by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Ten years ago, a woman named Bryl Phillips-Taylor went to Washington to support a ban on assault rifles. Her son, Scott, had been killed with one.

Last week, she returned for the same reason. Her son was still dead. The bullets had still come from an assault weapon. But there she was again, pleading the same case.

That’s because on Monday, the assault weapons ban expires. And despite the fact that nearly 70 percent of Americans support keeping it — and you can’t get 70 percent of Americans to agree on anything these days — lawmakers will step aside and let it fling off the cliff.

Now, I have given up trying to convince certain people about guns. Those people already are writing me nasty letters and they haven’t read past this paragraph. Forget them. They won’t listen.

But most Americans should wonder about letting a law expire that has done no harm, that has coincided with a drop in the crime rate, and that has the support of a huge majority.

Instead, this is how brazen our politicians have become. Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who is Senate majority leader, said last week: “I think the will of the American people is consistent with letting it expire, so it will expire.”

A law that 70 percent of us support?

A numbers game

Why do so many politicians — Republican and Democrat — want to let this thing die? Because they’re scared. Not of getting shot — which is what this should be about. No, they are scared of losing votes. They are scared of the National Rifle Association, which gives huge money to elect its supporters and to defeat those who dare disagree.

How the love of guns and the firearms industry have captured the will of this country’s electorate is a story that should be explored every day. But there it is. You have Democrats looking back at the 1994 election — when the ban was passed — and believing the ban cost them 20 seats in Congress.

And you have Republicans who see a rich friend in the NRA, which gives a whopping 69 percent of its campaign contributions to the GOP, and, well, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, right?

Ironically, if the ban had been 11 years, not 10, it might survive, since 2005 isn’t an election year. But politicians are spineless, puppets yanked on a string, which leads us to the puppeteer, the NRA itself. Even there, you want to ask the simple question: Why is it necessary to put assault weapons back on the market?

Sure, as the NRA argues, the drop in crime is small. So? If it saved one life, isn’t that worth it?

Sure, as the NRA argues, the law bans certain weapons while allowing others with similar firepower to stay on the market. So? Perhaps that’s an argument for eliminating those weapons, too.

But that’s where the NRA has — as Oprah would say — its “aha!” moment.

The ol’ slippery slope

You see, the minute anyone suggests a ban on anything with a trigger, the NRA uses it to scare the bejesus out of law-abiding gun owners and hunters. The NRA whips fear into frenzy, citing the dreaded slippery slope: “Aha! Once they take away one gun, they’ll come after all of them. You won’t be able to hunt! You won’t be able to defend yourselves!”

Aw, bull. It’s time to grow up. You don’t need an assault rifle to shoot a deer. And there are plenty of guns available to defend yourself. Putting a ban on weapons that criminals seem to favor may not stop crime in its tracks, but if it narrows the flow a wee bit, if it limits the harm criminals can do even this much, is that a bad thing?

And please don’t tell me about our forefathers. Our forefathers would take one look at this trigger-happy society and throw up.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, remember? When 70 percent of us want something, but a senator says the opposite is “the will of the people,” there’s a problem. They count money. They count votes. But mothers who lose sons to bullets should count more.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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