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The President vs. The NRA
Published on Friday, March 17, 2000 in the Boston Globe
The President vs. The NRA
by Derrick Jackson

The drive-by political shootings by the National Rifle Association are less remarkable for their occurrence than for the seven years of hapless responses from President Clinton.

For all of the terror inflicted on Capitol Hill, all Clinton has done is flail his arms and rail impotently as the thugs speed away. Unlike bullhorn-wielding women and marching men in inner cities who turn stoops and sidewalks into bully pulpits to drive out violent drug dealers, Clinton has only whimpered as the bullies steal his pulpit.

Despite the unrivaled distinction of the United States as the murder capital of the developed world, the NRA has opposed all attempts to stem the proliferation of guns. Whenever Congress seems the least interested in the most minor of gun restrictions, the NRA invokes images of Nazism. Its two decades of calling federal firearms agents ''jackbooted thugs'' drove former President George Bush to resign his NRA membership in 1995.

Bush was no friend of gun control, but friends of his in the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms were killed in Oklahoma City and Waco.

Bush's resignation should have discredited the NRA for good. Yet the gun lobby is still speeding away, with no one brave enough to give chase.

Even after several recent school shootings, office shootings, and racist and anti-Semitic killing sprees, the Congress has yet to pass laws for background checks at gun shows. The NRA has prodded 14 states to pass laws that attempt to block cities from suing gun makers.

The gun industry and the NRA have so far gotten three city lawsuits thrown out of court - in Cincinnati, Miami, and Bridgeport, Conn. A grass-roots campaign by the gun lobby recently forced Citibank to reverse its ban on business with gun manufacturers.

Of course, that is nothing compared to the latest NRA terrorist attack. In response to the killing of a 6-year-old girl by a 6-year-old boy in Michigan, Clinton renewed his call for background checks. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the man with the AK mouth, fired back by saying Clinton has made the NRA a scapegoat while lazily enforcing existing gun laws.

Within the last week, LaPierre said, ''President Clinton is willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda,'' and that the death of former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong ''is on the president's hands ... that blood is on his hands.''

Ironically, but not in the way LaPierre thinks, Clinton does bear responsibility. Clearly, in a nation where 32,000 people died from firearms in 1997, and with ample data to show that gun proliferation leads to more deaths, the NRA has far more blood on its hands than the president.

Clinton can no longer hide behing the excuse that a Republican-led Congress is responsible for blocking gun control. After seven years in office, the president's failure to use his bully pulpit to goad Congress into action on our 200 million-plus guns has become a defeated acquiescence to them. Acquiescence to guns means accepting a certain level of killing.

For seven years, Clinton has been more the befuddled victim of the NRA than the clear-eyed crusader against it. He has repeatedly said these shootings make no sense, knowing full well that England and other countries made instant sense out of gun violence by banning handguns.

Early in his presidency, Clinton demanded that black people stand up to inner-city gun violence. In many corners they did, including here in Boston. Now it is Clinton's turn to stand up to guns for all of America.

The NRA has given him a golden opening, going from calling federal agents jackbooted thugs to all but saying the president is a murderer. So far, Clinton has laughed it off. ''I have so much scar tissue now, I can't even feel it,'' Clinton said this week. ''So it's totally immaterial to me what they say.''

But while Clinton jokes about the scar tissue caused by wounds by the NRA, he can claim no direct hits on the NRA in his seven years in office.

If he does not use the final months of his presidency to wage an all-out assault on the NRA's power and our mindless proliferation of guns, then all his words and hugs are meaningless. His words - particularly if progun George W. Bush is elected president - will become totally immaterial.

As of now, the NRA has committed another drive-by political shooting. As it speeds away, one can see an object sticking out of the trunk. It is President Clinton's bully pulpit.

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe columnist.

Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company


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