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Political Animal

Gun Lobbying

By Brian Morton | Posted 8/13/2008

It was surprising but not necessarily a surprise when Mother Jones magazine recently uncovered the true identity of a woman, Mary Lou Sapone, who spent the better part of 10 years as a paid spy inside the anti-gun violence movement. It wasn't a surprise to me that the National Rifle Association would do such a thing, because during my two years working for Jim and Sarah Brady, and then a year as a board member of what is now Maryland Ceasefire, I saw the gun lobby's antics up close and in my face.

Nearly any time we put on any kind of public event, the NRA would send its hired-gun "PR firm," the Mercury Group, to stake out our press conferences, report releases, or fundraisers with their camerapeople. And just like Bill O'Reilly's ambush producers, they would try and disrupt the event by shouting leading questions based on studies from their favorite researchers. Quite often they would yell things like, "Considering John Lott's study that the availability of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens reduces crime, why do you . . . ?" And then the president of our organization, at the time a savvy guy named Bob Walker, would have to sidetrack the issue at hand in order to point out how Lott's studies had been discredited by legitimate academic researchers, and that, as Matt Bai of Newsweek once wrote, Lott had "been shown the door at some of the nation's finest schools."

After a TV appearance, Lott once chased my immediate boss down a hallway, shouting at her that she'd have "blood on her hands." He has been famously exposed as his own sock-puppet. He logged onto under a pseudonym, "Mary Rosh," and gave his own books five-star ratings, claiming that Lott was "the best professor I ever had." But what do you expect from a guy who has published articles that claim that crime goes up when there are more black officers on a city police force, and that allowing teachers to carry concealed handguns in schools will deter school shootings?

So the NRA spent $80,000 for a woman to pretend she was "Mary McFate" and work her way up through various state anti-gun violence organizations to national groups like States United to Prevent Gun Violence, the Brady Campaign, and the Violence Policy Center. As I said, when you've gotten used to seeing the government at both the state and the national levels spying on peace groups and anti-death penalty activists, civil-rights workers and animal-rights activists, Catholic Workers, and even a "Vegan Community Project" in Indianapolis, hearing that the gun lobby infiltrated its political opposition isn't a stretch.

The surprising thing about this is that even as the NRA is getting just about everything it ever dreamed of--George W. Bush signed the law immunizing gun manufacturers against lawsuits, and the Supreme Court overturned Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban, citing an "individual rights" interpretation of the Second Amendment--it still acts like the paranoid guy under the stairs and pays money to spy on its political opposition. It's kind of sad.

You see, no matter how much the NRA spends each election season to tilt the scales, or how many politicians whose offices it can "work right out of" (as it said about Bush in 2000), all it takes is one loon with a lot of firepower, and the NRA retreats back inside its bunker and offers "no comment."

When 58-year-old Jim Adkisson got tired of all the liberals he felt were taking away jobs and wrecking society, he allegedly loaded up with 76 shells and a shotgun he bought at a pawnshop and headed for a liberal Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn., to shoot it up. It's the sort of crime the NRA, months from now, will argue that could be prevented "if you let law-abiding citizens carry guns to church." I'm sure even Mary Rosh would agree.

But the NRA won't be saying anything right now because, when there are senseless mass shootings, the NRA doesn't answer the phone.

When Sapone was found out to be McFate, the NRA, when called for a reaction, had no comment. These are the reactions of an organization that doesn't want to argue its ideas on a level playing field--it always wants the argument conducted on its terms.

I'm hoping, now that the Supreme Court has overturned D.C.'s gun ban, the city passes real gun licensing and registration for all handguns in the city. Register all the weapons, license all the owners (just like cars), and require testing and safe storage, and then see the gun lobby's head explode. "Criminals will still get guns," they'll scream. "All this will do is inconvenience law-abiding citizens," they'll holler.

But the Supreme Court didn't say the city couldn't regulate guns. And then the gun lobby will have to figure out how to handle it without paying spies to infiltrate the opposition.

This might be fun to watch.

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Tags: guns, NRA

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