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Once upon a time, the National Rifle Association was a leading voice for gun control legislation. Owners and sellers of guns had to register, all receipts had to be available to the police, and the president of the NRA testified to Congress, “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” The argument made by gun control supporters like me, that the Second Amendment was never intended to allow citizens unrestricted access to guns, would have put us right in step with the NRA leadership.

When the NRA Supported Gun Control, Time Magazine

That was in the 1920s and 30s. Many states imposed restrictions on the carrying of weapons, but California was one that did not.

But then the Black Panther Party, concerned about police brutality, started patrolling Oakland with these arms they were legally entitled to carry, and several members of the California state legislature proposed a ban on the open carrying of loaded weapons. The Black Panthers protested the bill by showing up at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, where it so happened that Governor Ronald Reagan was on the lawn. The sight of a couple dozen black people protesting and carrying guns made restrictions on guns very compelling to white Republicans and Democrats alike, the bill passed, and he signed it.

Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

(The Secret History of Guns, Atlantic Magazine)

Between incidents like this, the reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and conservative U. S. Americans’ anxiety about young radicals, the trend toward gun control only strengthened in the 1960s. There was just one problem with gun restrictions as a solution: white people couldn’t carry guns either. And unpleasant things happened, like an NRA member’s waving a gun in response to a raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1971; the ATF shot him, and the NRA responded angrily, likening the ATF to the Gestapo. It was a conundrum.

I don’t know if it was unconscious or a carefully thought-out plan, but around then, the NRA began to change its tactics. It would put its resources into weakening gun laws and rest its argument on the “need” for honest individuals to protect themselves, while promoting the idea that “the honest citizen” was white and the feared predator was black.

By the 2000s, the pattern was set. The NRA’s line was that any kind of restriction was a step onto the “slippery slope” that would end in fascism and the destruction not only of the Second Amendment, but freedom. If police did not respect gun ownership, it would be the beginning of the end.

. . . if the owner was white. If the owner was black, he must be intending violence, and his summary execution by police for the mere possession of a gun would meet with no demur from the NRA. As case after case hit the news of black people who were merely suspected of holding weapons’ being killed by police or self-appointed defenders of public safety, the NRA’s true agenda became clear: not to protect gun owners from an overreaching state, but to protect white people from the black bogeyman they feared.

The Philando Castile case made it clear that even a license for a weapon would not protect a black person who wished to exercise the right the NRA called absolutely fundamental to freedom. In 2016, near St. Paul, Minnesota, Castile was pulled over by police and asked for his driver’s license and registration, at which point he sensibly informed them that he had a gun and a license for it, so that they would not think he was reaching for it in attack. This is surely the correct and cautious thing for a gun owner to do when interacting with the police–if, in the NRA’s view, one should have to explain at all. One of the officers immediately fired four bullets into Castile, killing him; his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter were in the back seat. The NRA responded with a silence that, under pressure, it finally broke to say “The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated,” declining to comment further or even use the victim’s name.

Black people might want to arm themselves in self-defense, especially with killers like Gregory Bush and Dylann Roof gunning for them, but they have to consider the very real possibility that if they are so much as glimpsed carrying a weapon, the police will be called and they will be shot.

But to back up a few years. In the meantime, each mass shooting–now in the hundreds per year–had been met by the NRA’s claim that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” And those of us who doubted this wisdom had pointed out that among its many flaws was the question of how police, called to a scene of mayhem, would know that the “good guy with a gun” was a good guy. Wouldn’t they be facing two armed people, with no way of knowing which was the instigator of the crime and which was trying to stop it? Those of us who, furthermore, had been paying attention to the disparity between the NRA’s responses, and police forces’ responses, to black and white gun ownership, thought we knew what the cops would do: if one of the people with a gun were black, they would assume he was the villain, not the hero.

