Not long Ken Cuccinelli narrowly lost Virginia governor’s race last year by running one of the most hapless campaigns in modern memory (he tried to made sodomy a campaign issue—really!), the former attorney general has a new scheme to get Virginians with weapons permits to pay him protection money.
Declaring that gun-toting Virginian’s risked prison or even bankruptcy, “like George Zimmerman,” Cuccinelli declared his legal subscription firm, Virginia Self Defense Law, would “Defend Those Who Defend Themselves.”
For $150 annually for as many years he can get gullible clients to pay him, Cuccinelli promises gun owners that should they ever be arrested for shooting a utility meter-reader in their backyard, their legal bills are covered.
You can’t really blame Cuccinelli for his cashing in on a phony anti-gun hysteria. After all, why should the NRA have all the fun?
The increasing number of lax gun laws in many states are one reason all gun deaths have been growing steadily.
Despite any claims by Cuccinelli, the NRA and other gun groups that America is gripped in an “anti-gun hysteria,” the exact opposite is true—in the 18 months since the Sandy Hook massacre, states have passed several bills to limit or even absolve gun owners from responsibility.
This year alone, Florida, a state that once tried to ban organized voter registration drives, will let gun owners apply for a conceal-carry permit when they pay taxes. Florida and Georgia may pass bills (over the strong objections of teachers and principals) to make it easier for “qualified” school personnel to protect themselves from kindergarteners by allowing them to keep guns in elementary school classrooms. Georgia is also likely to extend “stand your ground” protections to violent felons who’ve done their time even though they aren’t legally allowed to own guns in Georgia.
Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature seems likely to expand Ohio’s limited “stand your ground” law to one similar to Florida’s: the most basic “stand your ground” laws (also known as “shoot first” statutes) passed in 26 states have simply expanded the ways a shooter can plead self-defense. But Florida’s version is “shoot first” on steroids and absolves gun owners of nearly all responsibility.
Consider the case of Jason Rosenbloom, of Clearwater, Florida, shot in 2006 by his neighbor over a long-running argument on how many trash bags he could put on the curb. Kenneth Allen, Rosenbloom’s neighbor and an ex-cop, might have gotten off on a traditional self-defense plea, because he shot the unarmed man on his property and even his victim (who survived) admitted he followed Allen onto his property.
Thus, it was what happened in the shooting that was different: Allen, the ex-cop, ignored his police training by failing to report the shooting. Instead, Allen simply went back into his house, leaving Rosenbloom to bleed on his lawn. Thankfully, another neighbor’s saved Rosenbloom’s life and Allen dealt with the public backlash by blaming his wife.
Under Florida’s old law, Rosenbloom had at least civil options to sue Allen for medical costs and recklessness. Now Florida’s “stand your ground” law effectively protects shooters from liability for any damages or actions they take during the shooting, including killing innocent bystanders—this is what the gun lobby wants for Ohio.
The increasing number of lax gun laws in many states are one reason all gun deaths (homicide, suicide and accident) been growing steadily since 2000. At the current rate, gun deaths will likely exceed auto fatalities as America’s leading non-medical cause of death sometime in 2015.
And the gun lobby has done such a good job of framing the debate, they have been emboldened to go after the only institutions left that will take them on, doctors and medical researchers.
The recent pressure in the Senate to derail Dr. Vivek Murthy is only the tip of the iceberg: Florida has fought for more than two years to block state pediatricians to follow practices established American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians to discuss safety with patients who keep guns near children.
An even longer battle is the one that has prevented the Centers from Disease Control (CDC) from researching the real affect of guns on public safety. In 1996, after research from the CDC proved unregulated gun ownership could be a public threat, the NRA pressured Congress to defund and end all CDC gun research in 1996. In 2013, President Obama used his authority to restore the CDC’s right to research and asked Congress for $10 million he won’t ever get to expand gun research.
Look for the NRA to sabotage scientists: in 2006, California (one of the last outposts of gun regulation) required guns sold in the state to have mandatory safety features, including devices to let gun owners know if they had accidentally chambered a bullet—presumed to be the leading cause of accidental gun death in America.
Since then, the gun lobby insists these safety serve only to make guns more dangerous for owners, while experts like Dr. Garen Wintemute of UC-Davis, has research that safety features do work and guns should be regulated like cars (for his troubles, Wintemute has been targeted by gun zealots for harassment).
Rather than wait for the CDC to weigh in using its limited resources, the gun lobby is willing to take on the medical establishment. You’d think it would be their most risky battle yet, but so far opposition has failed to show up.
Peter Lindstrom is a political consultant and researcher. He lives in Washington, D.C.