Hostility at gun bill hearings

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

To continue where I left off in my last post, the threats and hostile acts by a minority of angry gun rights extremists continue. We now have information that revealed that one of the organizers of the extremist group “The Base” has lived in Russia and has been directing operations of the group from there:

The FBI has described the group as a “racially motivated violent extremist group” that “seeks to accelerate the downfall of the United States government, incite a race war, and establish a white ethno-state.” (…) One video posted online in March 2019 shows Nazzaro in Russia wearing a T-shirt with Vladimir Putin’s face and the words, “Russia, absolute power.”

“The Base” is considered to be a neo nazi militia group watched by the Southern Poverty Law Center and some of whose members were arrested before the pro gun rally in Virginia last week:

In the days leading up to the rally, the FBI arrested multiple members of “The Base,” a white nationalist group where some members hold neo-Nazi beliefs. Court documents show some members discussed attending the rally in Richmond with the intent of killing people.

The pro gun rally ended without violence, miraculously given the anger, tension and guns that were mixed in with the annual “lobby” day sponsored by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Prominent on the website of the vcdl is this statement: ” The 2020 Legislative Session started January 8, 2020 and represents the greatest threat to gun rights Virginians have faced in modern times! 

The “funny” thing about “The Base” operations coming from a man living in Russia, who appears to really like Putin, is that we know that the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election by sending one of their own to influence the election through the NRA. Remember Maria Butina? The Russians do understand that gun rights go together with Republicans and that money and power go together. Sowing discord and even violence in America is one of Putin’s aims. Can we say he is succeeding to a certain degree? And can we say that President Trump is helping out by tweeting his support of this movement of violence against Americans?

This is about more than gun rights.

The thing is, there are no threats to gun rights when laws like universal Brady background checks and Extreme Risk Protection Order bills are passed in the name of public safety. Not one of these folks can tell us how this will affect their very own gun rights or those of their friends- at least no reason that makes any sense and is factual.

I had this “discussion” this week- on Tuesday- when the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on 4 gun bills in Hibbing, Minnesota, home of Bob Dylan located 1.5 hours to the north of my city of Duluth. The Republican leaders opined that holding the hearing in Hibbing would give rural folks a chance to speak up about gun issues:

Senate Republican leaders said they opted to hold the hearing after years of “dogging” from all sides of the issue and they chose Hibbing because they wanted rural constituents to have a stronger voice in the debate.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it just isn’t true. I have been going to hearings at the Minnesota state Capitol for many years. There are just as many rural and urban gun owners and leaders there as the people like myself speaking for common sense gun legislation. People travel to wherever the hearings are held to make their viewpoints known.

Metropolitan gun lobbyists traveled to Hibbing to testify. Very few local gun owners testified. Instead, they brought in a lobbyist from NRA headquarters to speak on behalf of gun rights. Two men from the Twin Cities area testified on behalf of the gun owners of Minnesota. Some rented hotel rooms so they could make it to Hibbing for the hearing. Only two speakers on the side of gun violence prevention were from outside of northern Minnesota. One was state Public Safety commissioner John Harrington and the other was a woman whose father was shot 3 years ago. She lives in a small town north of the Twin Cities.

So when one of the gun rights “extremists” in the room asked why the Duluth Police Chief was there to testify, the answer is that he is at least from close by. Why was an NRA national spokesperson at the hearing?

The Hibbing hearing, unfortunately, magnified a stereotype about gun owners that most gun owners hate and don’t fit into. There were hundreds of angry men and women, some armed, in a smallish standing room only room brandishing their anger and bullying tactics from the beginning. One man interjected himself into a press conference held by the Democratic Senator (Ron Latz) who was bringing the background check and extreme risk protection order bills to the committee. This man yelled out questions and comments often yelling over the press. He did the same as I was being interviewed by a local T.V. reporter. Did I have to answer his questions just because he was there to bully and intimidate? No. But he insisted on a “conversation” with me about the hackneyed “slippery slope” argument.

At the beginning of the hearing, a man sitting in front of me yelled, “Where is the flag? No flag no respect. I’m outa here.” And he got up and left.

Nice.

I’m sure these folks are regular people with families they love just like I do and my friends do. They go to work and send their kids to school. Unfortunately the area where they live is economically depressed with many mining jobs lost leaving lots of anger and frustration. But something seems to happen to them whenever guns and gun safety reform come up. At the hearing, many insisted on being loud and interrupting and not listening. The others applauded their uncivil behavior. Our very own President has given “permission” for this kind of behavior. He is modeling it whenever he speaks. So what can we expect?

When any of us ( there were about 50 of us from the Duluth and Iron Range area in orange Protect Minnesota shirts and red Moms Demand Action shirts) were engaged by them, they mostly tried to shout over us.

I was on a bus that took many who had never attended a hearing before or never been in a roomful of angry armed people. Some were quite intimidated and worried about this. I can’t blame them. The crowd was racaus, rude, belligerent, and boorish as they interrupted the proceedings, yelled out comments and questions, insisted on answers, and several came close to being ejected. The Democratic Senator Ron Latz was personally verbally attacked by many.

