About Us| Issues & Campaigns| Media| Get Involved| New to the Issue?| Donate

January 19, 2010

The Mailman Delivers the Truth

In recent years, there has been a great deal of controversy concerning professional athletes and guns. Whether it was New Jersey Net Jayson Williams accidentally killing his chauffeur while showing off his shotgun, L.A. Clipper Sebastian Telfair boarding the team plane with a loaded handgun in his pillowcase, New York Giant Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub, or Cleveland Cavalier Delonte West riding his motorcycle on the Capital Beltway with three loaded firearms on his body, the combination has proven to be a toxic mix that produces one horror story after another.

A recent incident that has captured national attention involves Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas. On Christmas Eve, Arenas (who has a history of not complying with firearms regulations) admitted to storing four unloaded guns at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Arenas was apparently unaware of two important facts: 1) The District of Columbia requires residents to register their firearms with the Metropolitan Police Department; and 2) The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits players from bringing firearms into league facilities or carrying them while traveling on league-related business.

Arenas originally claimed that he moved the guns to his locker after the birth of his daughter, but soon a more disturbing story was revealed. Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton allegedly had a scuffle during a card game on a flight back from Phoenix on December 19, in which threatening comments were exchanged. Two days later, Arenas laid out four unloaded guns in Crittenton’s locker, reportedly with a note reading, “Pick one.” Witnesses indicate Crittenton responded in the locker room by brandishing his own gun, loading it, and chambering a round.

Because of an ongoing police investigation, NBA Commissioner David Stern was initially reluctant to respond to the incident. After Arenas playfully formed his hands into pistols and pretended he was shooting at teammates before a game in Philadelphia on January 5, however, Stern announced that “[Arenas’] ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game” and suspended him indefinitely.

Stern’s response to the incident—and the disgust expressed by Wizards management and NBA fans—was not surprising. What was surprising was the reaction of retired NBA superstar and currently-serving National Rifle Association (NRA) board member Karl “The Mailman” Malone.

Malone played in the NBA for 19 years, 18 of them for the Utah Jazz. Following his retirement he became an NRA spokesman and has served on the organization’s Board of Directors since 2001. Writing for Sports Illustrated Online days after Arenas’ suspension, Malone commented, “I don’t want Arenas made an example of, but this is not just a minor situation, and if we say that, it’s ridiculous. It’s wrong to make light of a firearm. That’s when mistakes are made ... This is nothing to be laughing about.” Malone is certainly right, and this is the very same reason Washington Wizard’s owner Abe Pollin decided to change the team’s name from the Bullets in 1995.

But what Malone said next was a shocker. “You can’t tell me one good thing that can happen with a gun in an arena, but I can tell you a thousand bad things,” he said “I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t go anywhere in my vehicle without my weapon, but at no point has it ever occurred to me to take it inside anywhere, let alone an arena.”

Apparently Malone isn’t familiar with the policies and statements of the organization he represents. The NRA is currently pushing to allow the carrying of concealed handguns in public spaces across America—schools, churches, parks, airports, metro transport, restaurants, bars, you name it. And Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s CEO, has stated in no uncertain terms, “Right-to-carry saves lives ... An armed few make the many safer, because the bad guys don't know who's armed and who's not.”

Malone missed the memo. He goes on to say:

If I were a gun dealer and somebody walked in and said, ‘I want this for protection,’ I don't know if I would sell it to that person, because that person's only thinking about another confrontation. The people who get threatened or cut off in their car and think about their guns are the people who don't need a gun … The big picture is that guns won’t protect you. If someone really wanted to get you, they would.

Doesn’t Malone realize that gun ownership is a “fundamental, God-given right”? Why would he possibly assert, “It’s a privilege to own a firearm”? Heresy!

But is Malone simply a misguided “sheep” in the NRA flock, or are his views actually representative of gun owners in America? Well-known Republican pollster Frank Luntz recently conducted a national survey that seems to support the latter contention. The poll showed that strong majorities of gun owners (and NRA members) support sensible gun policies, such as requiring background checks on all firearm sales at gun shows and prohibiting terror suspects from buying guns.

Perhaps the NRA’s leadership is as extreme as advertised. Gun owners realize that Gilbert Arenas made “a terrible mistake” by bringing guns into a public arena.

Well, most gun owners, anyway.

January 11, 2010

These Second Amendment "Rights" Need to Be Exorcised

Following a summer that saw far-right-wing activists bringing guns to political events across the country, two more recent incidents suggest that it wasn’t just the heat driving the “open carry” craze.

