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Paul Helmke

Paul Helmke

Posted: February 12, 2011 04:15 PM

After a month of silence following the horrifying Tucson shootings, the NRA's "top gun", Wayne LaPierre, returned to his same old talking points before the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. this week. His speech consisted of a string of opportunistic arguments for even weaker gun laws, ignoring completely the tragic reality of what actually happened on January 8th outside that Safeway store.

"If Tucson taught us anything, it taught us this: Government failed. And when they tell you that a ban on assault weapons can make you safer, don't buy it," LaPierre raged. "These clowns want to ban magazines? Are you kidding me?

"Their laws don't work, their lies aren't true. By its laws and lies and lack of enforcement, government policies are getting us killed," LaPierre told the audience that gave him a standing ovation.

I'm not surprised that LaPierre misstated the facts and that he and his disciples missed the true lessons of yet another mass shooting. They've got their act of blindness to commonsense down to a science. It helps them with their agenda: any gun, for anybody, any place, and any time.

But Americans who are seeking answers and who are willing to learn from tragedies can see clearly from Tucson that it's time to do something now to keep weapons out of the hands of the dangerously mentally-ill, drug abusers, and other dangerous and irresponsible people who shouldn't have such easy access to guns, or the high capacity ammunition magazines that allow them to fire over 30 rounds in just 15 seconds.

The Tucson shooting did not occur in a state or city with restrictive gun laws, Mr. LaPierre, or in one of your so-called "gun-free" zones. The killer was not deterred by Arizona's policy of allowing any gun owner to carry loaded guns in public without a permit, and was not stopped by the nearby citizens with guns at the shopping center -- he was stopped when his ammo magazine emptied, something that would have happened 20 bullets earlier if the 1994 ban on those killing tools had not been allowed to expire in 2004.

Last Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of former president -- and conservative icon -- Ronald Reagan. Nowhere has that celebration been more evident than at CPAC, whose members desperately seek to clothe themselves in the mantle of Reagan's legacy. Speaker after speaker evoked the memory and wisdom of the nation's 40th president in honor of his 100th birthday. Considering those sentiments, it is odd that LaPierre would go to CPAC to spout insults, such as "clowns" and "liars" to denounce government policies endorsed by very man CPAC and conservatives across the country have spent the week honoring.

President Reagan was a life member of the NRA who often expressed his belief in an individual's right to bear arms. But he demonstrated in his words and by his actions that he had a common sense understanding that there should be reasonable restrictions on the availability of guns. For example, in contrast to the NRA's current push for more guns in more hands in more places, Reagan administration policy kept dangerous weapons out of national parks.

Regarding calls for sensible gun laws in the wake of Tucson, LaPierre told CPAC attendees that "political elites" were trying to fool Americans into believing that "if we just pass another law or two we can stop a madman bent on a streak of violence."

It appears obvious that, unlike LaPierre, Ronald Reagan learned a much different lesson from a mass shooting involving an elected official. Expressing a view diametrically opposite LaPierre's, Reagan, whom no CPAC member would associate with the political elite, sent a letter in 1991 to Time Magazine titled "Why I'm For the Brady Bill."

Ten years after being wounded along with three others, including his Press Secretary James Brady, in an assassination attempt by a mentally-dangerous individual, Reagan wrote:

"This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now -- the Brady Bill -- had been law back in 1981."

Following Tucson, many people in our country hope to stop the recurring nightmare of mass shootings by limiting access to high-capacity ammunition magazines. Thanks to a high-capacity magazine, the deranged Tucson shooter managed to kill six people and wounded 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, in a matter of seconds. Even so, LaPierre suggested to CPAC that banning assault weapons was some kind of joke.

Reagan, despite being known for his sense of humor, didn't find the concept funny at all. In May 1994, the former president asked Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons.

"We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons," read a letter from Reagan along with former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. "While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals."

Ronald Reagan applied common sense, reason and respect for the sentiments of the American people on the issues of guns and gun violence. LaPierre, who even ignores the opinions of the majority of NRA members who favor reasonable restrictions on guns, doesn't come close to applying Reagan's wisdom.

Even if LaPierre can't grasp the true lessons of Tucson, perhaps in the midst of the celebration of Ronald Reagan he can learn something about the steps true leaders are willing to take to curb gun violence in our country.

Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Follow the Brady Campaign on Facebook and Twitter. This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on The Brady Campaign site.