So this week, the killing of security guard Jemel Roberson, taken for a murderer when he tried to stop a crime in the course of his job, was not a surprise. It was the inevitable outcome of the plan that has been unfolding for decades:

(1) arm as many white people as wish to be armed by loosening gun restrictions;

(2) tolerate the summary execution by police (or citizens) of black people who possess a weapon (or a wallet, or a white cellphone, or a hairbrush . . . )

(3) and voila, the Black Panther problem is solved. We now have two categories of US Americans: the “honest citizens” who can–should–go about armed, and the ones for whom bearing arms is certain proof that they are criminals. The armed whites and the disarmed, terrified blacks.

It took a generation for the NRA to solve their conundrum, but they have done it.

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When we talk about gun deaths in this country, we don’t talk much about suicide. This may seem strange, since about two-thirds of our annual more-than-36,000 deaths by firearms are suicides. Most of the rest are homicides, with a small number of accidents (Centers for Disease Control figures for 2015; the 2016 total was over 38,000). In other words, you are twice as likely to die by a gun in your own hand as someone else’s.

You would think that suicide by firearms would garner attention, since it kills 60 U.S. Americans a day, but I think that neither gun control advocates nor those who want to permit free access to guns want to bring up suicide. The gun-rights folks may believe that people wanting to kill themselves should have the right to choose a gun, but it’s not really the kind of argument that wins you a lot of fans. And the gun-control advocates, of which (in case you haven’t read my blog before) I am most definitely one, tend not to bring it up because of a widespread belief that someone bent on suicide will carry it out, and the means are not significant. In this, we could not be more mistaken.

I’ve said it myself, this “they’ll find another way” mistake, but I was corrected, after a sermon on suicide, by a local activist, to whom I am very grateful. It does indeed matter what means people choose for suicide. Those who choose highly fatal means–jumping off bridges or tall buildings, shooting themselves, or, all too often in the community where I serve, stepping in front of a speeding train–are much less likely to survive a suicide attempt. That much is obvious, in fact tautological. But what is also true is that, denied these means, they are much less likely to kill themselves, then or ever.

This is why, thanks to the California state legislature, we now have barriers making it harder to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, along with hotline phones and posted phone numbers. There is nothing stopping someone who is turned back by the barrier from seeking another way to end their life, but the psychology of suicide is such that many do not: not that night, not the next day, not ever.  Of course, to cut the suicide rate, we can and must do more than just making the final stage harder; we need to reduce poverty and injustice, reduce drug abuse, restore meaning, and provide ample mental health care. But that final stage also matters.

Restricting access to guns–by far the most common way U.S. Americans kill themselves–is thus a very effective way to save many of those lives. When Australia responded to its 1996 Port Arthur massacre by putting tough gun laws in place, the rate of firearms homicide dropped, and so did the rate of homicide overall. The rate of firearms suicide dropped, and so did the rate of suicide overall. With homicide, the reason is obvious to those of us not being paid by the NRA: it’s much harder to kill a lot of people fast with a knife or a truck. With suicide, though? Why don’t people denied a gun find another method? I don’t know. But as often as not, maybe more often than that, they don’t.

So let’s stop shying away from the topic of guns and suicide. When people want to know what good it will do suicidal people to restrict their access to guns, the answer is: it can save the larger part of sixty lives a day.

Sixty lives is a Las Vegas massacre, every day, week in, week out. If you worry about your child’s safety, reflect: they are probably twice as likely to die by suicide as by homicide. To keep them safe, tackle suicide. To tackle suicide, tackle the gun lobby.

As long as lawmakers and courts insist that what James Madison had in mind with the Second Amendment was unlimited weaponry for the likes of Nikolas Cruz and Adam Lanza, we’re going to have to hit the gun lobby and its pals in the pocketbook. Some of the scummiest of those pals are the people who use the airwaves and internet to claim that these killings are hoaxes.

