NRA Lobbyist Baker, Connected To NRA

Spy Scandal, Remains Co-Chair Of McCain Sportsmen’s Committee

ABC News reported Tuesday that the campaign of Sen. John McCain “sought to distance itself” from NRA lobbyist James Jay Baker because of his connection to the NRA spy scandal.

Baker was the former executive director at NRA-ILA when his deputy allegedly managed a spy who infiltrated the gun control movement.

Baker was also reported by the New York Times to be in McCain’s “kitchen cabinet,” contributed over $3,000 to McCain since 2006 and billed the NRA over $2 million in lobbying fees since 2002.

Mother Jones pointed out yesterday, however, that Baker remains listed as a co-Chair of the Sportsmen for McCain National Steering Committee:

… It stands to reason why the [McCain] campaign would want to draw a wide berth around Baker. Until 2002, Baker was the executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action.

During his tenure, the ILA engaged the services of a now-defunct private security firm, Beckett Brown, which specialized in spying on activist groups. Beckett Brown’s point of contact at ILA was Baker’s deputy, Patrick O’Malley.

O’Malley also served as an NRA contact for Mary Lou Sapone, who, as Mother Jones reported in July, is a freelance spy who infiltrated the gun control movement for more than a decade on behalf of the gun lobby. When we contacted Baker seeking comment on Sapone’s work for the NRA, he said, “I don’t have anything to say about any vendors at the NRA.” And while maintaining that he had no knowledge of any efforts to penetrate the gun control movement while he was at the NRA, he added: “We got information from whatever sources we can.” The NRA has refused to comment on the Sapone story, declining to explain any possible relationship between the ILA and Sapone.

But if McCain intends on throwing Baker overboard, he has a strange way of showing it. On Thursday his campaign issued a press release announcing the leadership of the National Steering Committee of the Sportsmen for McCain coalition. And, along with Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, Baker is one of its co-chairs.…

Plaxico Burress Can Be A Giant Off The Field

Paul Helmke (left) with Plaxico Burress (center), and his wife, Tiffany Burress, National Urban League President Marc H. Morial, and Former Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy.

Months before he entered prison in September 2009 for carrying an illegal gun, Plaxico Burress said he realized he had made the worse decision of his life when he armed himself before going to a popular New York City nightclub. Burress believed, mistakenly, that he was protecting himself from violence. But as we’ve witnessed over and over in this country, the presence of a gun increases the risk of violence. It is no peacemaker.

Burress, as most people now know, accidentally shot himself in the thigh when his handgun slipped down a pant leg and was discharged. He was released from Oneida Correctional Facility on June 6 and is now able to look forward to playing professional football again because he got lucky; the bullet stopped a couple of life-saving millimeters from a major artery.

The man who caught the winning Super Bowl touchdown for the New York Giants in 2007 is prepared now to tell everyone not to bank on luck. Burress contacted the Brady Center last year and told us that when he was released from prison, he wanted to spend his time warning young people, especially, about the risks and dangers of guns.

He told us that his direct, and painful, experience with the gun in that nightclub in 2008 had taught him a lot of lessons. It had taught him, ultimately, that guns make everything worse. And as time unfolded behind bars, his experience helped him understand that once he was free, he would have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children, athletes, the greater sports community, and among everyday Americans.

We’re pleased to work with Plaxico on this life-saving issue. The Brady Center is the nation’s largest public interest organization dedicated to ending gun violence in America. As a non-profit, 501(c)3, we work to bring justice to gun violence victims in the courts. We educate Americans about the risks and dangers of guns. We fight in the courts to make sure strong gun laws remain on the books.

We have joined forces with people from the faith community, Hollywood, law enforcement, the medical community, education, and other segments of society. We’re happy to now add another voice to our movement to address the gun violence in this country which makes everyone, including children, a target.

Children 15 years and under in America are 12 times more likely to die from guns than children in the next 25 largest industrialized countries combined. African-American children and teens are almost five times as likely as their white peers to be killed by firearms. Community violence, including gun violence, has the equivalent emotional impact on children as war or natural disaster.

Gun violence in America is clearly a disastrous problem – but it’s one we can do more to prevent.

America needs more voices like Plaxico’s speaking on behalf of sensible gun laws and sensible behavior around guns. America needs Plaxico, other athletes, and sports professionals to be active in campaigns against gun violence. Plaxico will occupy a new and important place in this conversation.

