Eugene Robinson Live

Feb 05, 2013

Live chat with Eugene Robinson about politics and his latest column.

Submit questions and comments for Gene to respond to now.

Hello, everybody, and welcome to our weekly chat. Much to chew, as always. Today's column is about the persistent scourge of gun violence and the reminder we got at the Super Bowl -- with the Newtown kids and Jennifer Hudson -- of the need to keep this issue front and center. Mike Isikoff of NBC had a good scoop last night about the Obama administration's legal justification for using drones to kill al-Qaeda-linked American citizens overseas; to say the least, there are many unanswered questions about this use of deadly force. Meanwhile, we're careening toward the next fiscal precipice -- the sequester. And thr Ravens won a football game Sunday night, I hear. Let's get started.

Gene: I think the NRA, in the person of Wayne LaPierre, is now fearful for the first time since the assault weapons ban expired. The way he is railing about the "elites" is especially bizarre, given that, as Dana Milbank observed, he brought bodyguards with him when he testified before Congress. But bizarre talk and behavior seems to characterize the gun crowd. In Connecticut, a mother filled her home with high powered weapons, even as she was worried about her son's mental state. In Texas, a highly decorated SEAL sniper thought the way to help a severely mentally ill Marine vet was to take him to a firing range and hand him a weapon. Both cases turned out badly. Oh well, as we know thanks to the NRA, guns don't kill people

I agree that the NRA is acting as if the wind has shifted. LaPierre's only tactic these days is trying to stoke fear -- the cast of "Mad Max" is lurking outside your front door and you need a gun with a 30-clip magazine to kill them all, plus the zombies. That's not what the Second Amendment is about, last I checked. 

Here in Canada we had a mass murder attempt involving an obviously deranged person. Without access to a gun, he used a knife instead, and injured seven people. No one died, although a few had to spend some time in hospital, one with serious injuries. It's much more difficult to acquire guns in Canada, although it's not impossible, and we have had mass shootings. All the same, if this latest attacker had had access to a semi-automatic weapon with a large ammunition clip, fatalities would have been a certainty, and probably more than seven.

That's the difference between the United States and all other industrialized countries. There is mental illness in all. There are violent video games in all. Yet we have more gunshot deaths by an order of magnitude, and the obvious reason is that we have so many more guns.

With the use of gerrymandering, the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives has effectively guaranteed that they will continue to be elected. What can truly be done to alleviate the gridlock?

Republican skill at gerrymandering has indeed made the House majority difficult, but not impossible, to dislodge. The moral of the story is that Democrats had better pay more attention to those statehouse races, especially when we get closer to the next census.

How concerned are you that Obama is taking Bush's crazy power grab and making it even worse by basically claiming he is allowed to order the murder of anyone including American citizens for any reason he chooses? No real threat required. For a guy who is supposed to be a Constitutional law professor he certainly doesn't seem to give a hoot about the Constitution. He's letting a lot of us Liberals down with his draconian "national security" moves.

What I've heard and read so far about the Obama administration memo is (at the very least) deeply troubling. I plan to write about this, maybe in the Friday column. American citizens have constitutional rights. Period.

Are there other measures that can - and should be - included in a comprehensive gun control - or violence prevention - package? Is it likely that bills will pass that include a ban on military-style assault weapons?

An assault weapons ban is a long shot but not impossible. Much more likely, on the hardware front, is a ban on large-capacity magazines.

You refer to the firearms industry as "barely regulated," a claim a lot of gun control advocates make. A friend of mine is a federal firearms licensee, and I can assure you the firearms industry is incredibly regulated, more so than most. A person who manufactures or sells firearms has all of the laws regulating all other manufacturing and commerce PLUS an additional layer unique to the firearms industry. I honestly don't understand where gun control advocates get this stuff. You can repeat it all you like but it doesn't make it true.

I referred to commerce in firearms as barely regulated, and that's true. The system of background checks that dealers are required to use is a sieve. There are no background checks at gun shows. Manufacturers are allowed to market and sell military-style semiautomatic weapons designed for killing people, not for sport. The industry makes products that claim 30,000 American lives each year. That's where I get this stuff.

I'm a LEGAL gun owner that supports the president's efforts to curb gun violence. If I wanted to throw $20 towards supporting that goal, should I send it to Gabby Gifford's group? Join the NRA and try to change them from within? Send it with a letter about my 'Gun Control' support to my local congressman? I don't have much $ to give but would LOVE to offset the crazies.

