Friday, March 22, 2013

Griffin Dix: Gun Lobby Whistleblower Warned Against Dancing with the Devil

Today we have a guest blogger: Griffin Dix, Ph. D.  Griffin taught Cultural Anthropology at Santa Clara University, was Research Director at MacWEEK and founded a computer industry research and consulting business. After his son was shot and killed in 1994, he represented the national Million Mom March chapters on the Brady Campaign Board. He lives in Kensington, California. The opinions expressed here are his own.

The most important of the current gun violence prevention proposals is to require background checks whenever guns are sold, including by private sellers. In order to investigate gun crimes, law enforcement needs to be able to access the records which will be kept by gun dealers who will carry out the checks. There is overwhelming public support for universal background checks. But recently some in Congress, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, have opposed them.

The gun lobby claims that keeping records of gun purchases could lead to confiscation of firearms. This is the absurd old gun lobby smokescreen to hide the gun lobby's primary goal, which is to sell as many guns as possible to anyone-including criminals.

Don't take my word for it. Just listen to former top gun industry lobbyist, Robert Ricker, who was Executive Director of the American Shooting Sports Council when it was the nation's most influential gun industry trade association. Previously, he was the National Rifle Association's Assistant General Counsel, where he handled all the political matters for its political action committee.

But by 2003 Ricker was publicly admitting things many in the gun industry were adamantly denying. In a declaration in support of plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the gun industry, he said that the industry knew perfectly well that many firearms "pass quickly from licensed dealers to juveniles and criminals through such avenues as straw sales, large-volume sales to gun traffickers and various other channels by corrupt dealers or distributors who go to great lengths to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities." [Download the Brady Campaign report, "Smoking Guns: Exposing the Gun Industry's Complicity in the Illegal Gun Market" See pp.14-22 Insiders Expose Gun Industry Misconduct. ]

He pulled no punches, saying, "Leaders in the industry have long known that greater industry action to prevent illegal transactions is possible and would curb the supply of firearms to the illegal market."

Ricker explained that instead of requiring dealers to be proactive and properly trained to stop questionable sales, it had been a common practice of gun manufacturers and distributors "to adopt a 'see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil' approach. This type of policy encourages a culture of evasion of firearms laws and regulations."

He also said the industry "has long known that ATF is hampered in its enforcement efforts by inadequate resources and constraints in federal law on its ability to crack down on corrupt dealers." Nonetheless, Ricker said, every year the NRA comes before the appropriations committees on Capitol Hill advocating that ATF's budget be cut.

And why did he see the light? For the same reason that most of us want to make it hard for criminals to buy guns: "I don't want to have to come home some night from the office and have my wife tell me that, 'Your son was shot in a drive-by shooting' or, 'The neighbors' kids were killed.' That's what gets me," he said.

Well, it's still true. The gun industry wants to sell as many guns as possible- including to criminals who are its repeat customers. Don't be misled by the gun lobby's fear mongering. The industry is against universal background checks because they would cut into gun sales-including sales made to criminals by private sellers.

Ricker's advice to powerful politicians was "Stop dancing with the devil."

In his 1973 movie Sleeper, Woody Allen wakes up from routine peptic ulcer surgery 200 years later and quips about the NRA, "They were an organization that helped criminals get guns ."

That could still be true in two hundred years unless we end it right now. "Stop dancing with the devil" is good advice for legislators in 2013.

Tell them loud and clear.