On December 20, 2009, Leonard Embody walked into Radnor Lake State Park in Tennessee with a loaded AK-47 pistol, reportedly with the intention of testing a new state law allowing those with concealed carry permits to bring their handguns into state parks. One woman who encountered Embody in the park reported, “He was wearing military boots and a black skull cap. He didn’t look like the friendliest of guys. It was scary.” Soon, park rangers appeared on the scene and questioned Embody at gunpoint.

The rangers were apparently confused about whether his AK-47 was a rifle, which would have been illegal in the park. On OpenCarry.org, Embody wrote that one of the rangers said he “had never heard of a 7.62x39 handgun” (the 7.62x39mm cartridge was originally designed during World War II and is common in military-style rifles). The practice of shortening assault-style rifles into pistol-sized handguns to make them more easily concealable began in the late 1990s. According to the Director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis, Dr. Garen Wintemute, (who has photographed these weapons at gun shows across the country), “Less than 24 inches long, [these guns] use the same ammunition and high-capacity magazines that the rifles do. With the magazine detached they are easily concealed.”

After Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents arrived at the scene and confirmed that the firearm was indeed a pistol, rangers released Embody in accordance with the law without pressing charges. On OpenCarry.org, Embody has stated that he plans to openly carry the same handgun again at Bicentennial Mall, a Nashville State Park.

This issue has been a controversial one in The Volunteer State. Counties and municipalities have been permitted to opt out of a law allowing handguns in parks that they manage, and approximately 70 of them—fearing threats to public safety—have done so.

Another disturbing example of “open carry” occurred on January 2, when a crowd of over 300 people gathered at a busy intersection to protest the Obama Administration in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The rally, organized by the local Otero Tea Party Patriots and the Second Amendment Task Force, was a response to recent health care reform efforts, as well as a demonstration of Second Amendment “rights.”

Many of the attendees at the rally openly carried handguns and/or rifles (one woman even strapped a .32 caliber handgun to her dog’s back). New Mexico law allows residents to openly carry a firearm in most public places, as well as concealed weapons with a state-issued permit.

Several individuals who carried guns at the rally indicated they were doing so to exhibit “responsible gun ownership.” Others, however, admitted a darker purpose. One man stated that his handgun was a “very open threat” to the “socialist communists” in the Obama Administration. “The government fears the people, and a disarmed people are slaves,” he said. “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun ... They’re pushing us to our limits.” Jim Kizer, a veteran of the Korean War who carried at the rally, echoed this sentiment: “I’ve fought Communists all my life, and now our government is being taken over by them. That’s why I’m here.”

The rally kept law enforcement well occupied. Although the protest was not as large as anticipated, Alamogordo Department of Public Safety officers and the New Mexico State Police drove through “the intersection at no less than five-minute intervals during the two-hour event.” The constant patrolling of the protest distracted law enforcement from their regular duties, depriving the surrounding community of valuable resources.

Dan Woodruff, the founder of Alamogordo’s Second Amendment Task Force chapter, opined that the rally “put a positive light on gun ownership.” Others were not so convinced. Walt Rubel of the Las Cruses Sun-News questioned the benefit of “inviting every yahoo with a weapon in southern New Mexico to gather at the busiest intersection in Alamogordo and wave their firearms at the passing traffic.” Denise Lang, a counter-protester on the scene that day, offered, “I'm very much a pro-gun rights person. I come from a military family. My late husband was a gunsmith, [and] I think gun use is OK in an appropriate time and place. Wearing guns to a protest, to me, is extremely juvenile."

Beyond scaring their fellow citizens (“It’s a shock value thing,” admitted one handgun-toter), distracting law enforcement, and presenting potential threats to public safety (at political events that typically involve heated discussion), armed protesters present a more fundamental challenge to the integrity of our democracy. Their belief that the Second Amendment allows them to use force to bypass non-coercive, peaceful avenues of change undermines the First Amendment rights of all those who disagree with them. Perhaps “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” (as Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung stated in 1938) in a totalitarian state, but not in a functioning democracy.

Ron Browne of Alamogordo, a bystander at the January 2 rally, grasped that armed protest leads to something far different than “freedom.” “I see this as the seeds of terrorism being born,” he said. “You have the guns. Eventually, you'll have the hate, then someone will actually take it one step further and try to hurt the president. Hate has to start somewhere and grow. This is it, right here. You're looking at it. If this keeps expanding, we're going to have a civil war.”