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Mike Elk

Mike Elk is a labor journalist and staff writer for In These Times

January 27th, 2011 5:27 PM

The Beinart Body Count on Iraq & Gun Control

Former New Republic Editor Gets It Wrong Again

Earlier this year I witnessed a drive-by homicide in Northwest DC. There are few images that stick in my mind more than the moment I realized that the bright flashes coming from the car next to me were gunshots being fired at a teenage youth who was running away. It haunts me to this day.

Anyone who was ever witnessed a murder knows that something must be done to prevent guns from failing into the hands of violent criminals. It's wildly depressing that, in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, gun policy is just starting to break into the debate. Why? In Washington's lazy old-school echo chamber, many political consultants and commentators say gun policy is simply too "risky" an issue.

A cautionary case in points arrives in our inboxes from former New Republic editor Peter Beinart, now writing for the Daily Beast. Today he trotted out the old canard that "gun control" is a political loser, apparently by definition. Beinart concludes: “For a decade and a half now, conventional wisdom has held that for a Democratic president, gun control is a political loser. And unfortunately, that conventional wisdom is absolutely right." And more: "So unlike in the case of health care, where Obama took a big political risk and changed public policy for decades, gun control would be a political risk with no public policy payoff at all. Any other great ideas?“

Before taking Mr. Beinart's advice about political history - much less what might constitute, you know, good policy -- it's worth taking a quick walk through Beinart's own history.

Let us first recall that as the editor of the New Republic, Beinart was one of the top cheerleaders for that rather small group, “Democrats for the War in Iraq." We all know what happened there. Years after labeling anti-war voices "anti-pacifists" and accusing them of intellectual incoherence, he was compelled to write an apologetic book nobody read.

In the process, Beinart manage to run TNR, a once-proud journal of liberal thought, into the ground. During his tenure, he managed to destroy both the magazine's credibility and its readership, losing 40% of its circulation. Soon after, TNR lost Beinart.

Tens of thousands of lives were lost in the war Beinart supported. But hey, at least he apologized.

Today? Different issue, same Beinart. Tighter gun rules might be good policy, but it's bad politics. Why would the president take it on? You and I might say: because since the assassinations of Martin Luther Kind and Robert Kennedy, more than 400,000 Americans have been murdered by guns. That's 34 every day, and in the past week, ten cops were among their number. But for Beinart, it's just bad politics. Nothing to be done here; move along.

Coincidentally -- he also happens to be demonstrably wrong. Americans actually do support common-sense measures that keep guns out of dangerous hands.

According to a recent poll conducted by Republican and Democratic firms by “Mayors Against Illegal Guns:”

* 90 percent of Americans and 90 percent of gun owners support fixing gaps in government databases that are meant to prevent the mentally ill, drug abusers and others from buying guns.

* 91 percent of Americans and 93 percent of gun owners support requiring federal agencies to share information about suspected dangerous persons or terrorists to prevent them from buying guns.

* 89 percent of Americans and 89 percent of gun owners support full funding of the law a unanimous Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed after the Virginia Tech shootings to put more records in the background-check database.

* 86 percent of Americans and 81 percent of gun owners support requiring all gun buyers to pass a background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter who they buy it from.

Even polling done by Republican pollster Frank Luntz shows a majority of NRA members support similar measures:

* 82 percent of NRA members were in favor of "prohibiting people on the terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns."

* 69 percent favored "requiring all gun sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks of the people buying guns."

* 78 percent backed "requiring gun owners to alert police if their guns are lost or stolen."

Not for nothing, but Americans also happen to like politicians who actually stand up for what they believe in. Not a factor, one suspects, in Beinart's lazy, back-to-1994 journalism.

The truth? President Obama and Democrats won’t lose any votes that they ever had by pushing common-sense gun policies. Anyone think Jared Loughner should not have been prohibited from buying his gun? After a drug arrest, a failed military drug test, and an admission to the Army of drug use? Those are the kind of loopholes we should fix.

It's time to reject Beinart's NRA talking points, just as we should have rejected the Haliburton talking points that walked us into war. Because, like the war in Iraq, being wrong here only adds to the Beinart body count. His shrug and mumbled "sorry?" Sorry won't bring back to the life the man I saw murdered on that hot June night.

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