Insanity Extends Beyond the Shooters

by Walter Brasch

During this past week, in Scranton, Pa., a 16-year old put two bullets into the head of a taxi driver and then stole about $500 earned by the cabbie that evening.

The teen, who showed no remorse when arrested a few hours later, mumbled a few words about his reasons. He said he murdered the cabbie “‘Cause that’s what I do to people that don’t listen.” The teen thought the cabbie was taking too long to get him to his destination. The driver was a 47-year-old man with a wife and two children. The gun was an unlicensed 9-mm.

A few days later, in Payson, Ariz., a three-year-old boy found a loaded semi-automatic gun in the apartment of family friend, began playing with it, and accidentally killed his 18-month-old brother. Police recovered several other weapons from the apartment.

In Homestead, Fla., a 28-year-old man, who admitted he was drinking and using cocaine, was showing off an AK-47 at a picnic. His six-year-old nephew picked up the gun when no one was watching, played with it, and accidentally killed his own grandfather.

In Isla Vista, Calif., a 22-year-old man with a history of mental problems, stabbed his three roommates, and then drove near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. In about 10 minutes, he murdered three more students and wounded 13 more before committing suicide.  Police say the killer had three 9 mm. weapons and about 400 rounds of ammunition, all of it purchased legally.

The father of one of those killed, to a standing cheering crowd of 20,000 at a memorial service, called for an end of gun violence. “How many more people are going to have to die in this situation before the problem gets solved?” he demanded.  He accused politicians of having “done nothing” to stop the mass murders. He had previously told journalist Anderson Cooper that politicians had called him to express their sympathies.  But the father said he told the politicians, “Don’t tell me you’re sorry about my son’s death until you do something.” At the football stadium, the father, who had carefully prepared his speech, declared his son’s murder, and those of five other students, and those of thousands a year who were killed by gunfire, “died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.” The grieving father said, “Too many people have died, and there should be not one more.” The crowd picked up on his words, and began chanting, “Not one more!”

More than 2,300 miles to the East, Samuel Wurzelbacher, forever known as “Joe the Plumber” after he became the darling of the extreme right wing during the 2008 presidential campaign, again crawled out of a hole to defend what he believed was his God-given right to defend gun rights. In an open letter, he pretended to be sympathetic to the families of those murdered, but declared, “Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” With mangled grammar, he then told a grieving nation, “The proliferation of guns, lobbyists, politicians, etc.; will be exploited by gun-grab extremists as are all tragedies involving gun violence and the mentally ill by the anti-Second Amendment Left.”

After the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, that left 26 dead, including 20 children between the ages of six and eight, America seemed determined to finally act against irresponsible purchase and ownership of guns. But, politicians with spines of Jello went into the fetal position before the financially-lucrative NRA support, and refused to improve laws about background checks for gun sales, whether from a dealer, at a gun show, from companies that advertise in any of several dozen gun magazines, or on the Internet; they refused to ban assault weapons; and they refused to restrict the size of gun magazines.

A CBS poll revealed about 85 percent of all Americans, including gun owners, support federal legislation to require thorough background checks on all persons planning to buy a gun. Apparently, the NRA leadership, far more reactionary than most of its members, believes hunters and those protecting their houses from burglars or the “jack-booted thugs” the NRA leadership once called federal law enforcement agents, need military-style assault weapons with a 100-round magazines.

Just as politicians crave NRA money, the NRA knows it has millions of dollars of funding from gun manufacturers. Last year, American gun manufacturers earned about $12.6 billion from the sale of more than 5.5 million firearms, about half of them handguns. About 60 percent of the sales went to civilians, according to the Department of Justice. Another three million guns were imported. There are more than 310 million firearms in civilian possession, according to the FBI. The United States has one of the highest rates for gun violence in the world.

Joe the Plumber and NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre, significant blemishes upon the Constitution and the principles of the Judeo-Christian philosophy, will continue to get media exposure. Their names will continue to be known. Their paranoid rants will continue to draw praise from hundreds of thousands who don’t know much about the Constitution, and believe President Obama-whom they know to be a Kenyan socialist Muslim-is secretly plotting to seize every one of their guns and turn the United States into a dictatorship.

Within a few weeks, as other murders are committed, we will forget the names of those killed this past week.  Their names will no longer be important; how they were killed will no longer matter. But before we develop mass amnesia, and begin to believe that murder is just a part of the American culture, let’s take a few moments to remember. In Scranton, the 47-year-old cabbie, a mechanic who had slightly more than a month earlier changed jobs, is Vincent Darbenzio. The grandfather in Florida is Juan Manuel Martinez Sr. In Isla Vista, the students killed were George Chen, 19 years old; Cheng Hong, 20; Katerine Cooper, 22; Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20; Weihan Wang, 20; and Veronika Weiss, 19. (Chris’s father, Richard, is the one who publicly called out politicians and the NRA.)

During the week they and the 18-month-old in Arizona died, there were about 200 more deaths from firearms, according to the FBI. Few of those deaths made anything more than a two-column newspaper headline, the story usually confined just to local news. During this year, more than 32,000 will be killed by firearms; about 2,000 will be children.

The NRA leadership and the few extremists it protects mouth the mantra of the gun culture-“guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They screech the paranoid fear that all guns will be registered and then confiscated. These juveniles trapped in the bodies of adults ignorantly bleat that if they or their children had been armed, the only one killed would be the person who committed the mass shootings. What they don’t acknowledge is that even the better-trained, better-armed police were unable to kill the shooter. They say there needs to be better laws against those with mental illnesses having guns. That part is true.