He has agreed to work with us to share:

  • His life’s journey, including how his decision to use a gun illegally injured himself, endangered many, and led to his incarceration;
  • The lessons he has learned about the consequences of misusing a gun and the illegal possession of a gun;
  • The inherent risks and dangers of guns; and
  • The importance of abiding by gun laws.

I will have more to tell you about this partnership in the coming weeks. But for now, I am eager to see this man who has proven he can be a giant in football become a giant in the cause of helping save lives from being lost to gun violence.…

In The ATF “Fast And Furious” Controversy, Congress Needs To Question Its Own Behavior

If California Rep. Darrell Issa and other congressional members who are in lock-step with the NRA bosses want to get to the bottom of the ATF gun trafficking operation, they need to start looking at their own actions and lack of action. By blocking and loosening laws to prevent gun violence they, too, are culpable in ATF’s “Fast and Furious” apparent debacle.

This poorly executed operation had agents skulking around gun shops to watch and possibly document numerous illegal firearms sales in Arizona. The unstopped gun runners then resold about 2,000 assault weapons to violent Mexican drug cartels. The further tragedy unfolded when two of the guns were found at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

On Thursday, I’ll be testifying at a congressional forum chaired by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings on the issues of America’s weak gun laws and the ATF operation that has put the spotlight on gun violence that touches too many lives in America and Mexico.

The testimony from Terry’s family members during the recent ATF hearing called by Rep. Issa was heart-wrenching. I’ve witnessed that kind of pain over and over again in the many years I’ve worked as a mayor and as President of the Brady Campaign — victims senselessly killed by guns made too easily available to dangerous people and devastated survivors struggling to deal with the consequences of it all.

At the bidding of the gun lobby, a majority of congressional members, Democrats, and Republicans continue to keep the nation’s gun laws weak and full of holes that disreputable gun dealers and dangerous people exploit to the peril of citizens on both sides of the border.

Rep. Issa and others can point fingers at the ATF for mounting a failed mission, but it is Congress that prevents the ATF from getting an annual inventory from dealers on guns sales to address the problem of guns “disappearing” from gun shops with no record of sales. That stops the agency from quickly shutting down corrupt shops.

Congress allows dealers to destroy criminal background check records after 24 hours, preventing the ATF from learning how well shops are following the Brady background checks requirements. Through the Tiahrt Amendment, Congress limits the ATF’s ability to disclose gun trace data to the public so residents will not know whether there is a dealer in their midst with a track record of selling to dangerous people. ATF trace data have shown in the past that only 1 percent of gun dealers are responsible for about 60 percent of gun sales traced to crime scenes in this country.

Too many federal officials appear deaf to the majority of Americans who want reasonable gun laws so they don’t end up becoming targets. These officials appear to respond only to the pleas of the gun lobbyists who are terrified that rapidly declining gun ownership – as a recent study by the Violence Policy Center found – will decimate the gun industry’s profits.

So, despite the killing of Agent Terry, the vicious murders of thousands of Mexican citizens, and the wounding of one of their own, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are pushing even more legislation to protect gun dealers from disclosing to whom they are selling firearms. The so-called “ATF Reform Act of 2011” (S. 835 and H.R. 1093) won’t make anyone safer. Instead, it would make it even more difficult for the ATF to stop corrupt gun dealers. The bills would require the ATF to show that a dealer not only violated the law but had the specific intent to do so. It’s another loophole for corrupt gun dealers to snake through.

So rather than looking at their complicity in the ATF’s record in stopping gun trafficking, predictably, Congress’ probe has narrowed to make the acting FBI Director Kenneth Melson the primary target. He’s being pressured to resign for not properly managing the operation. But many federal officials, including Rep. Issa, are not doing their part to end the lawlessness along the border and in our communities.

I was on a panel on border issues during the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in Baltimore 10 days ago. It was …

Was Heller A Hollow Victory For The Gun Lobby?

When the Supreme Court, three years ago, issued its landmark Second Amendment ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association said it was only the “opening salvo” in a long legal war to use the courts to dismantle the nation’s gun laws. So far, Heller has been more of a cap gun than an assault weapon in the “gun rights” arsenal.

