CACG board member Benjamin Palumbo addresses the plague of gun violence in the United States and the need of our elected officials on the federal and local levels to start acting on this epidemic.
The United States is suffering from a plague. Those responsible for protecting us from plagues, our public officials at the federal and state levels, are guilty of dereliction of duty.
These are the plague’s hideous numbers: From 2003 through 2011, the U.S. suffered over 900,000 gun-inflicted casualties, not on foreign battlefields, but here at home. Deaths totaled 279,294, of which 107,170 were murders. The remainder consisted of either suicides or accidents. For the relatives of these dead, the result is the same: The loved one is gone forever. During that same period, 634,107 were wounded, some lightly, some seriously. The physical costs may have been superficial or devastating. The emotional costs we can only guess at, but it does not take a great stretch of the imagination to believe that, for most, the costs are enormous.
What is the duty of public officials in the face of these horrendous numbers?
Let us compare this plague of gun deaths and injuries to an outbreak of death and illness from flawed medication. In such a case, what actions would we demand from our public officials? Certainly that the Food and Drug Administration identify the medication and its producers, see to its removal from store shelves, determine the error’s cause, and if the producer marketed the drug while aware that it was lethal, prosecute him or her to the maximum extent of the law. Theoretically, our public officials are supposed to do that, and not just in the case of deadly medications, but in cases of foods which sicken or kill, working conditions which injure or kill, automobile accidents caused by faulty safety equipment, unsafe children’s toys which lead to tragedy, and other cases. But the ability of our government to take these steps to protect us and our families and friends depends first on the existence of strong laws which create agencies mandated to do the hard work of both protecting us and bringing offenders to justice.
But what if the agencies responsible for protecting us were handicapped by a Congress which refused to confirm the heads of those agencies thereby leaving them leaderless? Or, cut the budgets of those agencies so that they could not do their jobs irrespective of whether they had their leaders in place? Surely, as death and injury began to plague our fellow citizens, including our relatives and friends, we would be outraged at the elected officials responsible. We would see their actions or inactions for what they were: gross dereliction of duty. We would demand to know the cause of the dereliction. And when we found the cause, we would demand that the Congressmen alter their courses and fulfill their sworn duty to protect us. Or suffer the consequences.
If it turned out that the failure to protect us from faulty medication was connected to political support from pharmaceutical companies, shouldn’t we politically punish those Members of Congress doing that industry’s bidding? If deadly foods were being tolerated because of political support from the food industry, shouldn’t we act similarly? If in all the other instances cited above in which death and injury resulted from political connections between industries and Members of Congress, shouldn’t we do our best to politically punish those engaging in these devil’s bargains?
So why not do so in the case of the political connections that have led to the plague of gun deaths and injuries, when that devil’s bargain is so blatantly obvious? Twenty-two innocent children were murdered in Connecticut, a tiny fraction of the total shot dead in 2013, and Congress has done nothing. Indeed, existing laws supposedly designed to protect us from gun violence have failed. Why? It is because the laws have been weakened systematically and relentlessly over the years at the Federal and State levels. And weakened by whom? They have been weakened by elected officials acting as servants of the National Rifle Association and its principal backers, who, by the way, are not the NRA’s members but the manufacturers, importers, and distributors of the instruments of this plague, the guns.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which exists to implement the weakened laws designed so poorly to protect us, has been kept on a starvation budget by Congress for years. Only recently did it receive a full-time head after years of being leaderless as a result of Congress blocking confirmation of its head. And now another feckless Congress is blocking confirmation of a distinguished physician, Dr. Vivek Murthy, to be the nation’s Surgeon General, an office with no responsibility for administering gun safety laws. Why? Because he committed the sin of associating himself with a statement by the American Medical Association which called attention to the adverse affects on health resulting from of a lack of gun safety.
Can it be that the reason for this sordid record of cowardice by Federal and State elected officials has something to do with the power of money in politics, particularly since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to the virtually unlimited use of money in elections? According to Pro Publica, in the 2012 elections alone the plague-spreader NRA and its allies spent over $21 million in contributions to candidates and independent expenditures. That money went overwhelmingly to Republican candidates who toe the plague-spreaders’ line. Since the 2000 elections, the total spent by these conscienceless groups is $81 million. This is a pattern which repeats itself every election cycle, and those cycles are endless. The groups seeking enactment of legislation that could save us from the plague simply cannot compete in the money game. One would have to be willfully blind to deny that gun deaths are being bought and paid for with this flood of political money.
It is unconscionable that we have become numbed to the slaughter. It is a scandal that no one has been punished for aiding and abetting this tragedy which continues day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade.
Just compare the grizzly data associated with guns with the recent revelation that over roughly that same 9 year period cited above, a total of 31 accidents and 12 deaths resulted from faulty ignition switches in General Motors cars, which the company knew about. According to The Washington Post, “…Federal Prosecutors…have launched a preliminary probe to determine whether a full criminal investigation of GM is warranted.” Twelve deaths versus 279,294!! Where are the Federal prosecutions for the gun-related deaths? Congress agreed that we should go to war over less than 3,000 deaths on 9/11, but is mute in the face of hundreds of thousands of deaths on our own streets. That is dereliction of duty.
This will not end until America’s citizens demand an end. Gun manufacturers are now engaging in massive marketing campaigns to entice ever younger people to use guns and to entice women into becoming a major purchasing bloc of their death-dealing product. And because of the severe drop-off of sales of hunting shotguns and rifles, their marketing is focused on sales of assault-type guns and high-capacity magazine weapons. This is a prescription for intensifying the gun plague, not mitigating it.
There is really only one way to deal with this: Vote against any elected official, Federal or State, who refuses to do his or her duty to end this deadly plague. Dereliction of duty should not be rewarded with election to office. And by not taking action in the voting booth to punish the servants of the NRA and the soul-less, profit-hungry companies in the gun business, citizens will be derelict in their duty to exercise their most valuable political right: the right to vote.
We hear Members of Congress cite the second amendment as their reason for resisting steps to protect us from being killed or injured by guns. What rot. They are knowingly hiding behind the Constitution by using a false argument. For in affirming a citizen’s right to purchase a firearm, Justice Scalia’s language made absolutely clear that this was not an unrestricted right, that reasonable laws designed to protect the public are proper actions of government.
It is past time to end the gun plague. It is past time to end the dereliction of duty by Federal and State elected officials. It is now time to become vigilante voters.