what [NY] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg said, weapons of war, off the streets of our cities.”

The only people who oppose banning military-style assault weapons like the AR-15 used in Newtown are either a) part of the gun-manufacturing lobby or b) nuts. Home self-defense, hunting and target shooting do not require battlefield weapons.

Of course, a federal ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines will not end mass murders. Of course, curing society of the kind of mental illness that leads a sociopath to slaughter a classroom full of innocent children is no quick fix. Of course, no single law is a panacea to an epidemic of gun violence.

But neither can these facts be allowed to become excuses for inaction to address the issue one step at a time, in ways that will reduce easy access to wartime weapons.

President Obama’s moving speech in Newtown – one of the finest of all time – will be remembered as hollow oratory unless he and Congress take steps toward limiting civilian access to assault weapons.

No matter the politics. And for this, Feinstein’s painful memories are a searing reminder of what must be done.