But also true is that the lack of sane gun laws, which protect all people-including gun owners-is because the insanity is not just those who commit murder, but many who wrap themselves in the Second Amendment, ignorantly proclaiming, with no legal knowledge, they have a right to keep whatever arms and ammunition they want, and any gun law violates whatever they think is their ego-inflated divine inspiration.

[Dr. Brasch is author of 20 books; the latest ones are Fracking Pennsylvania and Collateral Damage in the Marcellus Shale. He is also a semi-active trap shooter.]

 

Olympians Medal in London, While the NRA Meddles in Harrisburg

by WALTER BRASCH

Shortly before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on an amendment last December that would ban pigeon shoots, the Pennsylvania Flyers Association sent out a bulletin it marked as “urgent.”

“We must act now to preserve our sport,” the Flyers screeched. In a separate letter, the Flyers told its members they “should be very proud that your association has been able to keep the sport alive in PA [sic] for the last 27 years.” For added support, the notice referred to an NRA release, which called pigeon shooting a “Pennsylvania Sporting Tradition.”

Shooting live pigeons in a confined area isn’t a sport. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals, and continues to refuse to classify it as a “sport.” At that Olympics, the only time someone could earn a medal for cruelty, 300 birds were killed.

While 11,000 athletes from 205 countries continue to excel at the Olympics in London, 75 pretend hunters and faux sportsmen are at the Wing Pointe club near Hamburg, Pa., this weekend where they are shooting more than 10 times the number of pigeons killed at the 1900 Olympics.

Scared and undernourished, the birds are placed into small traps and then released 30 yards in front of people with shotguns. Most birds are hit as they are launched. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States.

If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off with shears, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. At Wing Pointe, birds are just thrown into a heap, with wounded birds left to die from suffocation. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police. At Wing Pointe, each shooter pays a $290 entry fee. According to the rules, each shooter “must play $200.00 anywhere.” Pigeon shooters and the public can gamble more than that, with the club taking a percentage of the “official” bets. A high stakes, invitation-only poker game adds to the opportunity to lose more than a month’s house mortgage.

Wing Pointe earns even more from its pro shop and from shooters and their guests who stay at its luxury suites it claims is “the perfect retreat after you have spent the day enjoying our Sports Shooting playground.”

The failure to ban pigeon shoots leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, can openly shoot pigeons which have just been released from the traps. The NRA claims pigeon shoots are legal in 35 states; however, because those states enforce animal cruelty laws, Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has openly held pigeon shoots. Pigeon shoots are held in southeastern Pennsylvania in Berks County at Wing Pointe, after the Strausstown Gun Club and the Pikeville Gun Club discontinued them; in Bucks County at the Philadelphia Gun Club, Bensalem; in Dauphin County at the Erdman Shoot; and in Northumberland County at a relatively unorganized Berm Gun Club, near Dalmatia. The notorious Hegins Pigeon Shoot, in which more than 5,000 birds were killed or injured every Labor Day weekend, was finally cancelled in 1999 after the state Supreme Court ruled that humane society police officers could arrest participants for committing acts of animal cruelty.

District Attorneys John Adams (Berks) and David Heckler (Bucks) have both refused to prosecute persons accused of cruelty by a Humane Society police officer. Johnna Seeton has filed charges of cruelty to animals in both counties and in all cases the DAs withdrew her charges. A mandamus case is pending against Adams to require him to comply with the law; in 2010, Adams took $500 in campaign donations from the NRA Political Victory Fund. An ethics complaint has been filed against Heckler.

Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty. But Pennsylvania legislators refuse to ban pigeon shoots, fearful of losing NRA campaign funds, the coveted A+ rating, and what could be a vicious attack upon their re-election bids. Even a grade of “B” by the NRA causes some legislators to cower in fear.

The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claims that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns and, thus, destroying the 2nd Amendment. To those scared by fear-mongers in the NRA and the Pennsylvania Flyers, that was bred solely to support pigeon shoots, the Humane Society-which the NRA calls “radical” and “extremist,” and the Flyers calls “animalist zealots”-carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments restricts firearms ownership or usage. However, a paranoid NRA leadership claims banning pigeon shoots would be the “slippery slope” to gun restrictions.

The NRA, says Prescott, misrepresents its members, “most of whom do not support or condone pigeon shoots.”

Pennsylvania allows lobbyists to call legislators off the floor to discuss legislation. NRA lobbyists and their PACs have been vigorous in “explaining” the consequences of a legislator who opposes the NRA philosophy-and in backing it up with campaign contributions. During the 2010 election year, the NRA Political Victory Fund donated $4,500 in direct contributions and $389,696.85 in in-kind contributions to Republican Tom Corbett, who would be elected governor.

But the NRA and its allies are now on the defensive, after taking hits by the public for their unyielding stand in support of the right of owning assault weapons with 100-round magazines, for which no hunter or target shooter has any need. Somehow, in a collective mind with scrambled brain cells, the NRA leadership is unable to distinguish between legitimate hunting and animal cruelty.

In Pennsylvania, the NRA is making a stand. Associating with just about the friendliest state for what it claims is “gun rights,” the NRA has dug in; it knows that if the state bans pigeon shoots, NRA influence will diminish. And so, it continues to pump out fear-mongering press releases, lobbies hard, and freely spreads what is known as the “mother’s milk of politics,” all to a group of legislators too afraid to oppose what they think is NRA strength.

This week, we see two conflicting scenes.

There are no cowards in the Olympics.

But there sure are enough in Wing Pointe and the Pennsylvania legislature.

[For the past 25 years, Walter Brasch has been covering pigeon shoots and the campaign to ban them as an inhumane practice. Dr. Brasch was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues novel, Before the First Snow, that discusses animal rights, ant-war, the base for the anti-fracking protests, and other issues.]