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OP/ED: Common-sense gun laws are needed to combat the NRA’s war

By Laurent F. Gilbert

The NRA’s war against America. That’s right, the new National Rifle Association is not the old NRA that published an outstanding magazine called “Field and Stream.” It enjoyed the support of hunters and sports enthusiasts all over the country.

As time wore on, the leadership got into bed with the gun-making industry and through its minions went to war on any and all gun legislation under the guise of protecting the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Even strict constructionist and right-leaning Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has said that the right to bear arms isn’t absolute and could be changed in the future. As far as I’m concerned, the future is now.

When will we, as law-abiding citizens, demand that our legislators develop enough intestinal fortitude and political will to enact legislation to hopefully reduce the needless deaths that occur daily in our country? That’s right, 34 people are killed every day with the use of guns. That’s well over 12,000 people killed with the use of guns every year. Add to that another 18,000 suicides for a total of 30,000 deaths. That comes close to the entire population of Lewiston wiped out in one year. The NRA fights everything and anything that could reduce these needless deaths. To me, that is their war on America!

As a former police officer I have investigated homicides, murder-suicides and suicides, many with the use of firearms. In one instance when we had a three-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, a mother of several children wanted to buy a handgun at a pawn shop. She paid for it, and the shop owner told her she could pick it up in three days.

She said she wanted it immediately because she wanted to kill herself. The shop owner called us; we brought her into the police station and we called her husband. We were able to get her the psychological help she needed. To this day, I still see her around town and this occurred over 30 years ago.

On a beautiful Sunday morning as the “on call detective,” I was called in to investigate a suicide with a high-powered rifle. I walked in the room and looked at the victim; the only thing left of his head was the face. The remainder of his head was spread throughout the room, including the ceiling, walls, curtains, etc. When I got back to police headquarters to type my report, I felt something sticky in my hair. It was brain matter from the scene of the suicide that had dripped on my head. Before I had a chance to finish my report, I was called to another suicide where a young man killed himself with a shotgun.

Some will say if a person wants to commit suicide, they can do so by other means. That is true; but suicide by gun is so immediate. I have seen attempts by cutting a wrist or overdosing on drugs, and those folks were saved. A new sunrise can make all the difference with a person contemplating suicide.

I have also investigated murders with my counterparts from the State Police assigned to the Attorney General’s Office.

I remember once at about 1:30 a.m., I as a patrol officer and another officer were called to a domestic incident way out on the outskirts of the city. Both of us officers had young families at the time. We drove into the driveway, which faced the end of a mobile home. There was a spotlight shining on the driveway. We got out of the cruiser and walked to the side door. We immediately noticed the broken glass in the storm door and a large hole in the door. I peered through the window to the kitchen and saw the man of the house sitting at the table with a 12-gauge shotgun and a .44 magnum pistol on the table.

As I kept an eye on him, my fellow officer knocked on the door, and the woman of the house answered the knock. She said everything was fine now. The officer told her we would have to come in and make sure. I went in first and moved immediately to the weapons and passed them back to my fellow officer as I addressed the man. He said: “I was going to shoot you guys as you drove up, but I changed my mind.”

We would have been “dead ducks” exiting the cruiser.

What would have happened to our families had that man shot us? Unfortunately, we have had that happen to three local families with the deaths of Officers Paul Simard, David Payne and Giles Landry, all killed with the use of firearms.

Why do I bring up a few of my experiences as a police officer? It is to show you, the reader, a glimpse of what gun violence means right here locally. We are not immune!

We have had the killings in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora and now Sandy Brooke, where 20 elementary-school children and six others were killed by a very sick individual with an “assault rifle” and semi-automatic pistols. Two issues immediately rise to the surface in order to do something about these needless murders. We need good, common-sense gun legislation and background checks on all gun sales to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Well, guess what, the NRA is off to war with its millions of dollars lobbying for the gun industry. They immediately put out scare tactics that the federal government is coming to confiscate your guns, so they need to arm themselves against the government. Gun sales rise through the roof, and the gun industry makes millions of dollars over this paranoia. This in and of itself causes me to wonder if those who think this way should be in possession of a gun.

I have spent years fighting for good, common-sense gun legislation at both the state and national level. In the 1990s we were successful with the Brady Bill and the Gun Control Act of 1994.

I served on the Board of Directors of Maine Citizens Against Gun Violence and I joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) in 2007 when there were only 150 member mayors from throughout the country. Today there are 834 member mayors. Why do you think that is? The first duty of elected officials is to protect their citizenry. That’s why mayors are joining together to hopefully bring about good gun legislation to hopefully end or reduce this carnage.

Wayne La Pierre, executive vice-president of the NRA, shortly before the Oklahoma City bombing wrote a fundraising letter describing federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs” who wear “Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms.” Former president George H.W. Bush was so angered by that letter that he resigned his NRA life membership.

Now after the massacre at Sandy Brook Elementary School, LaPierre blamed gun violence on “gun-free zones,” violent movies and video games. Only a month after that incident, the NRA developed an app for iPhones for children as young as four-years-old to select any of several types of guns to shoot at coffin-like targets. This man has absolutely no credibility by putting out this most insensitive game for kids to shoot at coffins. It truly is sickening!