You could try all of the above. The important thing is to make some noise. When members of Congress hear from their constituents, they listen.

I see the President is proposing budget cuts to avoid the "sequester". Pretty much every economist seems to be saying that we need more government spending right now, not less if we are going to avoid another recession (or worse). Are we stuck with these self-defeating policies now?

Apparently so. Let's look at the details, but cutting spending right now -- especially in light of the fact that the economy actually contracted in the last quarter of 2012 -- is a terrible idea, no matter who proposes it.

That's only the half of it. Now that they've sliced and diced Congressional Districts to their advantage (even in states where the majority of residents voted for Democrats for Congress, like Ohio and Pennsylvania), they want to change the Electoral College so that Presidents will be elected by Congressional districts. Throw in Voter ID and other voter suppression tactics, and the GOP could steal Presidential elections for many years to come despite winning a minority of the popular vote (or even under the current system).

The effort to rig the Electoral College seems to have fizzled everywhere but Pennsylvania. Vigilance has neutered most of the other suppression tactics as well. I'm actually encouraged to hear some prominent Republican voices recognizing that in the final analysis, the party has to win votes -- rather than just rig the system.

There are more than 300 million guns in America. Unless you're prepared to suspend the Second and Fourth Amendments and go house-to-house seizing guns, the fact that the nation is awash with guns is the reality you have to deal with. They aren't going anywhere.

Correct. So let's not add to those numbers by allowing manufacturers to sell more military-style assault weapons. And let's not allow existing weapons of that kind to change hands -- and perhaps end up in the hands of people who would use them to kill innocents. We can't save 30,000 lives a year. But if we can save 5,000, or 500, how can we fail to act?

The Hartford Courant published an editorial that calls for releasing the autopsy photographs of the murdered children from Sandy Hook in order to reveal the true consequences of living in a gun-oriented society. The editorial makes the case that had it not been for the demand of Emmit Till's mother that his casket be left open in to be able to see the mutilated body of a child, all the nation would have remembered of his death was Emmit's smiling face in his school picture, leaving his murderers free to kill and kill again. Your thoughts?

Till's mother made that decision without being pressured, and everyone whould have understood if she had decided on a closed casket. I cannot imagine the loss that the Newtown parents suffered, and  it is wrong for others to decide that they must endure more pain.

Don't bother; this is impossible. Mother Jones had a very interesting piece that talked about the way that the NRA board and executive officers are insulated from the rank and file membership, so decisions are made without membership input. The organization gets its funding from gun makers...joining only allows it to boast about membership numbers.

It is clear from polls that Wayne LaPierre does not reflect the views of a majority of NRA members. I wish those dissenting member would speak out.

But wouldn't a background check involve, you know, some kind of identification? Like a valid driver's license or other form of state-issued ID? But I seem to remember you saying that that was a BAD thing. I'm so confused with your hypocrisy....

You are referring to my position on voter ID, which I opposed because, all together now, there is no voter fraud. In the case of gun purchases, however, there are 30,000 gun-related deaths each year. That's not hypocrisy. It's called reality.

What is so weird about that apocalyptic NRA talk is that the vast majority of Americans never experience an incident of violence. At the risk of jinxing myself, I have walked around Baltimore, Washington, New York, San Francisco and LA at night, by myself, and the worst thing that's happened to me is getting hit up for spare change or, when I smoked, a cigarette.

The chance that a gun buyer is going to use the weapon to protect his or her family from Charlie Manson or a bunch of zombies is minuscule. The chance that the gun will be used to shoot someone in the household, through suicide or homicide, is many times greater.

What is your opinion regarding the DOJ justifying killing Americans if identified as a terrorist threat?

As I said, Americans have constitutional rights. Obviously, there are moral questions about any policy of assassination. And in the absence of judicial review? Wow.

You can't with an assault weapons ban. The vast majority of firearms homicides AND suicides - 97%, in fact - are committed using handguns. This is all just for show.

So if you eliminate the homicides and suicides that are not done with handguns, you save 1,000 lives. If you have universal background checks, maybe you save more. When American families are saved the grief of having to bury loved ones, that's not for show.


That's all for today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for dropping in, and I'll see you next time!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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