THE BLOG

History Can Be Guide to the Craziness in Gun Debate

12/20/2012 09:37 pm 21:37:18 | Updated Feb 19, 2013

The Newtown massacre is yielding debate that is painful to watch: especially the pro-gun lobby's reassurance that 74 percent of National Rifle Association members now agree on background checks for purchasers of weapons. "We're being reasonable," they're saying, "while reminding you that guns don't kill people, it's crazy people shooting guns that kill people."

NRA's tactic is to remain officially silent, while also remaining entrenched in its opposition to any bans on weapons, including its long-standing fight against bans on assault weapons like the Newtown gunman used. That guy had enough ammo to kill every student and teacher in the school and was reportedly deterred from doing that when he killed himself because first responders arrived. A background check would not have prevented his killing spree, because his assault weapons belonged to his fully registered mom.

In these familiar post-slaughter debates between weapon lovers and gun control advocates, history can be a guide to knowing whose claims have merit, and who is fudging the facts. Let us return to the time when people starting wondering if the pervasive smoking of the 1940s and 1950s could possibly be harmful. The tobacco industry responded with ad campaigns -- NOT to claim that tobacco was harmless, but stating that it was actually good for you! White-coated actors wearing stethoscopes were pictured in ads proclaiming: "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette." Another ad featured actor-singer Edmund Lowe claiming: "I protect my voice with Luckies." Radio/TV singer Arthur Godfrey was pictured beside a "Scientific Proof" headline, with copy reassuring readers that smoking Chesterfields was beneficial. Lowe died of lung cancer; Godfrey died of emphysema caused by the radiation treatment for his lung cancer.

President Ronald Reagan was a tobacco spokesperson from his early days in radio and well into his film career. Always shown in a manly pose dangling a cigarette from his lips, Reagan says in one holiday ad that he gave cartons of Chesterfields to all of his friends for Christmas. So how did President Reagan live to age 93, and die of something else, remaining untouched by lung disease? It's simple: It is believed that Reagan smoked only a pipe, early in his career, and that he quit before running for Governor of California.

What the tobacco industry showed us is that those who sell lethal weapons will use wholesome, attractive spokespersons to present phony "research" on their safety. They will even claim that their products benefit society by making us safer.

I live in Florida, sometimes known as "The Gunshine State" because of its long enthusiasm for near unlimited access to buying and wearing weapons. One of our leading pro-gun men is Dennis Baxley, (R) chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who has claimed that schools without guns are dangerous because they make students a targets. Will someone ask him if he believes that students and teachers packing their own weapons would have allowed peace to reign at Sandy Hook Elementary School?

It's easy to spot the craziness in this argument, and the best response is common sense. There is no good reason to sell weapons designed for combat to civilians, and every reason not to. Gun lovers should note that the first victim in Newtown was the owner of the assault weapons, a collector who has been described as "a gun enthusiast."

Six years before an attempt to shoot him, President Reagan wrote an article for Guns & Ammo Magazine stating that, "The right of the citizen to keep and bear arms must not be infringed if liberty in American is to survive." A lone gunman named John Hinckley changed his mind about how gun control can relate to liberty.

As we remember the dead and bereaved in Newtown, let us also remember that it has been over 30 years since that assassination attempt, and that President Reagan's press secretary James Brady was severely injured in that shooting. Brady has campaigned for gun control from his wheelchair ever since. President Reagan came to appreciate Jim Brady's attempts to curb violence in America. Isn't it time we do the same?

CORRECTION: The post initially stated that Ronald Reagen might have smoked cigaretts, but the post now clarifies this assumption by stating that he smoked a pipe at one time but later quit.