Remember when everybody smoked?
Think about the imagery associated with smoking, making it cool, as admirable and desirable as the rugged American cowboy.
According to an op-ed published in The New York Times, the rates of Americans who smoke have dropped dramatically since the 1960s — less than 20 percent of American adults smoke now, and it was more than twice as much fifty years ago. What’s more, the rate amongst younger smokers aged 18-24 is on the decline as well.
A lot of that happened because of aggressive marketing and awareness campaigns about the dangers of smoking cigarettes, both to smokers and victims of second-hand, “passive” smoke. There are now graphic warnings on cigarette packages; who can forget the advocacy ad campaigns picturing bodies lying on the New York City streets outside of tobacco company headquarters, representing the hundreds of thousands of people who died each year from smoking?
These efforts helped tremendously when cigarette manufacturers had to admit to Congress their efforts to conceal the dangers of the products they manufacture.
Know what else helped? Legislators heard from their constituents, and that made them feel brave enough to stand up to lobbyists and campaign donations from the big money tobacco industry.
Now if we can only get similar campaigns to hit hard at the gun lobby and gun industry. For it’s clear that the parallels run deep — the gun industry trades on making billions of dollars at the expense of 30,000 people who die each year due to gun violence, including eight children in the U.S. every day.
Supporters of laws aimed at making it harder to access military-style guns and ammunition were heartened when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the SAFE Act, strengthening his states already strong gun laws. Clearly a threat to the big business of gun manufacturing, the NRA has stepped up its attacks on Cuomo, even though the law does not require gun owners to turn in their assault weapons, only register them. It did limit the sale of magazines to seven rounds within the state of New York, and strengthened background check requirements, among other changes.
Word coming out of Hartford isn’t as encouraging. Legislators had promised that legislation on gun safety and related security issues would be quick to come following the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012. The self-imposed deadline of the Newtown task force has come and gone, with little to show but frustration with — and amongst — Connecticut lawmakers.
So, too, is frustration growing with Congress amongst supporters of stronger, more comprehensive gun laws. Clearly, legislators who have been traditionally supported by NRA lobbyists are getting braver in their resistance, let alone less worried about how it look to voters as time passes since the shooting in Sandy Hook.
Case in point: Sen. John McCain answered a question about an assault weapons ban from a woman whose son was killed in the Aurora movie theater shooting. While he did express his sympathy to her, that condolence was followed by him saying, “I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States.”
[Author's note: While there’s been some back-and-forth in the press coverage of how video editing portrayed the Senator during the exchange and exactly how rude McCain was or wasn’t, I’d argue that no matter what, the parent of a gun massacre victim deserves more than the usual amount of restraint and courtesy, and I think the full clip shows the Senator was less respectful than he could have been.]
On March 13, there will be an event in Washington, DC, called “Moms Take The Hill,” led by a growing grassroots organization, Moms Demand Action. Their full title is actually “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America,” and their mission emphasizes just that — common sense. They want to appeal to lawmakers to act on three very simple solutions to address rising gun violence in the United States, according to their website:
- Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds
- Require background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases
- Report the sale of large quantities of ammunition to the ATF and ban online sales of ammunition
If you can’t make it to Washington on the 13th, there’s still a way for you to get involved. Cut out and decorate eight paper dolls, representing the eight children who are shot and killed in America every day. There is a concerted social media campaign as part of this, to flood legislators emails and offices with images of the paper dolls, and you can find out more details by clicking here.
I began this column by writing, “Remember when everybody smoked?” Wouldn’t it be great if someday I could write a column that starts, “Remember when it was easy to buy a gun?”
Hopefully it won’t take as long as 50 years to see the gun violence rates drop as dramatically as smoking rates did.