In the dark aftermath of the weekend’s slaughter in Texas and Ohio, I had lunch with two former Baltimore police and a former deputy state’s attorney. Between them, they have roughly a hundred years of law enforcement experience, which means a century’s worth of dealing with guns and killing and our great national frustration.
They have a word for people who write our laws and can’t figure out a way to slow the American gunfire. The word is “idiots.” We can add another word: “sell-outs.” But we’ll get to our cowardly political leaders in a moment.
Not only do we know how to cut into the gunfire — we know that the overwhelming percentage of Americans want their lawmakers to do it.
By large measure, Americans want background checks before the sale of guns and ammunition. They want to end all sales of military-style weapons. They want to end sales to people with criminal backgrounds, to those with domestic violence in their backgrounds, or mental illness. They want age restrictions. They want lawsuits against gun manufacturers.
What Americans don’t talk about — not in any serious way — is any sort of gun roundups. You know, the kind the National Rifle Association always talks about when they’re serving up scare tactics. Watch out, the NRA says, they’re coming for your guns.
No, they’re not.
Nobody’s coming for anybody’s guns. Nobody talks about such a thing except the NRA when they’re trying to raise money to bribe congress. Sane people know it’s an impossible task. There are roughly 300 million guns in the United States, nearly one gun for every person. Right, go round up 300 million guns.
At lunch with these retired Baltimore law enforcement people, we all remembered an effort, years ago, when the former city police commissioner, Donald Pomerleau, managed to raise enough money for a municipal buy-back of guns.
It was a feel-good gesture envisioned by Pomerleau. Pay people for their weapons, and maybe it would cut down on violence. The effort was well-intended, but it flopped. The only people who turned in their guns were law-abiders looking to get rid of old, useless, out-dated weaponry.
The NRA hated even that pipsqueak little gesture. Because, to the NRA, this isn’t about the Second Amendment, it’s about money. As long as their lobbyists keep putting money into the hands of sell-out legislators — those lawmakers who worry more about funding their campaigns and keeping their seats than they do about the slaughter on our streets —common-sense laws on gun control go nowhere.
At last week’s Democratic debates, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she’d met with President Donald Trump, who told her “nine different times” he would fight for background checks. And, the next day, Trump “met with the NRA people and folded.”
Here’s a little hope. There are recent reports of NRA financial trouble, of legal troubles, of falling revenue. The NRA’s high-profile Wayne LaPierre, who makes $1.4 million a year, is under scrutiny for billing the organization $275,000, which he spent at a luxury men’s wear boutique in Beverly Hills.
So maybe the NRA won’t have money to keep buying off politicians. Maybe sanity will one day prevail and we’ll get some serious laws written.
In the meantime, we’ve got 20 innocent people dead in El Paso, Texas, and nine more in Dayton, Ohio.
And we haven’t even touched on the hateful language that spews out of the White House every day, and encourages the gunplay and enlivens the dangerous national antagonism.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).