The legal significance of Heller is unquestioned: the High Court declared, for the first time in history (and in defiance of history), that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to a gun in the home for self-defense. The practical significance of the ruling, however, is something else again. If anything, Heller has largely resulted in a reaffirmation of the constitutionality of laws to restrict access to firearms. For the “gun rights” forces, it has been three long years of frustration.

It is true that two years after Heller, the Supreme Court, in McDonald v. Chicago, extended the Second Amendment right to be a restraint on state and local law, in addition to federal law. But in both Heller and McDonald, the Court struck down local handgun bans and only a handful of jurisdictions had ever passed such laws anyway. As described in a new Brady Center report, Hollow Victory?, since Heller, a broad range of federal, state, and local gun laws has been upheld by the courts, including bans on gun possession by felons, persons convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors, persons under restraining orders, illegal aliens and other categories of prohibited persons.

The courts also have upheld bans on machine guns and assault weapons, registration, and licensing laws, as well as other laws that are not nearly as far-reaching as the D.C. and Chicago laws. In addition, the courts have steadfastly refused to extend the Second Amendment right outside the home, upholding state restrictions on the carrying of concealed weapons. Despite over 400 challenges to gun laws since Heller by the gun lobby and others, including many by criminals who have violated those laws, the edifice of American gun laws remains intact.

Heller’s limited impact is not surprising, given the language of the opinion itself. The right announced by the Court was the right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” Nothing in Heller suggests a constitutional right to carry a gun in public places like restaurants, coffee shops, airports, and bars. Second, even the right to have a gun in the home is limited to “law-abiding, responsible citizens,” giving legislative bodies ample leeway to impose regulations to reduce the risk that guns will find their way into the hands of those who are lawless or careless. Third, Heller even provided a catalog of longstanding gun restrictions that the Court said remain “presumptively lawful” even under the newly-created right, language expressly incorporated into the McDonald opinion as well. Generally speaking, the lower courts have read this language to suggest that they should avoid second-guessing the policy judgments of elected officials on the control of deadly weapons.

The continued deference by the courts to legislative judgments on guns is, I believe, an implicit recognition that the Second Amendment right is a unique kind of constitutional guarantee. The courts are learning that the exercise of the right to have a gun in the home exposes the person exercising the right, his family and his acquaintances, to extraordinary risk of physical harm. This cannot be said for any other provision of the Bill of Rights. Courts are feeling the weight of the consequences of making judgments about gun policy that, quite literally, could cost innocent people their lives. Let’s hope the courts continue to recognize the gravity of those possible consequences.

The realization of what is at stake in Second Amendment cases recently was eloquently expressed by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, who taught me constitutional law at the University of Virginia a (frightfully) long time ago. In a case upholding a federal regulation barring the possession of a loaded handgun in a vehicle in a national park, Judge Wilkinson wrote of Second Amendment litigation: “This is serious business. We …

Leaving Brady, But Not the Fight to Prevent Gun Violence

On July 10, I will complete my five-year commitment to serve as president of the Brady Campaign and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. My tenure with Brady will be ending, but I will remain engaged in the movement to reduce gun violence in America. For me, working for a safer America is more than just a job.

I’ve seen way too much gun violence in my life – at the start of high school when a friend got a bullet in his back because those whom he was with wanted to scare him with a gun they thought was unloaded; while the mayor of Fort Wayne when the son of a local minister and activist was shot and critically wounded by random gunfire after taking a piano lesson at a community center; the wife of my Labor Relations director who was killed accidentally when a marital dispute and a loaded gun on the headboard led to tragedy; and so many other killings during my 12 years as mayor and five years at Brady.

I dedicated myself as a mayor and as an American to do more than mourn the shootings. I believed then and do know that people have a right to live without the fear of being shot because of the easy availability of guns and the unreasoned push-back against sensible gun laws by a gun lobby interested only in keeping profits high, no matter the cost to the public.

It isn’t easy going up against a well-funded gun lobby with the resources to scare congressional members into keeping gun laws weak. But Jim and Sarah Brady continue to inspire me to stay in the fight. I first met the Bradys in the 1990s. I joined the couple and other gun violence prevention advocates in urging Congress to make gun locks mandatory, in part, because in Fort Wayne families were grieving over the death of a 3-year-old boy killed when his father accidentally discharged a gun kept loaded in the trunk of his car.

