Don’t Be Afraid, Mr. President — You Can Take on the Gun Lobby


  NEWS & POLITICS
Salon / By Steve Kornacki, Altnet
Barack Obama and his party have been too terrified of angering gun owners to realize they can win without them.
December 15, 2012  |

A grieving President Barack Obama wiped away tears and struggled to compose himself Friday as he mourned the dead in the Connecticut school shooting.
Photo Credit: AFP

There’s no disputing that the Democratic Party has regressed dramatically on the issue of gun violence over the past two decades. When a shooting rampage on the Long Island Railroad killed six people and injured 19 others in December 1993, Bill Clinton responded immediately by calling for specific legislative action to prevent future tragedies. Contrast that with the response of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday to a question about whether the carnage in Connecticut might prompt President Obama to pursue gun control measures. “I’m sure there will be another day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates,” Carney said, “but I don’t think today is that day.”

It can be hard to remember now, but well into the 1990s, national Democrats proudly associated themselves with gun control, championing laws that restricted access to deadly weapons. Under Clinton, the Brady Bill, which mandated a five-day waiting period for the purchase of handgun, was passed, and so was a ban on assault weapons. The 1996 Democratic Convention that nominated Clinton for a second term featured Jim and Sarah Brady as primetime speakers.

The years since then, however, have been marked by a steady and thus far enduring Democratic retreat on the issue, with the Second Amendment crowd now largely dictating the terms of public discussion and Democrats mainly trying to avoid their wrath. Consider Obama’s record on guns, which includes one achievement: a law making it easier to carry concealed weapons in national parks.

While the violent crime rate that fed the gun control zeal of the ’90s is much lower today, horrifying mass shootings seem to be on the rise. Six of the 12 deadliest sprees in American history have taken place just since 2007. In his own remarks Friday, delivered a few hours after Carney’s, Obama seemed to hint that the latest deadly outburst might actually shake him and his party from their defensive crouch on guns. “[W]e’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics,” the president said.

What that means is anyone’s guess right now. It appears that the Connecticut killer used several weapons, at least one of which would be illegal if the assault weapons ban – which the Republican Congress refused to reauthorize in 2004 – were still in effect. Obama is on the record supporting the ban’s reinstatement; might he now demand action? Or will he pursue other policy changes? Or maybe he’ll just end up doing what leaders of his party have done for more than a decade now: nothing.

The Democrats’ cowardice on guns traces back to the fateful election of 2000. Clinton, despite his aggressive pursuit of gun control measures, fared relatively well with rural gun-owning populations in his 1996 reelection campaign. But those same voters turned hard on Al Gore in ’00, shifting Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee to the Republican column. A victory in any one of those states – all of which Clinton carried twice – would have made Gore president. Democrats concluded that they’d scared off rural, lower-income white voters who had traditionally supported them – and that guns were the big reason why. A new consensus emerged: Gun control could no longer be a central component of Democratic messaging. So it was that John Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012 did their best to ignore the issue. Kerry went so far as to embark on a goose hunt in rural Ohio just before Election Day.

In terms of political strategy, there’s been one obvious shortcoming to this approach: It hasn’t worked. Kerry did no better than Gore in West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas, and Obama has failed to win any of those states in two elections now. What’s more, there’s been no improvement in Democratic support among gun owners in any election since 2000. As Nate Cohn pointed out Friday, the lesson Democrats should be drawing from Obama’s two victories is that they can win nationally without the pro-gun vote. The Democratic coalition continues to evolve and grow, and the rural white voters who were key to its success generations ago have become a reliably Republican constituency.

What’s more, Democrats continue to be painted as the party of gun confiscators by the NRA and its allies. Even though there was nothing in Obama’s first term record for them to object to, the NRA bitterly fought his reelection this year, treating him as if he were Michael Douglas’ character in “The American President.” In other words, Democrats are already paying the political price that comes with being the gun control party. So if they believe in it, why not just say it – and act on it?

The answer typically provided to this question is that there are a number of Democrats in Congress from states with large gun-owning populations – think Joe Manchin and Jon Tester – and that the party’s current posture makes it possible for them to win. But a better way of understanding the success of these Democrats is that it’s come in spite of the national party’s reputation. Democrats like Manchin and Tester are already winning over voters who believe national Democrats want to take their guns away; this challenge will be exactly the same if national Democrats actually do start pursuing gun control again.

There were a few notable Democratc voices on Friday demanding that the party recommit itself to tackling gun violence. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Long Island Democrat who entered politics in response to her husband’s death in the ’93 LIRR tragedy, said Friday that she will be pushing “full force” for new gun laws in Obama’s second term – and that she’s willing to “embarrass” the president if necessary.

McCarthy, it should be noted, was showcased by her national party when she first ran for Congress in 1996. Her story of turning her loss into a crusade for gun control was one with which Democrats very much wanted to be associated. As her congressional career progressed, McCarthy became lonely voice, on Capitol Hill and within the Democratic Party. But the spike in mass shootings has given her a new audience and an opportunity win new allies (and to win back old ones) – and to exert real pressure on Obama to get serious. We’ll know soon enough if Obama is really feeling the heat.