The chair of the committee, Senator Limmer, lost control at the outset and never regained it. Here is my letter to the editor about that:

Sen. Limmer and the Republican Senate were under pressure to hear the bills, given that gun-safety reform is at the top of the list of concerns for Minnesotans and Americans; 84% of Minnesotans support requiring background checks on all gun sales. The group of angry folks who came to the Hibbing hearing reflected a minority of Minnesotans and gun owners.

Their angry voices reflected fear of losing something. Our fear is of losing lives to senseless gun violence.

As I said in my letter, one of our supporters was poked in the back by a man behind her who kept asking what she thought of comments made by one of his own. This is physical harassment. One man clapped his hands right next to the ears of a friend of mine sitting in front of her. Others booed at victims and even at the Chief of Police. They had no compunction about doing this-so sure were they that they deserved their rights to intimidate and bully others.

I am a League of Women Voters debate and forum moderator. We practice the Speak Your Peace Rules of Civility Project and state them at the beginning of every event. This hearing was the total opposite of peace and civility.

What is this fear and anger really about? As I have said probably thousands of times in this blog and in other places, if these people are law abiding citizens they will not have to worry about a thing. If they believe it is inconvenient to show a permit to purchase a gun at a licensed dealer and also to a private seller, I wonder how they feel when they stand in line at the license bureau to renew their driver’s license or their car license plate?

It’s inconvenient to bury a loved one who was shot. It’s inconvenient to read about your family in the newspaper and have reporters surround your family to take photos. It’s inconvenient to go to court where the killers of your loved ones stand trial and you have to re-live the trauma. It’s inconvenient to have to go through the personal effects of your loved one and decide how to part with their things. It’s inconvenient to have to speak with your back to a hostile crowd in a hearing room of armed people and know their anger over perceived loss of rights extends to you.

It took me several days to recover from the day at the hearing. The righteous and obnoxious folks we encountered at the hearing have no empathy for what it feels like to be surrounded by people with misplaced anger and hostility. We are not the enemy. We disagree about how to approach public safety. But we know the majority happens to be with us. We wish them no harm or ill will. We are not angry with them except when they verbally attack one of us. We do not want their guns. Their rights will not be taken away.

But too many of our loved ones are.

There is no need for them to threaten us or bully us. It’s not necessary. They will have their guns if they go through background checks. If they, in a moment of anger or mental anguish, may harm themselves or someone else, they may have guns temporarily removed for their own safety. Because if one of those “law abiding” gun owners shoots someone in a moment of anger, they will never be the same. Their lives will be as upended as the victim but killing another human being is a very serious thing and an awesome responsibility.

They don’t have to argue with us about defensive gun uses, or tell us that people kill themselves with knives too, (but check the lethality of guns compared to knives- apples to oranges) or about the Dickey Amendment or about the myth about the slippery slope as they did last Tuesday. Those are side issues and deflect from the bottom line. And we do have facts that are not being considered by those who insist we are wrong and the enemy.

In America, we shoot too many of our own. Too many of our own die by gun suicide. We want to change that and, contrary to NRA hype, it can be done without interfering with rights and gun ownership.

Too many of our own are shot “accidentally” ( 4 year Indiana old boy dies when shot by father’s gun while wrestling) What law owning and carrying father intends for that to happen? But seriously, what was he thinking? If you refuse to listen to those of us just trying to tell you that guns are a risk and needed to be treated as a threat to your own safety or that of your family, perhaps these regular incidents would not happen and more children would be alive. If a gun carrier is so cavalier about safety that he carries his gun in his pants ( without a holster apparently?) bad things happen. What gun carrier wrestles with is little boy wearing a gun?

He must be devastated. How tragic this is and my heart goes out to all of them. This will be their nightmare for the rest of their lives.

Where is common sense?

That is all we are asking.

I tried to tell one of the angry men about the Gun Violence Archive and that he should look at it to see how many people have died from gun violence compared to defensive uses of guns. He talked over me and didn’t want to hear it but I am going to leave you with this just in case.

He told me I should join the NRA after I tried to tell him the truth. I told him I would not do that and that my sister had been shot to death in a domestic shooting. He did not know what to do with this information but sometimes one must be blunt to get the point across.

Insurrection on MLK day

quote taken from Goodreads

In my last post I wrote about the state of Virginia passing new gun safety laws after the 2019 election turned the state Democratic. Democrats believe in the safety of their constituents and understand that passing stronger gun laws is part of that concern for the lives of Virginians. It’s pretty simple actually.

But, of course, the gun extremists, who some call gundamentalists, have taken it upon themselves to misconstrue and purposely misrepresent what these new laws mean. Ramping up the fear and paranoia, they have invited insurgents from out of state, some of whom were arrested for their connections to neo-nazis, to come to Virginia on Monday for the annual presentation of arms outside of the Virginia Capitol building. From the above article:

The unease increased after the F.B.I. announced the arrest on Thursday of three armed men suspected of being members of a neo-Nazi hate group, including a former Canadian Army reservist, who had obtained weapons and discussed participating in the Richmond rally. The men were linked to the Base, a group that aims to create a white ethnostate, according to the F.B.I.

Where do we live again?

