Want to cough up some bucks for a worthy cause and spend an evening at one of America’s top hotels? The folks at the Brady Center are kicking off this year’s ASK campaign with a gala banquet and fundraiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, at which time they will honor Donna Dees-Thomases who organized the Million Mom March on Washington, DC. Her efforts brought three-quarters of a million people into the nation’s capital on June 5, 2000, and marked the beginning of grass-roots campaigns to promote gun safety, gun safety laws and more discussion about gun violence, in particular, the impact of gun violence on kids.
When the march was announced, the pro-gun gang swung into action, immediately launching their own campaign to convince everyone that they were first and foremost concerned about safe guns. A group called Second Amendment Sisters sprang up, held a small counter-demonstration on the Mall, and Wayne LaPierre went on television to announce a million-dollar safety fund that the NRA would use to promote a gun safety program in the nation’s schools.
The ASK campaign is important for three reasons. First, it’s a public health issue, and the NRA has gone out of its way to demonize pediatricians because the American Academy of Pediatrics had the audacity to suggest that guns were a risk to children’s health. Rather than taking the halfway step of proposing that guns should be locked up or locked away, the AAP went so far in 1992 as to tell parents that they shouldn’t have guns around at all. This was the time when the NRA was girding up for battle against the Clinton gun-control schemes, so taking on the anti-gun pediatricians was fair game. But pediatricians aren’t going to pretend that injuries from guns are a private affair. After all, there’s really no difference between locking up a gun and locking a kid into the seat of a car.
The second reason that ASK is important is because it came out of the Million Mom March, and the march is a significant milestone in the development of grass-roots concerns about guns. The gun-sense side bemoans the fact that the NRA has been in business for nearly 150 years, whereas the folks who want more sensible gun regulations have only been really active for less than three decades. But the fact is that the NRA wasn’t all hot and bothered about legal or political threats to their existence until thirty years ago; even when the feds got into gun control in a big way in 1968 the NRA hardly made a peep. It’s true that the NRA has become a major player when it comes to political influence on Capitol Hill. But it doesn’t take a century to build a serious and sustained campaign either for or against guns.
Finally, the third and most important reason to support ASK is the fact that every industry – guns, cars, communications to name a few, wants to make the product safety argument on its own terms. Most gun makers, car makers, or whatever makers, think first about sales and profits, with safety coming in a distant third, or fourth, or fifth. In 2009 Toyota recalled almost five million vehicles after claiming they couldn’t find anything wrong with the brakes. It turned out to be a problem with floor mats, not brakes, but either way, consumers weren’t going to accept the company’s word on whether their vehicles were safe.
I think it’s a very healthy thing for the gun industry to share discussions about safe use of guns even with people who aren’t particularly fond of guns. The ASK campaign recognizes a simple truth, namely, that parents should talk to other parents about children having access to guns. Children are naturally curious. If you tell a child not to touch something they will grab it as quickly as they can. But if a parent tells another parent to put away the guns, then there’s nothing for the kids to grab. Period.