It Was Not a Good Week for the NRA
July 18, 2016
Gar Smith / Berkeley Daily Planet
Commentary: The NRA likes to argue that people need to carry guns for "self-defense" but real-world experience shows that merely having a gun in your possession can get you killed. As PolitiFact noted in 2013: "More Americans have died from guns in the US since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history." The scale of US gun-deaths now routinely claims more lives than are lost in countries with active civil wars — including Pakistan and Sudan.
(July 15, 2016) -- The National Rifle Association likes to argue that people need to carry guns for "self-defense" but real-world experience shows that merely having a gun in your possession can get you killed.
On July 5, Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground after a scuffle with police while selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. The incident, captured on private cellphones and surveillance cameras, shows Sterling immobilized, pinned to the floor by two officers.
At this point, one of the policemen shouts, "He's got a gun!" An officer pulls his revolver from his holster and shoves it into Sterling's chest. He fires point blank. Stirling was shot several times in the chest and once in the back for good measure.
As Stirling lies mortally wounded, an officer leans over his body and appears to wrench a gun from inside one of the dying man's pockets.
Initial reports all indicate that it was the presence of a gun that escalated the confrontation that got Stirling killed. At no point do the videos show Stirling actually holding a gun in his hands.
According to CBS News, Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the convenience store, testified that Stirling "was not holding a gun during the shooting, but that he saw officers remove one from his pocket afterward."
Muflahi is now suing the police for allegedly seizing the store's surveillance videos without a warrant. (The police also seized the shopkeeper's cellphone and detained him inside a locked squad car and a jail cell for six hours.)
Chris LeDay, an equipment technician at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, caught the incident on his cellphone and posted it online, where it went viral. Twenty-four hours later, LeDay found himself arrested and charged with "assault and battery."
LeDay believes this was an instance of police "retaliation" for posting the video. The charges were eventually dropped and -- after spending 26 hours in jail -- LeDay was ordered to pay a fine for some unpaid parking tickets and released.
Good Guys versus Bad Guys
This was the week that proved the NRA's prized meme -- "the only cure for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" -- was demonstrably false.
On July 6, in Minnesota, Philando Castile was pulled over ostensibly for a broken taillight. (More recently, the officer involved was heard on audiotape explaining that Castile had been pulled over as a possible robbery suspect because he had "a wide-set nose.")
Castile, it turned out, was legally carrying a concealed weapon. His girlfriend confirmed that Castile informed the officer that he had a gun and a legal permit to carry it. But when Castile followed the cop's order to present his wallet and started to reach for his hip pocket, he was shot point-blank four times.
To the NRA's closeted chagrin, Philando Castile was "a good guy with a gun" yet, within minutes, he suffered and died, live-streamed, on his girlfriend's Facebook page.
One Bad Guy With a Gun Outshoots an Army of Police
On July 7, five Dallas police officers were killed by a US Army-trained vet armed with a 70-year-old SKS semi-automatic carbine. Another seven officers were wounded. Although the police far outnumbered the solitary shooter (they were, ostensibly again, the "good guys") they were out-gunned a lone sniper.
Micah Xavier Johnson, the combat veteran who opened fire on the police, seemed to send a clear, and disturbing, message: Start putting law-breaking "killer cops" in jail or more cops (good and bad) might start winding up in graves.
Another disturbing message: The ultimate death of the Dallas assassin -- killed by a bomb hand-delivered by a remotely guided robot -- marked a troubling escalation in domestic policing. For the first time, an American citizen was targeted for an extrajudicial death inside US borders via a "killer drone."
Will some future mass-killer be dispatched by a high-flying Predator drone? Will the "collateral damage" that accompanies drone warfare abroad soon become an "unfortunate consequence" of modern policing in US cities?
More Guns = Greater Safety?
The NRA was further discomfited by another matter that added to the confusion in Dallas: As many as 30 of the marchers in the crowd of peaceful protesters showed up wearing fatigues, gas-masks, and body armor and brandishing rifles.
As of January 1, Dallas (and every other Texas town) became an "open-carry" city. So, when the shooting began in Dallas, cops on the ground couldn't tell who was a threat.
As Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings noted, the pro-gun marchers wound up diverting attention from the actual gunman. The fact that other individuals were carrying guns "took our eye off the ball for a moment" Rawlings told CBS's Face the Nation.
"You can carry a rifle legally and when you have gunfire going on, you usually go with the person that's got a gun," Rawlings explained. "And so our police grabbed some of those individuals, took them to police headquarters and worked it out and figured out that they were not the shooters. But that is one of the real issues with the gun rights issues that we face -- that, in the middle of a firefight, it's hard to pick out the good guys and the bad guys."
Dallas was lucky that day. It is only a matter of time until a single bullet -- fired in the vicinity of a crowd of armed, NRA-friendly citizenry -- triggers a self-inflicted mass-slaughter with fearful gun-lovers firing in the direction of anyone else they see holding a gun.
Bad Guys with a Good Guy's Gun
But the NRA's week of calamity wasn't over. On July 11, two bailiffs in Michigan were gunned down by an inmate they were escorting to a court hearing. On the way to a courtroom, an armed deputy -- again, an ostensible "good guy with a gun" -- had his pistol plucked from its holster from the prisoner he was entrusted to guard.
The courthouse was described as an "extremely secure" environment. The inmate, identified as Larry Darnell Gordon, also happened to be handcuffed. In a matter of minutes, two bailiffs were shot dead and a sheriff's deputy and one civilian were wounded before the inmate was gunned down. For the record: everyone involved was white.
The NRA Expresses its Concerns
After each video of a murdered black man went viral, the NRA routinely dithered in issuing a position statement on the murders, relying repeatedly on the lame excuse, "[We cannot] comment while the investigation is ongoing."
As USA Today pointed out: "The NRA's lack of reaction to or condolences for the deaths of Alton Sterling, 38, Tuesday in Louisiana and Philando Castile 32, Wednesday in Minnesota -- both African Americans killed by police while legally carrying firearms -- was in stark contrast to the statement they released after the attack in Dallas." In that instance, the gun-rights lobby quickly expressed "the deep anguish all of us feel for the heroic Dallas law enforcement officers who were killed or wounded."
During a Congressional Black Caucus press conference on gun violence, Rep. Cedric Richmond—a Louisiana Democrat and NRA member—railed against the NRA's "blatant" hypocrisy.
"I hunt and I fish and I own a gun," Richmond said, "but the last few days have clarified it for me . . . [the NRA's] Second Amendment concern is not a voice of concern for African Americans."
Adding to the NRA's chagrin, Bahrain, Bahamas and the UAE all placed the US on a watchlist, warning their citizens that gun-saturated America was no longer a safe place for tourists to visit.
As PolitiFact noted on January 18, 2013: "More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history."
The scale of gun-deaths in the US now routinely claims more lives than are lost in many countries with active civil wars—including both Pakistan and Sudan.
Gar Smith is a Project Censored Award-winning reporter, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War, and author of Nuclear Roulette.