The greatest trick the devil ever pulled: How the NRA won the war while nobody was really looking

The gun lobby has scored earth-shattering victories on the state level. Why is no one paying attention?

By Bob Cesca
Published January 11, 2016 4:05PM (EST)
 Wayne LaPierre (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Wayne LaPierre (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Let's cut to the chase. As of this month, it's legal to open carry firearms in Texas. Specifically, it's legal to open carry firearms inside Texas' 10 state psychiatric hospitals -- even in areas of the hospital occupied by patients. Yeah. What could possibly go wrong?

Another newly enacted Texas law sanctions any state facilities from posting signs suggesting "no guns."

The only barrier to carrying firearms on psychiatric hospital campuses is to, well, discourage it. Carrie Williams, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health, told The American-Statesman,

"While licensed visitors are legally permitted to carry on our hospital campuses, our patients are being actively treated for psychiatric conditions, and generally it’s best not to expose them to weapons of any kind."

Elsewhere, Matt Rinaldi, a Republican state representative who voted for the lifting of the ban, left the onus of preventing gun violence at the hospitals up to the administrators of the facilities. Rinaldi told The American-Statesman, "It’s the responsibility of the operators of the facilities to ensure that the patients are not around dangerous weapons." If that's the case, why not keep the ban in place?

The irony at the tip of the iceberg is the fact that the NRA, along with the NRA-owned Republican Party, has routinely supported the notion of keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. Every time there's a gun massacre and reasonable Americans line up to support reasonable gun regulations, the usual suspects accuse us of infringing upon their constitutional liberty, while also calling for laws to include mental health databases in the background check system. In fact, the NRA's resident mental patient, Wayne LaPierre, demanded exactly that in the wake of the Colorado Springs and San Bernardino shootings.

(By the way, LaPierre and the NRA are clearly in favor of infringing upon the Second Amendment rights, as well as the privacy rights, of the mentally ill. Why are these particular infringements acceptable, yet expanding background checks to include internet sales is an unacceptable trespass? Clearly there's room for exceptions to the Second Amendment. Why is one exception, background checks, a slippery slope to tyranny, but not another? Don't hold your breath waiting for a logical answer to that question.)

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 88 laws have been passed at the state level to weaken gun regulations since the Sandy Hook gun massacre in December 2012. This is the equivalent of, say, passing 88 different laws in the wake of 9/11 that weaken security and law enforcement measures. Ten of those pro-gun laws were ghoulishly proposed and passed in just the immediate months after Sandy Hook. The only post-Newtown responses more reprehensible were the various AR-15 giveaways coordinated by both gun dealers and even a member of Congress. The AR-15, was of course Adam Lanza's weapon of choice at Sandy Hook. Returning to our 9/11 metaphor, imagine if a sitting member of Congress held a contest after 9/11 in which he was giving away box cutters and airline tickets to New York.

Meanwhile, Congress has failed to do a goddamn thing on the gun control front. Until last week, neither did President Obama, for that matter. Obviously, this is entirely in keeping with the trend that Republican legislatures at the state level are doing the greatest damage, while Washington sits on its collective hands.

While most political activists, as well as the political press, are focusing on Trump, Obama, Clinton and federal-level politics, the states are quietly passing laws that, 1) restrict access to voting, 2) restrict access to reproductive healthcare services, and, 3) loosen regulations on guns. Essentially, Republicans at the state level are making it easier to buy a gun, but harder to vote and considerably more difficult to have an abortion or to attain affordable contraception.

Sure, it's great fun to follow the antics of Congress and the White House, not to mention the presidential campaign and its Pavlovian food pellets of insanity. Indeed, it seems like state level Republicans would prefer that Democratic and left-leaning activists are busily debating Bernie versus Hillary, or Trump versus Cruz, or Obama versus Congress, or Sarah Palin versus words. While the rest of us are engaged in the daily argle-bargle, new voter ID laws, new Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws curbing abortion rights, along with new open carry and stand-your-ground laws are being easily passed.

This represents perhaps the most nefariously ingenious and successful GOP electoral gambit in modern history.

In the last 30 years, the Republicans have systematically infiltrated government from the school board level and up. 23 states are completely controlled by Republicans -- the governorship and both houses of the state legislatures. Sixty eight of the 98 state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans. That's a party record. And the benefits of this strategy are obvious. Eight eight pro-gun laws since Sandy Hook, when gun control should've easily passed with supermajority support from voters, including Republicans. Forty seven state laws were passed in 2015 restricting abortion access. Thirty states have enacted Voter ID laws, even though the rate of voter fraud is so hilarious minuscule it barely exists at all. Every single one of these laws benefit the Republicans, especially the voter ID laws, which ultimately restrict voting access to registered Democrats.

So, hey, what the hell did Trump say today?

While the Democrats might feel (dangerously) confident in their prospects for the White House in 2016, what good will it do when the GOP continues to seize control over more states, thus making it more difficult for Democrats to vote in the first place? Sure, Obama is expanding background checks -- the least he can do without doing nothing. But the GOP is running circles around Democratic leaders at the state level, and yet no one seems to be paying attention. The Democrats only give a rip when there's a forlorn effort to filibuster an anti-abortion law in Texas, or after it's too late to do anything other laws, since word only gets out after they're passed.

State politics aren't sexy. State politics seldom generate clicks or retweets. The popularity of state politics is entirely incongruous with its importance. Now that gun-toting yokels will be parading around mental hospitals in Texas, ostensibly carrying everything from handguns to AR-15s, the stakes couldn't be higher, and the urgency for Democratic apparatchiks, as well as the viewing public, to pay more attention to state politics -- sexy or not -- couldn't be more urgent.

Obama Calls Out NRA For Skipping Town Hall On Guns

Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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Aol_on Gun Control Gun Lobby The 2nd Amendment The Nra Wayne Lapierre