Writings and observations

Martin Peterson
From Idaho

When Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s million-dollar-a-year executive director, held his press conference on December 21 responding to the Connecticut school shootings, the national response was quick and largely negative. However, what was overlooked by both the
media and the public was the fact that in his response, LaPierre did a fine and concise — although entirely unintentional – job of demonstrating three of the major ills that are keeping this country from solving many, if not most, of the major problems it faces.

The first ill is to always blame someone else and ignore any contribution you may have made to creating a problem. We hear it day-in and day-out in the halls of Congress. Republicans blaming Democrats and Democrats blaming Republicans. Never accept personal responsibility for a problem when you can point the finger at someone else. Assault weapons and large capacity clips didn’t create this problem, according to LaPierre. It’s video games, movies and lack of armed guards that are the problem.

The second ill is to identify a problem and then ask the federal government to pay for it. That is the mind-set that has helped lead us to the serious fiscal problems the federal government currently faces. The NRA offices in Washington must be in a soundproof bunker. Apparently LaPierre is unaware that Congress and the President are currently dealing with serious budget issues that will likely make it impossible for them to consider his proposal that the federal government fund armed guards at every school building in the United States. If he is really serious about obtaining the support of Congress and the President for his proposal, and he really thinks that those guards will eliminate school shootings, while protecting second amendment rights, he should consider recommending the means of paying for it.

Two privileges the government gives me that I enjoy are driving motor vehicles and fishing. I drive on roads that are largely funded by persons like me who use them, with fuel taxes and registration fees. The same with fishing. I buy an annual license and those fees are used to support the state’s fisheries program. If you don’t want to enjoy the privileges of driving or fishing, you don’t have to pay. The same could be true with the proposal to protect the rights of gun owners by using armed guards at schools.

Place a federal tax, similar to Idaho’s personal property tax, on every privately owned firearm in the U.S. The FBI estimates there are 200 million, so the annual amount of the tax would probably be quite low. Similarly, a nominal tax could be charged on all ammunition sold. Estimates are that around 10-billion rounds a year are sold in the U.S., so that tax would probably be quite low as well. But, if Mr. LaPierre is correct and the funding of these armed guards would deter future school shootings, then I’m sure gun owners and ammunition buyers would agree that it would be well worth the additional cost. And, like driving and fishing, if you don’t choose to own guns or buy ammunition, then you wouldn’t need to share in the burden.

The third ill is the Jimmy Swaggart syndrome, “do as I say and not as I do.” The NRA has built its power base by being among the staunchest of all constitutional defenders. They, more than anyone else, make it possible for every American to own an assault rifle, large capacity clips, and cop killer ammunition and they gladly take credit for that. But now we find that apparently their constitutional support only applies to the second amendment, and not the first. Rather than even remotely recognizing that there may be some blame for all of the unchecked shootings in this country on the shoulders of the most rabid defenders of the second amendment who believe in every American’s right to own an assault weapon, LaPierre says that it is those staunchest defenders of the first amendment, the media and entertainment industries, who are to blame for all of this.

I don’t disagree with him that the makers of violent video games and motion pictures need to share some of the blame for these shootings. Just as I think that the manufacturers and sellers of civilian assault weapons share some of the blame. But, were these first amendment defenders to steal a page from the NRA, their best defense would be to plaster the country with bumper stickers stating that “Video Games Don’t Kill People. People Kill People.”

We have a problem in this country and it’s too bad that the NRA leadership isn’t interested in making the kinds of compromise that are always essential in solving major problems. It would be good to have them play a productive role in developing realistic solutions, rather than the kind of claptrap mouthed by Mr. LaPierre. Until he’s ready to play a more reasonable role in the efforts to reduce the risk of classroom shootings, he needs to crawl back into his bunker and stay there.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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Mike Crapo/Alexander VA police

Becoming Idaho’s senior senator has started turning into a bad-headline situation: There was the internationally-famous Larry Craig incident from about five years ago, and now the DUI arrest of Mike Crapo.

One difference between the two is that while a long-running rumor circuit made the Craig arrest a surprise but not a complete shock, it’s probably safe to say not many people saw a DUI arrest in Crapo’s future. Crapo has always appeared to be a totally observant, teetotaling Mormon; he has specifically said that he doesn’t drink, and he seems to have given no reason till now to doubt that. His name never has shown up – as far as I know – on any informal list of quiet occasional drinkers among the politically active faithful, at least outside his circle of closest friends and relatives.

Crapo was arrested early Sunday morning, and police in Alexandria, Virginia, reported he had a .11 blood alcohol level, substantially above the .08 line for DUI (in Virginia as well as in Idaho). That BAC level is ordinarily an indicator of being not just tipsy, not close to borderline sober, but being seriously sloshed.

The senator’s first statement out of this was appropriate enough: “I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance. I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me. I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter.”

He isn’t, evidently, trying to dodge, prevaricate or avoid, which is a good sign.

Two other points are worth making before more plays out.

One is that Crapo has no cause – no external reason, apart from whatever his own preferences may be – for resigning. That may sound awfully premature since no calls for departure have surfaced (that I have seen), but expect some to materialize, from anti-drunk driving activists if not elsewhere. Remember that in Craig’s case, the chorus for resignation was deafening, not least from Idaho, and Craig’s legal offense (while much more spectacular from a tabloid perspective) was lesser than Crapo’s.

Crapo is being charged with a misdemeanor, however, so there’s no legal requirement to leave. He appears ready to accept the consequences, which is all you can ask at this point. And we don’t, or at least shouldn’t, hold our officials to some standard of perfection. There’s no reason Crapo can’t, if he chooses, go on doing the job the voters of Idaho hired him to do.

There is something else, though, Crapo owes those voters, and in a looser sense (as a relatively senior senator, and top Republican on the increasingly significant Banking Committee) owes the rest of the country: An explanation.

At some point in the days ahead, as he has the chance to collect his thoughts and re-evaluate whatever needs to be evaluated, Crapo ought to open up about what’s going on in his life and what led up to his driving under the influence – and, for that matter, being under the influence. This would not be an easy thing to do, and facing this up to his fellow Mormons would be awfully tough.

If Crapo wants to retain the support and confidence than Idahoans at least (and people outside the state as well) give him that allow him to function effectively in the Senate, then he needs to come clean about what’s happening. And how he intends to deal with his challenges, so that he can do the job he was elected to.

A good deal of Crapo’s support over the years has come from the sense that this is a man of strong and upright character. Now, in this moment of challenge, Idaho will get to see more clearly than it has before exactly what is the nature of Crapo’s character – not so much in in the mistake that led to a DUI arrest, but in what he does from this point forward in response to it.

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