Last Wednesday in Washington, D.C., James W. von Brunn, an 88-year-old anti-Semite and white supremacist, allegedly took a .22-caliber rifle into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and shot and killed security guard Stephen T. Johns. Earlier this month, Dr. George Tiller, who ran a clinic that performed late-term abortions, was murdered while serving as an usher at his church, allegedly by anti-choice zealot Scott Roeder. In April, three Pittsburgh police officers were shot to death, allegedly by a right-wing extremist who thought the president was going to take his guns away.
These hate murders received national attention. Less attention is given to the 30,000 gun deaths each year, or up to 400,000 gun-related assaults a year.
The murders of Johns and Tiller were preceded by a Department of Homeland Security report that warned about the rise of right- wing extremist hate groups. That report was immediately denounced by Republican legislators. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has tracked right-wing extremism for years, warned in February that there are more suspected hate groups in the U.S. than ever in our recorded history.
The reasons are clear. The election of Barack Obama may demon- strate progress toward a post-racist-society to many, but to others it’s a threat and a betrayal. The economic downturn has been particularly brutal on manufacturing workers, veterans and low-wage workers. Many of these people feel abused by their government, threatened by low-wage immi- grants and angered by civil-rights ad- vances.
This hatred is fed by the extreme rhetoric of our politics–as Republicans accuse Obama of promoting “fascist” policies and call Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a racist. Right-wing radio host Glenn Beck charged that Obama’s lifting of the ban on stem-cell research was designed to create a new “master race.” Rush Limbaugh accused the Obama administration of actively seeking to destroy America as we know it. All this speech is protected by the First Amendment, but that doesn’t make it any less reckless.
Add to this hatred our obsession with guns–which has reached ridiculous extremes. The gun lobby has cowed Democrats and Republicans from what once was bipartisan common sense.
Now both parties scrape low to please. The credit card reform bill was amended to allow concealed weapons in national parks. In Virginia, R. Creigh Deeds won the Democratic nomination for governor while backing measures to allow concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol. Bush let the assault weapons ban die, and Obama seems loath to take it up.
Adding guns to the festering hate in America is like pouring gasoline on fire. Now, our police are outgunned on our own streets. Gun show loopholes allow would-be terrorists or haters easy access to guns. Concealed weapons will take an ever-greater toll as they turn bar arguments into lethal encounters. There are at least 200 million guns in America.
This isn’t about hunting deer or quail. This is about arming the haters, giving them the right to conceal weapons or arm themselves with assault weapons that are made for only one thing: killing lots of people.
Hate is on the rise. Guns are on the rise. Hate and guns are a deadly combination. Most Americans are neither haters nor gun nuts. Most support commonsense laws to limit easy access to guns. Few want to arm themselves with a concealed weapon to enter a restaurant or a national park. It is hard to find anyone who thinks it a good idea for our police to be outgunned on our streets, or for would-be terrorists to have easy access to assault weapons.
Guns will not provide economic security. Hunters do not need assault weapons to kill deer. Honest gun owners have a huge stake in policing the sale of guns so the nuts and haters have a hard time getting them.
But instead of strengthening our laws after 9/11, we have been weakening them. The majority is getting rolled by a mobilized minority. Only leadership can turn that around.