But a temporary injunction was passed to ban guns at the Capitol buildings. To say this is going to be interesting is an understatement.

A state of emergency has been called for Monday anticipating trouble:

But Northam said officials have heard reports of “out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.” He said they “are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.”

Northam is raising concerns about a reprise of the deadly violence surrounding the white supremacist march in Charlottesville in August 2017. He said state intelligence analysts have identified threats and rhetoric online that mirror the chatter they were picking up around that time.

Our very own President Donald Trump has been ramping up the fear and the potential for violence on Monday in Richmond in a tweet where he wrote:

Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!

I don’t know about you but I don’t think this is something a President of the United States should be tweeting or saying.

Speaking of our President, will he be making a tribute to Martin Luther King on Monday like he did last year? If so, the irony of his tweet will be obvious and concerning.

Sadly, the group of gun violence prevention advocates who have gathered at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond for their annual vigil for gun violence victims have decided to cancel their event for the first time ever. Their concern was not only for safety but for the re-traumatizing of victims of gun violence. The organizers of the event, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said this in a statement:

“The individuals who seek to turn a day which is traditionally about citizens exercising their First Amendment rights and participating in the democratic process into a platform for political violence are trying to destroy our democracy. They refuse to accept the results of the 2019 election in Virginia — in which the people of the Commonwealth voted for stronger gun laws — and they are promoting the message that ‘the people with the guns make the rules.’ They have amplified and fanned the flames of insurrectionism and civil war in a way that is irresponsible and dangerous. Now, citizens who represent the overwhelming majority of Virginians are prevented from lobbying their officials because of credible threats to their safety. This is a full scale rejection of our democratic elections. This is mob rule. It is a grave threat to our democracy.  

“Given the serious concerns about possible violence on Monday, we recognize that we can not guarantee the safety of the brave gun violence prevention activists and survivors who have fought so hard for this day. We are an organization that strives to promote public health and safety, and we cannot in good faith lead our supporters — some of whom are children and teenagers — into a violent, dangerous situation. We refuse to engage with those who seek to physically harm us.

Where is common sense? On the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday, violence and armed militia and insurgency groups could destroy the peaceful celebration of a man who advocated for peace. One article mentioned none other than the NRA is passing out 30 round ammunition magazines to those who will attend:

As part of its “legislative day of action” at the Virginia state capitol, the National Rifle Association was handing out 30-round ammunition magazines to members who showed up to protest a new slate of gun control initiatives being considered in the state.

Virginia Democrats, who hold a majority of both houses of the state government as well as the governorship, have proposed a broad new set of gun control policies since taking office, including extensive bans on large classes of weapons and restricting the number of guns that law-abiding citizens can purchase per month.

What irony is this? Are these “law abiding gun owners”? If not, why do they need 30 rounds in their guns? What do they intend to do with these high capacity magazines? We already know what mass shooters do with them.

These are sad and tumultuous times in America. What we need now is peaceful solutions to our nation’s divisions. Bringing arms to an event on Martin Luther King day is cynical and dangerous. They know that but they don’t care.

90% or more of Americans, including Republicans and gun owners, support universal background checks and there is majority support for most other common sense gun laws. These folks represent a small minority of Americans and it’s getting smaller.

Peaceful celebrations will happen all over the country as they should, to honor a great man in our history. Putting a stain on the day will only serve to validate what we already know. A dwindling group of NRA minions and gun rights extremists are trying desperately to deliver a “dead” message. Passing strong gun laws is not unconstitutional. Strong gun laws and the second amendment are not mutually exclusive. If these gun rights folks want support from the public and some of our lapdog leaders, they would do the right thing and at least come unarmed to their event.

Monday will be a test for peace and justice. Times are changing in Virginia and states all over the country. But the change should not include violence at state Capitols after legislators pass strong gun laws.

The reason we are celebrating this day is, of course, the assassination of a great American man, Martin Luther King, who espoused peace but died violently, shot by a hateful man who definitely should not have had access to a gun.

Stay safe everyone wherever you are on Monday.

I really must add something to my original post since it verifies the dangerous hyperbole about the gun rights and far right extremist agenda. Take a look at these comments made on Fox recently:

“The only difference between these gun control Democrats is how quickly they want to take your guns,” Lahren said. “Some want to chip away at your rights and others want to trick you into thinking that you’ll be happy with just a few more laws and regulations. Either way, it’s a trap.”

Lahren finished her segment by cautioning that a civil war could break out if Democrats do not heed her warning. She said she doesn’t advocate in favor of gun demonstrations becoming “anything other than peaceful,” but emphasized that violence was the inevitable result of politicians “encroaching” on gun rights.

Blaming any violence on the Democrats, gun safety reform advocates, the Virginia legislature or Governor Northam should fall on deaf ears. It is a cynical, projecting, and twisted way to try to shift the blame onto others in the face of the criticism, the declaration of an emergency and the concern for safety.

And to be clear, no one is going to go door to door collecting anyone’s guns. This NRA myth is dead. It’s another conspiracy theory made up out of false information fear and anger.

This is their own creation. It is their own anger. It is dangerous. If anything happens, we all know who to blame.