In a powerful and revealing essay for The New Yorker, college friend and former Mayors Against Illegal Guns manager Arkadi Gerney reveals his own personal gun story. “Every day, an average of thirty-three Americans are murdered with guns. Another fifty or so die in gun suicides and accidents. And another two hundred or so are shot and injured. That’s a lot of stories.”
“On June 26, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court embraced the National Rifle Association’s contention that the Second Amendment provides individuals with the right to take violent action against our government should it become ‘tyrannical.’ The following timeline catalogues incidents of insurrectionist violence (or the promotion of such violence) that have occurred since that decision was issued.“
An isolated incident in Arizona? Um, not so much. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence offers a troubling timeline of “insurrectionist” violence over the past several years. (But remember: It’s just a freak coincidence that this recent tragedy, and all the others listed above, happened after several years of the GOP purposefully stoking the crazy. Really, we’re all equally at fault, etc. etc. Also, damn shame about all the guns around.)
“They say that ‘evil prevails when good men fail to act.’ It should just be ‘evil prevails.’” Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War, which I saw earlier this week, is basically an angrier, more sardonic kid brother to The Constant Gardener. But, while Gardener is probably a better-made work of cinema, I actually enjoyed myself more at Niccol’s film. At once a character study of an amoral arms dealer, a bitter tirade againt third world exploitation, and a dark comedy that may run too sour for some tastes, Lord of War is an above-average entrant in the satirical muckraking tradition. And its occasional preachiness is leavened by Nicolas Cage’s consistently-amusing and deftly-written performance, most of which is voiceover, at the center of the film.
Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant to Brighton Beach in the 1980s who, after an inadvertent run-in with the Russian mafia at a local cafe, realizes that guns, like the funeral business, is pretty much always a growth industry. Enlisting his more sensitive sibling (Jared Leto) as muscle and back-up (a.k.a. his “brother in arms”), Orlov embarks on a quest to arm the world and make mad bank doing it. Along the way, he woos a trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan), attracts the ire of both a more-established (and ostensibly more “moral” — he has politics as well as money in mind) rival (Ian Holm) and an idealistic, go-getter federal agent (Ethan Hawke), scavenges his former homeland after the fall of the USSR (essentially a free-for-all fire sale of tanks, munitions and ordnance), and finds himself in the company of increasingly more sadistic and unsettling despots (notably Eamonn Walker, doing a variation on Liberia’s Charles Taylor.)
What keeps Lord of War moving at a brisk clip is Cage’s deadpan voiceover, which boasts an impressive arsenal of witty bon mots. Says Orlov of his mission, “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?” Of his clients in the ’80s: “I never sold to Osama bin Laden. Back then, he was always bouncing checks.” Of his (brief) attempt to go on the up-and-up: “Thank God there are still legal ways to exploit developing countries.” In short, if your sense of humor runs toward the dark and twisted, Niccol’s tightly-written script pays dividends.
Whatsmore, unlike Gardener, which at times seemed to wallow in its piety, Lord of War cleverly juxtaposes its increasing contempt for Orlov’s vulturine livelihood against Cage’s natural amiability and his character’s rising fortunes (a la Richard III.) So, even as the story grows blacker, the audience has no place to go. We’re forced to empathize, at least to some degree, with Orlov’s attempt to achieve his own sick version of the American Dream on the backs of the Third World. Which, in the end, is Niccol’s point — We, too, are complicit in this story. Admittedly, the movie drops the ball somewhat in the last reel and veers too far toward polemic. (Of course, the same can be said of many quality film satires, including Catch-22 and Bamboozled.) But, until then, Lord of War is a disarmingly breezy jaunt through a highly-armed world and proof positive that, occasionally in “message movies,” honey catches more flies than vinegar.
“The Senate put off until fall completing a $491 billion defense bill in order to act this week on the National Rifle Association’s top priority: shielding gun manufacturers and dealers from liability suits stemming from gun crimes.” Well, that sounds much more important than our troops overseas, doesn’t it? Looks like Catkiller Frist is shoring up the freakshow base for 2008 at the expense of the American people again. Where’s the outrage? Update: The bill passes 65-31.
So much for local control. GOP gun-nuts — led by Senator Larry Craig of Idaho — try to force the District of Columbia to rescind its gun ban and “roll back registration requirements.” Republicans, argues DC Mayor Anthony Williams, are ‘using our District as a pawn. It’s an incredible assault on home rule.’”
The assault weapons ban expires tonight at midnight and, while it may not have been very effective anyway, somehow I get the sense that our homeland would be more secure with it in place. Shame on Dubya, and that goes double for the GOP Congress.
It seems that, for the Republicans, nothing says Homeland Security quite like easy access to assault weapons. “I think the will of the American people is consistent with letting it expire, so it will expire,” notes GOP Senate Majority Leader Bill “Catkiller” Frist of the decade-old assault weapons ban set to end on Monday, despite the fact that 68% of Americans (and 74% of voters, in a separate poll) want to see it renewed. On the House side, perennial GOP freakshow Tom DeLay “dismissed the ban as ‘a feel-good piece of legislation’ and said flatly that it would expire Monday, even if Mr. Bush made an effort to renew it. ‘If the president asked me, it would still be no,’ Mr. DeLay said.” Don’t worry. I doubt he’ll ask ya, although the electorate just might come November.
A very happy Easter to you and yours, from the (possibly temporary) new look GitM. Here’s hoping you didn’t find any guns during your Easter Egg hunt and that you didn’t have to witness the Passion of the Easter Bunny. Freaky-deaky stuff.
Via my friend Mark, Orrin Hatch is trying to lift the handgun ban in DC. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be for home rule? “District officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and police chief Charles H. Ramsey opposed the legislation.” If you want to kowtow to campaign-contributing gun nuts, Senator, then hand out free semis to Salt Lake City residents or something…don’t take out your frustrations on the District.
Must be election season…Despite the desires of the NRA, Dubya plans to support a continued ban on assault weapons. I’m sure he can just have Ashcroft vacate it later.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia accepts a free speech award…while muzzling the press. War or no, the blatant examples of conservative doublethink lately are getting outrageous. In loosely related news, the FBI track down a long-lost copy of the Bill of Rights. Think they could let Ashcroft take a gander before they return it to NC? The Attorney General seems to have gotten caught up somewhere around the Second Amendment.
What’s worse than stealing other people’s sources? Making them up in the first place. Historian Michael Bellesiles is forced to resign from Emory after a commission finds he falsified materials in his Bancroft Award-winning Arming America.