Yesterday, I saw that JAMA is not the only group studying the parallels between the plague of gun violence and the problem of smoking. On her show, Rachel Maddow spent a good deal of time comparing the National Smokers Alliance and the NRA; along with the spokesman for cigarette companies, Morton Downey Jr., and Wayne LaPierre, spokesman for the gun industry.
Morton Downey Jr. as it happens got lung cancer. He quickly went from spokesman for cigarettes to anti-smoking activist, and grew to regret what he'd done and blamed the cigarette companies for their lies and obfuscation before he died. As for Wayne LaPierre, well. What are the chances that he will ever have to own up to what he's done, that he will ever regret his spirited defense of gun manufacturers?
Rachel's first segment dealing with this particular issue covered the plight of the tobacco industry, back when C. Everett Koop took them on and beat back their campaign of disinformation, showing the link between cigarettes and their consequences for people's health. The tobacco industry was caught at it, caught lying to people and covering up how cigarettes could harm you. Here I will pull a little from the transcript (I will correct a bit for punctuation).
Facing that turn in the conversation, the companies tried to protect themselves. They tried to protect themselves by in effect creating a heat shield for themself, themselves. A fake populist heat shield that was called the National Smokers Alliance. The idea was to keep the industry itself out of the news and out of the discussion, so it didn't just seem like a fight between one side that cared about your health and another side that wanted to make as much money as it could off of the process of killing you. So it wouldn't seem like it was the industry itself fighting the regulation of smoking and tobacco.Speaking of many as much money as it can, the gun industry! They have a real winner in these 'black rifles,' prone to more accessories than an iPhone, as Wired magazine posted up about it last month. Take Jay Duncan, VP of Sales at Daniel Defense, for example:
“I always tease that it’s like Legos for grown men,” Duncan elaborates, “because there’s plenty of guys that get one, two, six ARs. And they’re constantly tinkering with them — changing barrel lengths, changing optics, putting different sights on them. It’s the same reason that a guy gets into remote-controlled cars or fly tying. Because it’s a fun hobby, and it’s a distraction from reality sometimes.”Rachel Maddow goes on to discuss the National Smokers Alliance, funded by cigarette sales, with its fake grassroots mailers and postcards, and coasters that turned up in bars that said "resist prohibition"! And their fake grassroots recruitment drive...
The next year the newsletter featured the launch of "feet on the street," a nationwide grassroots effort designed to recruit new members. Grassroots, yeah, right. The local papers would soon report this supposedly grassroots effort came with a bounty of 75 cents per head. The tobacco industry would pay to sign people up for their fake front organization that was supposed to look like a popular uprising of smokers getting together to defend their rights.Again...sound familiar?
A recent NRA promotion invited people to join at a discounted $25 rate. In addition to receiving an official membership card, a subscription to an association magazine, and free gun insurance, new members received a $25 gift card for Bass Pro Shops, making the membership essentially free.Yes, the very same NRA that no longer relies on its membership to supply even half of its funding anymore. The NRA, which receives millions from the gun industry through contributions, grants, royalties, advertising, not to mention all those 'round up for the NRA' sales and direct kickbacks on sales from guns and ammo to the NRA -- and why not direct, the NRA's activities contribute just as directly to gunmakers' profits. The NRA turns right around and spends that money offering discounts like the one above cited by ThinkProgress, essentially free plus free gun insurance, plus all kinds of other little financial incentives. It's not quite so crass as handing cash directly to people for signing up, or attending a rally -- at least, not that I've found, yet. It's just a little more subtle than the tobacco industry's failed grassroots efforts. But it still looks like astroturf to me.
One important difference between once-big tobacco and now-big guns: accountability.
Pursuant to being hounded in the courts, to being sued for selling a product that when used as directed can kill you, the chief executives of the nation's tobacco companies got hauled into congress to get asked the miserable questions they had sought for so long to avoid. The industry wanted to stay out of the debate. They paid to invent a whole fake smokers rights group to debate in public so they wouldn't have to. But it didn't work. They couldn't get away from the lawsuits. So they couldn't get away from congress. So they couldn't get away from the public. They could not hide. Welcome to the spotlight of accountability. It's hot, isn't it?
That's where we still are, today. And this is what the NRA represents, today. They are the 'heat shield,' as Rachel put it: the virulent, loudmouth defenders, the fake grassroots, the guys out there taking the heat so the gunmakers don't have to. And they're not, right now. I don't see them getting hauled before Congress.
Rachel's second segment details the NRA in particular, how they are doing what the tobacco companies tried to do with the National Smokers Alliance, but the gun manufacturers have done it better. Whether it's that immunity from lawsuits, or the vacant position of ATF director, or the open seats for judges that haven't been filled because the gun industry doesn't like the look of a candidate.
Before this gets too long, I'll close with the recommendations from JAMA regarding our past successes with public health problems, and how these could be applied to the problem of gun violence. Just as cigarettes were taxed to reflect their cost to society, and the revenues used to make change in society, so guns and ammo could also be taxed. And, sooner or later, that unique immunity the gunmakers currently enjoy has to be challenged.
6:24 PM PT: Rachel Maddow is again dedicating some time this evening to the topic of the NRA, gun manufacturers, and their immunity from liability that the NRA and state and federal legislators have given them.
Meanwhile, the Colorado state legislature may pass their gun control measures tonight. So it goes.
(Cross-posted at The Tytalan Way on Wordpress.)
9:39 PM PT: Democrats in Colorado's state legislature just passed a ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 15 bullets. After reading what I could find, I eventually found a livestream...
I watched the last gasps of Republican stalling, they turned a couple of Democrats away but not enough to kill the bill. We'll see if Magpul abandons the state. Some right-wingers on Twitter are exploding as I write.
The times, they are a-changin'.