I’m happy to note that some of the worst sites generating and promoting fake stories–Gateway Pundit and InfoWars, for example–have no actual advertisers. Gateway Pundit advertises one religious pamphlet by the site owner’s twin brother, and InfoWars sells a brain supplement (hold the jokes, please) and a toothpaste, fluoride free, of course, that seem to be manufactured by InfoWars. Breitbart appears to have no remaining advertisers. But some other sites do get advertising money from actual companies. So I took a few minutes today to breathe deeply, overcome my nausea, and tell these companies what I think about that.

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(NOTE: Earlier, I had the wrong e-mail address here; it was the support address for a company that distributes Berkey Water systems, and is not in charge of advertising decisions. The below address is the manufacturer’s.)

To: Customerservice@berkeywater.com

To the chief executive of Berkey Water Filter Systems:

I was appalled to read articles on NaturalNews.com promoting the idea that the survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, are actors and that the entire event is a fake staged by gun reform advocates. Accusing traumatized, injured and murdered children of fakery is about as low as public so-called debate gets.

I notice that you advertise there, and I hope you will immediately withdraw your ads and stop supporting this revolting site with your money. I am posting this letter on my blog and will post your reply there when I receive it.

Sincerely,
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To the directors of Food Rising:

I was appalled to read articles on NaturalNews.com promoting the idea that the survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, FL, last week, are actors and that the entire event is a fake staged by gun reform advocates. Accusing traumatized, injured and murdered children of fakery is about as low as public so-called debate gets.

I notice that you advertise there, and I guess your partnership with the author, Mike Adams (the “Health Ranger”), is very close since he engineered your grow boxes. Maybe you are a one-person operation and he is it, for all I know. If that is not the case, and you are in fact dedicated to food innovation, I hope you will immediately withdraw your ads from NaturalNews.com and stop supporting this revolting site with your money.

I am posting this letter on my blog, sermonsinstones.com, and will post your reply there when I receive it.

Sincerely,
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To the owners of Zeta Clear,
The website therightwingextremist.wordpress.com specializes in “articles” such as the claim that the slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT, was a fake. Apparently it is not horrible enough to make such a claim, and add to the unimaginable suffering of the parents and other loved ones of these children, so the author prints one child’s name over and over with the ridiculous assertion that his death was a hoax, simply because a Pakistani mourner of the children killed in Peshawar, Pakistan, expressed solidarity by posting his photo alongside those of some of the Peshawar victims. Simple explanations have no effect on the cruelty and willful obtuseness of “The Right Wing Extremist.”

I notice that you are his sole advertiser. I hope you will immediately withdraw your ads and stop supporting this revolting site with your money. Accusing traumatized, injured and murdered children of fakery is about as low as public so-called debate gets.

You claim you will respond to phone calls and e-mails, but you don’t actually post an e-mail address. So I am calling you and also posting this letter on my blog, sermonsinstones.com, and will post your reply there when I receive it.

Sincerely,

We are each entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. The fact is that arming more citizens than are currently armed will not reduce the number of deaths by gun. You cannot point to any statistics, any other country, any studies that indicate otherwise–I know because I read the ones people link to, and they never say what the poster claims they say. In fact, the facts are that we have way too many guns for safety.

Two kids died and another 15 were wounded in the shooting at a Benton, Kentucky, school yesterday. It was the 11th shooting on a school campus in the first 23 days of this year, a tripling of the past several years’ rate of one such shooting per week. After the Benton murders, as always, there are people pleading with the president or the NRA to say something. This is counterproductive, because if the NRA or Trump offer any policy solution, it is always in the vein of “More guns in the hands of more people.” And along with them, hundreds of internet commenters emerge like worms after rain to claim that the problem is not enough guns.

I am sick of our treating these claims as if they have a shred of evidence to back them up. “More guns” is no more a strategy for reducing gun deaths than “Pray to the Tooth Fairy.” If it were, I would support it.

You who make this argument, and you who are silent as it rages, I am sure that we have something in common: you, too, would like to see fewer people die by guns in this country. Will you embrace the solutions that are proven to be effective?

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