 

 

27th Ramanadham Memorial Meeting: Public Health, Inequality and Democratic Rights


The late sixties marked the first major crisis of independent India at all levels of its
economy and polity. This crisis gave birth to radical movements. Among these
were the tribal and peasant struggles led by Marxist Leninist parties. Brutal state
repression was launched on these movements. Regional civil rights
organisations arose as a response to the various illegal modes of repression. Thus in
1974 Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee [APCLC] was founded in
Andhra Pradesh.

Those were the times when A. Ramanadham, a medical doctor by profession,
founded one of the district units of APCLC in Warangal town.
Born in Mustikuntla, a small village in Khamman district in 1933, he started his
career as a government doctor. Dissatisfied with the unethical medical practices, he
left his job and set up his own Children’s Clinic in 1968 in Warangal. That year
marked the beginning of his involvement in various social issues. The clinic was to
become, perhaps, the only democratic centre in the entire town.
In June 1975, Emergency was imposed institutionalising the ongoing repression. Dr.
Ramanadham, along with other activists, were arrested. After lifting of
Emergency APCLC was able to function again. Dr. Ramanadham became its
Vice President.
Civil rights organisations that had earlier been confined to their own regions and
histories, began to share information and experiences. Joint investigations into
repression on worker and peasant struggles and joint campaigns on repressive
laws. In this process of building fraternal relations PUDR came to know the work of
Dr. Ramanadham. And to appreciate his gentle friendliness and modesty

Dr. Ramanadham’s involvement with civil liberties was inseparable from his
professional role as a doctor. In fact, his professional role helped the civil rights
movement which, in turn, made him a better doctor. It helped him to understand
the social origins of the diseases of his patients He did not confine himself to
giving medicines but tried to spread a scientific outlook. Out of this came his
famous book in Telugu, Medical Guide which was addressed to the people and not
to health workers.
Dr. Ramanadham tried to create a space for democratic values wherever he went
and in whatever he did. Struggling against corrupt medical practices in a health
centre in Husnabad, helping friends to bring out a revolutionary literary journal in
Warangal, helping a young girl and conducting her marriage against the will of her
influential parents, organising a people’s clinic with the help of doctors on strike in
front of Warangal -Government Hospital, are examples of Dr. Ramanadliam’s
involvement and initiative in democratic concerns

In the late seventies peasant struggles for higher agricultural wages and against
landlord repression spread in Warangal and other districts Police was given extensive illegal powersto repress these struggles. Governments kept changing  but state violence continued. With APCLC, Dr. Ramanadham was actively involved in investigating fake encounters, custodial torture and deaths. This earned  them the wrath of the police

On 2nd September 1985, at Kazipet railway station, SI Yadagiri Reddy was shot
dead by unidentified assailants, believed to be naxalites. Next morning his body
was carried in a funeral procession in which a number of armed policemen
participated. The procession was led by the district Superintendent and the Deputy
General of Police. When it neared the Children’s Clinic, a group of policemen
broke into the clinic. They ransacked the clinic and assaulted the compounder and
waiting patients. Then they went into the neighbouring shop, Kalpana Opticals,
where they found Dr. Ramanadham and shot him at point blank range.
Immediately after, a neighbouring doctor took him to Mahatama Gandhi Memorial
Hospital, about two kilometres away. Soon after he was declared dead. With his
death the Warangal unit of APCLC” ceased to function
Four days after his death, police filed a second FIR in the Yadagiri Reddy murder
case, the first murder case to be registered under TADA in Warangal. Dr
Ramanadham was named as accused. However, in the case of the murder of Dr.
Ramanadham, no accused were named. Police maintained that naxalites were
responsible and they had used snatched police revolvers. Two policemen were
suspended for dereliction of duty as their revolvers had been snatched
Barely a year later J. Laxmareddy, President of the Karmmagar unit of APCLC
was killed by police on 7 November 1986. The Warangal unit was revived with
the efforts of N. Prabhakar Reddy who became its convenor. A lawyer by
profession, he was instrumental in obtaining bail for hundreds of rural youth
charged under TADA. On 7 December 1991, police came to his house and shot
him dead.
The murders of civil rights activists are not random acts of violence by a few
deviant policemen. These are part of a larger political policy of the government
against the people. Perhaps the only meaningful way of remembering Dr
Ramanadham is by committing oneself to the movement for democratic rights
and affirming our faith in people’s struggles to implement and extend these
rights.

People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi

Invites you to attend

27th Ramanadham Memorial Meeting

Public Health, Inequality and

Democratic Rights

Speakers:

Dr. Yogesh Jain

Jan Swasthya Sahyog

Topic: Social Inequality and Public Health

Dr. Jacob Puliyal

St. Stephens Hospital, Delhi

Topic: Immunization Programmes and Public Health

Dr. Amit Sen Gupta

People’s Health Movement

Topic: Drug Policy, Pricing and Public Health

Chair

Dr. Ritu Priya Mehrotra

Centre for Social Medicine & Community Health, JNU

8th September, 2012

5 pm – 8pm

Conference Hall

Indian Law Institute

Opp Supreme Court

Bhagwan Das Road

New Delhi

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