LaPierre also said: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-founder of MAIG, said: “But the truth is that sometimes the good guys get shot and sometimes they even get killed. Washington is letting the bad guys shoot our police officers, our children, our neighbors. That has to stop right now. And there are immediate steps our legislators can take right now.” Good, common-sense comprehensive legislations will help tremendously.

Even if we armed every school with a police officer, would one be enough to cover an entire school when some “bad guy with guns” comes in with “assault rifles” that hold clips of 30 rounds to amass his carnage? Certainly, Columbine had a deputy sheriff in the school and Virginia Tech had what amounted to a SWAT team.

Last August we saw where two New York City police officers shot at a gunman outside the Empire State building and fired 16 rounds. Aside from the gunman being killed, nine individuals were either hit by shrapnel or were hit by bullets from the officer’s guns. Who thinks anything different might happen in a school building full of kids?

To me, what makes more sense is to outlaw multi-round clips for rifles. Who needs 30 rounds to go hunting? If so, that shooter is a worse shot than I am. To me, those who want assault rifles that are built to resemble guns used for war want that “macho” feeling. That, in and of itself, is scary.

We need background checks on every gun sale in America. We also need to build a database of those who have been adjudicated mentally ill. To date, in Maine, only 35 out of 11,078 have been submitted to the federal database. There is little wonder why mentally ill individuals who can easily buy guns go out and kill people. But, hey, the NRA won’t allow it and will target elected officials if they dare to enact such legislation.

The NRA put out a television ad calling President Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for his skepticism about the NRA’s proposal to put armed guards in schools, while concomitantly accepting Secret Service protection for his daughters. How ignorant and sick! Does LaPierre ever think that the president’s children might be more at risk of being taken hostage or killed than children of ordinary Americans? This is La Pierre’s NRA war.

Not everything the NRA does is bad. They have developed a wonderful educational program for child safety. It is called “Eddie the Eagle” Program. As Lewiston’s police chief, I put it into place in all of the fourth grades of Lewiston schools to include parochial schools at the time. It simply taught “If you see a gun; don’t touch; leave the area; and tell an adult.” Now, that made a great deal of sense. Why won’t they work towards reasonable means of protecting children today? Why, because it is their war and the war of the gun industry to simply make money and more money!

When I ran for my last term as mayor, just prior to the election, the NRA targeted us who were members of MAIG by sending postcards to its members opposing us members of MAIG. I got calls and e-mails from NRA members both in and out of the city. One caller said to me: “I have my absentee ballot in my hand and I want to know if you are going to get out of that Bloomberg (MAIG) organization?” I told him: “I guess you’re going to vote against me.”

Elected officials have got to develop some intestinal fortitude and political will to do the what’s right for the safety of our citizenry. That is their first priority. Are they more concerned about keeping their job or doing what they should? If not, we don’t need them in their elected office. The next thing they need to do is to stop subsidizing the gun industry. States have done so to the tune of $19 million of your hard-earned tax dollars. These are more instances of “corporate welfare.” They are doing just fine on their own with the NRA lobbying for them.

Even the Vatican has chimed in on the gun violence in this country. It praised President Obama’s proposal to curb gun violence. It described the arms industry as being fueled by “enormous economic and power interests.”

I could go on to write chapters, but I will end here. I think I’ve given enough fodder for those members of the NRA who have been brainwashed by its leadership to respond and fill more pages of this weekly paper. I speak to those of you who are rational thinkers, and I mean good gun owners. You are in the significant majority of Americans who support improved gun legislation.

Bipartisan pollsters have reported that three-quarters of our populations supports such legislation. Let’s hope that this time elected official will listen!

Larry Gilbert is a former mayor and former police chief of Lewiston. He also served as a U.S. Marshal for the District of Maine.

2 Responses to “OP/ED: Common-sense gun laws are needed to combat the NRA’s war”

  • council:

    I appreciate your thoughts sir, I can not imagine what it is like to deal with society from a law enforcement side of things, that being said everyone on both sides of this debate must remember that there is more at stake here than ones personal feelings on the matter. I am not a member of the NRA nor do I wish to be, I am however educated in history. I do not wish history to repeat itself in events such as Columbine, Virginia Tech or Newtown. I also do not want history to repeat itself in events such as the holocaust, Bloody Sunday, and the events that have been transpiring in the middle east. Many of the people murdered by governments are innocent citizens just trying to survive.
    One reason people do not want the government to infringe on the right to bear arms is because of the possibility that a government or group will use weapons against the people. The right to self defense should never be questioned as it is our instinct to protect ourselves in the event of adversity.
    The only reason I bring this up sir is the hypocrisy of the current government. Recently the Department of Homeland Security put an order of 750 million hollow point rounds..( )
    . In a country where we pay over 600 billion dollars in verified defense each year I would say the people need to keep in mind that the government has a massive amount of power at their disposal and are obviously not afraid to use it against who they see as threats, either foreign or domestic.
    I truly agree that there needs to be open discussion on the matter of firearms in the hands of citizens. There is no question that a person who has mental issues should not be able to have a firearm, unfortunately that is hard to enforce and banning firearms completely may cause more incidents or issues than not banning them.

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