You've probably never heard of Missouri state Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City). Last week, Ellinger introduced a bill that represents the most powerful assault weapons ban to date, and when you hear about its content, you might not think it's such a good idea. But I do. I think it's groundbreaking and even though it probably won't pass it could lead the way to lesser but achievable gun control laws in that state.
Ellinger's HB545 would not only ban the sale of assault weapons, it would also ban the manufacturing and importation of assault weapons. If that wasn't strong enough, the bill would criminalize the possession of an assault weapon following a 90-day period during which owners would be forced by law to relinquish their assault weapons to authorities.
Again, there's no chance of the bill passing and Ellinger readily admits it. But it's a stroke of genius nonetheless. Not necessarily because I think it's a fantastic idea (frankly, a buy-back program is more effective), but because it's strategically brilliant.
First, the bill makes other assault weapons bans seem comparatively innocuous. Line up Ellinger's bill next to Sen. Diane Feinstein's (D-CA) assault weapons ban, which would outlaw the sale of around 140 different assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns, and suddenly Feinstein's legislation seems like a more reasonable, moderate alternative. Further, the Ellinger proposal makes bans on extended magazines and comprehensive background checks seem downright pro-gun.
Put another way, it's kind of like proposing a British-style single-payer healthcare law in advance of a serious push for the public option.
The other consequence of such a bold anti-gun law is that it's brought out Missouri's craziest Republican gun zealots. Seriously, it's astonishing how deeply in the propaganda hole of the NRA and other gun lobbyists the following two Republicans appear to be. But I don't even think Wayne LaPierre in his most unstable, rubber-pants-in-a-tub-of-tapioca fever dream has even considered the following two ridiculous far-right counterpoints to Ellinger's legislation, or anything else for that matter.
Missouri Rep. Mike Leara (R-St. Louis County) introduced legislation, HB633, that would criminalize the legislative introduction of any gun control law. Any lawmaker violating the law would be charged with a felony and punished with upwards of four years in prison. Again, this would be for the introduction of a gun control law -- not the full-on passage and enforcement of a gun control law under some sort of constitutional challenge. Propose a bill, go to jail.
So suddenly Ellinger's law doesn't seem so crazy.
Leave it to the Republicans to take the bait and totally one-up an otherwise unpassable bill with another bill that appears as if it was concocted by Nurse Ratched in response to R.P. MacMurphy asking to watch the World Series in the mental ward.
But believe it or not, Leara's gun-control-legislation ban wasn't the craziest response to Ellinger.
Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) created actual videotape of his batcrap counterpoint. Watch:
In the video, Burlison travels to a local firing range where he mounts copies of Ellinger's bill as targets. Then Burlison and other random gun store hooples take turns shooting the hell out of the bill. No, it's not a clever YouTube parody or a bit from The Onion. An elected representative to the state legislature from the district of Springfield symbolically assassinated the bill.
There are a lot of different ways this could be taken. It was an obnoxious stunt to be sure. But in a more serious sense, what does this tell us about Republican gun zealots? Instead of forming a rational and statesmanlike response, which would be easy to do considering the Ellinger bill, Burlison created a radical Jackass-style video (without the laughs or testicle-injuries). In fact, I couldn't help but to be reminded of the time when Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy joked about how he named his firing range targets "Bill" and "Hillary."
Worse, the message Burlison has delivered not just to his district but to the world is that the only way to solve a problem is to shoot it. This is arguably the central disease of the American gun culture. Throughout our history we've literally blasted our way through various crises. Some instances were necessary, like the Revolution, the Civil War and World War II, but too many of them have been shoot-first-ask-questions-later kneejerk exercises in both unnecessary warfare, ridiculously destructive ballistic technology and chest-thumping bellicosity -- ultimately conflating the use of weaponry with patriotism. This has been passed down from generation to generation, embedding it within our American DNA and forming the basis for the gun culture.
Burlison probably thought it was funny to literally kill the bill, but it further emphasized why the gun culture needs to be eradicated. This is the broader effort that goes far beyond gun control laws and symbolic votes in Congress. It's about changing how we view firearms: as inalienable birthrights rather than inanimate killing tools.
As for Rory Ellinger, if he ever decides to run for Congress, I'll be one of the first to line up with a donation.