Sunday, October 23, 2016

Breakfast with the NRA

Last Saturday I attended a National Rifle Association breakfast for local Republican legislative candidates.

An NRA lobbyist jetted in to tell a few lies and fire up the troops. The NRA desperately wants Republicans to control our Legislature, and will put up big bucks to keep making big bucks on gun sales.

When the lobbyist mentioned that Representative Rick Little was on the Safety & Civil Affairs Committee, “one of the places a good gun bill or a bad gun bill will go,” Little quickly added “and get killed.” A pocket-sized NRA handout made clear there are no good gun bills – except one that broadens the concealed-carry law or cuts the prices for licenses. 

The arguments against well-crafted gun laws – and I grant that not all legislation is well-crafted – are “slippery slope”: if you let the government require background checks or try to prevent terrorists from having guns, soon they'll be knocking on your door to confiscate your gun. 

No sensible person could deny that many unnecessary deaths involve guns. That doesn't mean get rid of all the guns: that's unconstitutional, impractical, and probably unwise. But automatically rejecting every proposal to improve the situation is good only for gun manufacturers. 

If the U.S. Constitution had mentioned automobiles, would a National Automobile Association be screaming against DWI laws and speed-limits? You'd laugh if someone claimed that outlawing drunk driving is part of a plot to confiscate our cars. If I drunkenly drove through the Plaza de Las Cruces, could I argue in court that outlawing drunk driving violates my Constitutional right to travel? 

But all our Republican candidates toed the NRA line: no gun-law is a good gun-law. Rep. Terry McMillan said he got “the chills” over “a group that systematically tries to disarm the citizenry.” He claimed he started buying guns when Obama was elected, and “rumors were flying” about guns being outlawed. Does acting on wild rumors recommend him?

The lobbyist, calling our county “ground zero in the fight for our Second Amendment rights,” bragged that the NRA had gotten a big turnout to speak against the Las Cruces City Council resolution favoring background checks. She said they'd gotten only “24-hour notice on July 4th weekend.” In fact, the Council gives at least 72-hour notice of meetings – and sets the agenda in an open meeting the previous Monday. 

The lobbyist stood in front of signs for Donald Trump and local Republicans, none of whom disclaimed support for Trump. I sat near an elderly man who told me he was a devout Christian. I pointed to the big Trump sign and asked how he, as a Christian, regarded Trump. He confided that “I don't think my vote will be missed. I'm going to vote for the Constitutional Party candidate.”

One candidate mentioned the fraudulent scheme to recall our city councilors. Bankrolled mostly from outside the city, and run by an outsider, its agents consistently lied to voters to procure signatures. The recall ultimately lost because the councilors had strong constituent support; but Andy Nuñez (currently under an ethics investigation) said of his opponent Nathan Small, “the recall effort just shows you what kind of guy he is.” Actually, Andy, it shows me that you'll say any old misleading thing for a vote. A fraudulent recall effort by outsiders rebuffed by Small's constituents says only good about Small.

The visiting NRA lobbyist criticized “the determination of people who live far from here to tell you how to live.” Ironically, she “jetted away” before I could praise her perfect description of the recall effort – and NRA's lobbying.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 October 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticism here or on either of those sites.]

[What do I have against the NRA? I have many friends who joined when it was an organization concerned with helping hunters and other gun-owners.  Some of them feel betrayed by its transformation into a lobbying organization controlled by gun manufacturers and devoted to maximizing their profits. Further, the group maximizes those profits (and its political influence) by one of the oldest tricks in the book, playing on people's fears then convincing those people you are their potential savior.  I have friends with many guns.  I'm not advocating we take away all guns; but the NRA take-no-prisoners approach, in which nothing that could possibly interfere with gun-makers' huge profits is acceptable, is no good for any of us.
Had the NRA remained as it was, it could have performed valuable service, not only to hunters and other gun-owners but to all of us.  Some gun-laws are well-intentioned but not very practical.  Experts, including the NRA, could have helped us select the more promising among various possible steps; but by taking the gun-manufacturers' position, that every attempt to ameliorate the situation is by definition part of a plot against our freedoms, the NRA has become a major part of the problem.]

[Some readers may wonder how I happened to be at the members-only NRA breakfast.  Each member was allowed to bring a guest.  I was a guest.]

[I mention in the column the allegations that AndyNuñez illegally and unethically used campaign funds for personal purposes.  The investigation led the Las Cruces Sun-News, which had endorsed him, to reverse its endorsement of Nuñez.  That suggests the seriousness of the thing -- and says eloquently that even folks who find his politics acceptable recognize that his dishonest conduct is not.]
[Any voter uncertain about the allegations ought to read details of the actual complaint to the Attorney-General against Nunez.  He allegedly dipped illegally into campaign funds for personal expenses -- and did so not even while he was a legislator, but during the two years he was a lobbyist.  That is, he put thousands of dollars of campaign funds to use while not even a legislator, using them to work for a water-district client that also has a strong interest in what the Water and Natural Resources Committee does!  He also spent $4,230 of campaign funds to repair his personal pickup truck -- and paid a parking ticket, bought a new drill from Sears, and bought some chile ristras -- misspelled as "restras."
Mutual friends say he's a charming fellow; but this conduct, combined with his attempt to attack Nathan Small using the fact that Nuñez's own political allies from outside Las Cruces mounted a scurrilous campaign to trick voters into recalling Small, suggests he should stick to being Hatch's mayor.]

[McMillan complained at length that he's been the target of misleading ads attacking him personally, or attacking his practice of medicine.  That's wrong.  (And, as I mentioned, a friend -- a staunch Democrat -- has consistently told me McMillan's a great guy, as a doctor.  I hadn't seen the ads; but when I saw Joanne Ferrary briefly, and mentioned them, she said they'd come as a complete surprise to her.  Of course, the irony here is that last time around McMillan was helped back to the Roundhouse by a bunch of extremely misleading fliers attacking Ferrary.  So far as I recall, he didn't speak out against those -- although there was little time to do so, as they were timed to affect the election without allowing time for5 anyone to respond or investigate.]

[The real problems with McMillan are different.  First of all, he votes with his party like a robot, and has voted against some good measures that would have helped New Mexicans.  I guess I'd also argue that what he said at the NRA breakfast . . . .
Most importantly, he's so busy with his practice that he misses all or most of the committee meetings between sessions -- where, in fact, much of the real work gets done.  DS quote.  Even one of McMillan's fellow candidates, at the breakfast, praised himself for attending committee meetings, and testified to their importance -- without, perhaps, realizing that he was effectively criticizing McMillan.]

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