Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Victims, Guilt, & Guns

A manhunt is now underway for Ammar Harris, the lead suspect for the Las Vegas Strip shooting last week. Another person of interest is also being sought. The search for Harris is now nationwide.

Police believe an altercation at Aria led to the shooting. Yet despite this, there's been media speculation about victim Kenneth Cherry and his personal life. "Oh, he was a pimp! It was all just a pimp war." (Never mind that Cherry was never arrested for any crime, and that he's one of the slain victims in this crime.)

It's not as if this hasn't happened before. Still, it's disturbing to see certain victims of gun violence villainized in some corners of the media and treated like perpetrators. Why go there?

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin near Orlando, Florida. Even though he was the slain victim, some in the media were ready to villainize Trayvon. Why? He was wearing a hoodie!

The NRA pushed hard for Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, the statute that George Zimmerman now uses to justify the murder of Trayvon. The NRA & ALEC then pushed more states to pass similar "Stand Your Ground" law. Even Nevada now has a modified version of it.

For decades, the NRA has (mis)used its juice in Carson City and Washington to weaken gun safety standards. They've essentially bribed lawmakers in the not-so-distant past with campaign contributions and prestigious "A" ratings. Meanwhile, victims of gun violence were all too often marginalized, forgotten... And in some cases, even treated like criminals.

Last night in Illinois, we saw a groundbreaking development. As mentioned above, the NRA has enjoyed immense political clout. But now, that's being called into question as former Illinois state legislator Robin Kelly won the Democratic Primary for the 2nd Congressional District spreading from Chicago's South Side to exurban Kankakee County.

Kelly ran against Debbie Halvorson, herself a former Member of Congress who lost her old seat in 2010. Because she had some name recognition from that and challenging Jesse Jackson, Jr., in this seat before he resigned, she was considered the early frontrunner. But in the wake of Newtown and increased gun violence right in Chicago, this special election to replace Jackson became a referendum on the NRA. And the gun lobby hasn't been used to taking criticism on the campaign trail.

To be sure, this is a heavily Democratic district, and messages that resonated in Illinois' 2nd district may not be equally as effective elsewhere. But that doesn't negate the fact that this was the first race in recent memory in which a major party's candidates felt the need to distance themselves from the NRA. The far-right lobbying group's "A" ratings for some of the candidates practically became "a scarlet letter," forcing some Democrats who'd previously bragged about NRA support to scramble in the other direction.

Even in reliably "blue" districts, that just hasn't happened in recent years. Democrats, at nearly every level, had been led to believe that supporting gun control was a recipe for electoral failure, so they reflexively avoided the issue. This race set out to challenge those assumptions, and the results were unambiguous.

Indeed, Kelly was only too pleased to tout her "F" rating from the organization, which in turn led to support from Bloomberg and progressive groups like the CREDO super PAC. It helped separate her from the pack and positioned her to become a member of Congress in April.

And because of this, Capitol Hill must rethink its relationship with the gun lobby. And in fact, it will have a chance to do so today as the Senate Judiciary Committee finally gives the Assault Weapons Ban a hearing. The gun lobby has attempted to blithely dismiss calls for gun safety reform as "The Connecticut Effect", but that strategy may not be so effective any more.

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We've just seen too many untimely, unnecessary, and uncivilized deaths across the country. From Tucson to Sanford, and from Newtown to Las Vegas, the shootings have piled up. And the gun lobby's excuses are wearing thin.

Driving down Las Vegas Boulevard is not a crime. Wearing a hoodie outside is not a crime. And for goodness sake, going to school is not a crime. But you know what? Murder is. And while protecting criminals' right to murder, it can be just as dangerous and dastardly.

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