I’ve learned that every step towards gun safety, no matter how seemingly small, can potentially save a life. And despite the personal challenges in their own lives, Jim and Sarah keep stepping up and trying to move the nation forward. Their fearless determination to keep guns away from felons and the dangerously mentally ill – pressing for improvements to the Brady background checks law they fought hard to get passed — demonstrates how individuals can make a difference.

I have seen this power even more so as president of Brady, and I am proud to have been part of the many successes that we’ve achieved over the past five years. Among them was the Brady Campaign’s help in 2007 in passing the NICS Improvement Act which resulted in an additional million records being added to the Brady background check system. As a result, more people who shouldn’t have guns will be denied them.

Through the Brady Campaign’s outreach to the media, to communities hard hit by firearms violence, and victims of gun violence, we’ve heightened awareness of gun violence in America. Working in concert with our state allies and affiliated grassroots organizations, the new awareness has helped us keep guns off college campuses and enact strong gun laws in California, among other successes.

Under my leadership, the Brady organization brought in a younger generation to broaden the fight for sensible gun laws. Virginia Tech shooting survivor Colin Goddard joined our staff last year. He has now featured in documentaries the Brady Campaign helped support and promote – Living for 32 and Gunfight. He’s spent the past eight months traveling across the country speaking to thousands of students and others about making a difference in this fight, and many have enthusiastically joined him and Brady in the cause.

Despite many successes, our work is not done. I will take some time off after helping Brady make the transition to new leadership, but I will never be on the sidelines.

Thank you for your support of my leadership and the Brady Campaign and Brady Center. I hope to hear your voices and see your activism in the coming months and years as we seek to end …

Is Obama Ready To Take On The Gun Lobby?

The Obama Administration has taken a modest, though useful, a step toward curbing the torrent of assault rifles flowing from U.S. gun shops into the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. Hopefully, it reflects a new willingness by the President to take on the gun lobby.

The Justice Department announced it will go forward to implement its proposed requirement that gun dealers in four states bordering Mexico notify federal law enforcement authorities whenever there are multiple purchases of certain semi-automatic rifles. It is now clear that the sickening Mexican drug violence is fed primarily by guns trafficked from U.S. gun shops. It is equally clear that semi-automatic assault rifles are the cartels’ weapon of choice. The new reporting requirement will give the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) timely notice when someone buys 5, 10, 20, or even more assault rifles from a dealer. This information allows ATF to identify the individuals who are likely functioning as straw buyers for the cartels, giving law enforcement a chance to arrest the traffickers and interdict the guns, before they get to the border.

Of course, the National Rifle Association is in a full lather about the new rule, promising a lawsuit and sending its lobbyists on a beeline to Capitol Hill to get Congress to block the rule from ever taking effect. Apparently, the NRA wants to ensure that when a straw buyer walks away from a border state gun shop with 10 AR-15 assault rifles, that transaction will remain a dirty little secret between the buyer and the dealer. That is until one of the guns is used against a Mexican police chief and the gun eventually is traced back to the U.S. gun shop.

In the recent hearings convened by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on an ATF anti-trafficking operation dubbed “Fast and Furious,” Issa and the NRA were stung by the testimony of one of Issa’s own witnesses, an ATF agent from Phoenix who told Issa’s committee that the proposed rifle multiple sale reporting rules would be a valuable new tool against trafficking. Given that the “Fast and Furious” operation has come under fire because ATF may have allowed guns to “walk” into Mexico, instead of stopping them before they got there, it seems odd that the NRA and other ATF critics also would object to a reporting requirement that would give ATF a better chance to stop trafficked guns before they cross the border.

That the Administration has decided to go forward with the new reporting rule in the face of vehement NRA opposition may be a sign that the President has figured out the futility of a strategy of appeasing the gun lobby. In 2012 the NRA will do everything it can to defeat the President and will continue to function as one of the engines driving the Republican Party. Rather than placating the gun lobby, the President should recognize the political benefits he and the Democrats can reap when their opponents march in lockstep with the NRA.

