Remember when Wisconsin's new concealed carry law passed and "no guns allowed" signs started going up all over town? I'll never forget the first morning I saw the picture of a gun with a line through it posted on the front door of my daughter's daycare center.
Seeing those signs in the windows of restaurants, offices and the toy store across the street from the Capitol was a shock. But the more of them I saw, the more they seemed to mark little islands of sanity in a society that has been taken over by the gun nuts.
The week after the movie theater massacre in Colorado, I was on Wisconsin Public Radio with a conservative who suggested that people should boycott businesses that post no-guns signs. Not only did he reject the idea that we should consider limiting access to assault weapons and magazines that fire hundreds of rounds of ammunition at a time, he insisted that public opinion is on the side of letting people carry military-style guns wherever they go. Like our attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen, he suggested that the real problem in Colorado was that there weren't more people carrying guns into the movie theater, so they could shoot back.
This extreme, dystopian view of the world would be laughable if it were not, increasingly, the way we now live.
Ever since 1994, when the National Rifle Association successfully targeted Democrats in swing districts who had the temerity to support the Brady Bill and President Clinton's assault weapons ban, there has been virtually no resistance to the gun lobby. Both parties consider it far too dangerous to stand up to the NRA.
Thus we heard President Obama give lip service, after Colorado, to the idea that automatic weapons belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets. But the White House has no plans to revive the assault weapons ban or impose any other limits on weapons or ammunition.
The NRA, meanwhile, is pressing ahead. On Saturday there was an NRA-sponsored shooting event for members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Salt Lake City. ALEC is the group responsible for creating and promoting Stand Your Ground and other pro-gun laws in state legislatures around the country. Scott Walker is an ALEC alum, and the Republican leaders in our state Legislature are ALEC members.
ALEC's latest target is gangster-era laws prohibiting the sale and use of machine guns.
At an ALEC meeting last December, reports Madison's Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy, the NRA got ALEC's crime task force to approve a modified "model" bill that would ban cities from barring the sale of machine guns. Imagine if the city of Madison (which still doesn't allow guns on city buses, in schools or on other city property) were prohibited from preventing drunks on State Street from carrying machine guns.
NRA dittoheads, like my conservative friend on Wisconsin Public Radio, insist that gun control laws don't increase public safety. A crazy person like the Colorado shooter would simply have found another means of killing lots of people in the movie theater that night, he told me. But any police officer who has worked the night shift on State Street can tell you how wrong that is. People who are inclined to do violence use the means that come to hand, and if those means are weapons of mass destruction, we are in for a very scary time.
When a crazy gunman fired off 30 rounds near a Safeway in Arizona, shooting Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 17 other people, the gunman's automatic rifle jammed, allowing a Giffords staffer to tackle him and stop the violence. Yet Congress has refused to get behind a simple piece of legislation that would make it illegal to purchase gun magazines that fire off more than 10 rounds at a time. The Colorado shooter ordered 6,000 rounds on the Internet, perfectly legally, with no background check.
The obvious beneficiaries of our insanely liberal gun laws are weapons dealers. So it is no surprise the Browning Arms Co. was a cosponsor, with the NRA, of the ALEC shooting event last Saturday. Browning's most famous product is the Browning Automatic Rifle, a military machine gun.
No doubt we'll hear more about how we'd all be safer if we could tote our own machine guns. But people with common sense know better.
Years ago, just before we started at Red Caboose Day Care Center, a crazy man ran in with a big knife. The Red Caboose staff responded heroically, confronting the man and protecting the children until police arrived. A police officer shot the man, but not before our teacher Gary in the Elephant Room was badly slashed, ending up in the hospital. You cannot convince me that the situation would have ended as it did - with no children hurt and no one dead except the attacker - if, instead of a knife, the attacker had been carrying a machine gun.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.