For example, I hope the White House noticed the votes this week on amendments to Justice Department appropriations legislation. In a single Committee session, the Republican majority voted not only to bar ATF from spending money to enforce the new reporting rule, but also to allow persons on the terrorist watch lists to continue to buy guns, to allow the continued importation of shotguns with military features like mounts for grenade-launchers, and to bar Congress itself from getting crime gun trace data from ATF. In short, the President’s opponents went on record as wanting to allow traffickers and terrorists to buy as many assault rifles as they want without law enforcement knowing about it, to ensure that their available choices in weaponry include shotguns with grenade launchers, and to keep Congress itself in the dark about whether the guns are used in crime.

This is the special kind of insanity that marching lockstep with the gun lobby necessarily entails. Are the President and his Party now ready to use this insanity to help make the case that their opponents are just as irrationally ideological on guns as they are on a host of other issues?

After the …

Condolences are not enough. We want action from our leaders

What are YOU Going to Do about Gun Violence?

On April 16, 33 people were killed by guns, including the shooter, and since that day, approximately 2,430 more Americans have been killed with guns. And for every death, there are another two or three seriously injured.

The gun epidemic is our monthly 9/11, our weekly Katrina, a continuing Iraq war on our streets and in our schools. It is our daily Virginia Tech. Yet, we don’t focus on this threat until we get a Virginia Tech.

And then our political leaders deliberately delay, hoping that we will stop caring. But we must send them the message that we are paying attention . . . that we don’t want tragedy after tragedy to happen while they do nothing.

Act now: Elected officials continue to ignore our gun violence epidemic. It’s time for them to answer one question: “What are YOU going to do about gun violence?”

We’re waging a campaign to ask our nation’s leaders — the President, the Congress, presidential candidates, state officials, and local governments — “What are YOU going to do about it?”

Here’s What You Can Do About It:

Our Elected Officials Have Done Nothing as Gun Deaths Continue

Yesterday, we witnessed America’s worst mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech. Thirty-three students and faculty were killed, including the gunman. At least fifteen more were wounded.

How many deaths and injuries must we endure before our nation’s elected officials act to end gun violence? We must ask our leaders: “What are you going to do about it?” What are you going to do to make our schools, workplaces, and communities safe from gun violence?

President George W. Bush said yesterday that schools should be a place of “safety and sanctuary for every student,” but he and other national leaders do nothing to ensure that safety. They provide condolences and then do nothing to stop future tragedies.

Eight years ago this week, we watched in horror as students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado fled a mass shooting. Twelve students and one teacher were killed. Just seven months ago, five girls were gunned down in a school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

These aren’t isolated incidents. February 12, 2007, Salt Lake City: A teen opens fire in a mall killing five and wounding four. On the same day in Philadelphia: Three men were fatally shot and a fourth wounded at a board meeting. January 11, 2007, Indianapolis: A man shoots four fellow employees. The list goes on and on.

There are common threads in all of these tragedies — it is much too easy for the wrong people to get high-powered, deadly weapons, and our leaders fail to do anything about the problem.

It is urgent that you email or call your elected officials today.
They must hear that you want action to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Please make as many of these phone calls as you can:

President George W. Bush202-456-1414
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi202-225-0100
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid202-224-5556

The message for all three calls is simple:

It is much too easy for the wrong people to get deadly weapons in this country. It is time for you to take steps to end gun violence to prevent tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech.

If you can’t make the calls, you can click here to send an email, which will go to the President, the Speaker, the Majority Leader, as well as your U.S. Senators and Representative. One-click will email all six of them.

The Brady Campaign is working nonstop to get the message out that there are solutions to gun violence. We can ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips that make it so easy to kill quickly . . . we can require Brady background checks for all gun sales, including at gun shows . . . we can stop large-volume gun sales that supply illegal gun traffickers. These are just some of the steps we can take to make it harder for the wrong people to get guns.

We are building a crescendo of public outcry to ensure that action is taken. We are aggressively rallying support among allies for our solutions. And we need your continued support to make it happen. Please make a contribution now to keep the momentum going. When you do, a generous donor will match your gift.

Gun violence is a solvable problem. We know it won’t be easy. But we can make it harder for the wrong people to get their hands on guns through strong gun laws.

It is time for our nation’s leaders to have the courage to say “no” to the gun lobby’s mantra of any gun, anywhere, at any time for anyone, while wrapping it in distortions about “freedom” and “liberty.”

Americans have the right to live free from the constant fear of gun violence. Please take a moment to forward this email to friends and families.