CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When The Sunday Gazette-Mail names its West Virginian of the Year, odds are that the winner won't emerge from the state's House of Delegates. There's a good bet, though, that Gazette editors will consider honoring Mayor Danny Jones or someone from Charleston City Council.
Why? Because political leadership is about standing for a cause -- one that may not be immediately popular among the masses but one that will nevertheless serve the public interest. To that end, Mayor Jones and Councilman Tom Lane have met the most crucial test: They worked hard to enact municipal restrictions on gun purchases that have reduced the murder rate and made our city a more comfortable place to live.
Now, though, many in the state House of Delegates want to reverse that ordinance -- an effort that if ultimately successful would certainly be challenged in the courts. Self-preservation is a natural instinct. Political survival is an extension of that. Hence, the path of least resistance, in this case, is to cave in to the National Rifle Association, whose lobbyists are funded by the gun manufacturers that profit mightily from weapons sales.
Those merchants use the Second Amendment as a decoy so that they can line their pockets at the people's expense. Even conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Berger called their twisted interpretation of the U.S. Constitution a "fraud." In secret, the NRA's hired hands threaten those who would defy them, vowing to blitz the airwaves with unfavorable ads. Weak ones collapse.
Courageous officials, however, remain committed, and honorable. And they are not alone. Nationally, the majority of Americans favor sensible gun laws such as requiring background checks everywhere a weapon is sold. They also support limiting the number of rounds that semi-automatic weapons can fire, to prevent the kind of mass murders the nation has recently witnessed. Many also want a ban on those assault-style semi-automatics.
If profits are paramount here -- as opposed to an absolutist version of the Second Amendment -- then gun makers and their political hit men can be taken down. How? By cutting off their funding, which comes in part from the huge institutional pension funds that invest in their operations. And it's happening now as cities and states across the country divest themselves of gun holdings.
Two California pension funds got things started: One representing the teachers, Calstrs, and the other its public employees, Calpers. The teachers are withdrawing $12 million while the public employees are pulling out $5 million.
Meantime, New York state and New York City are doing the same, with the former siphoning off about $15 million and the latter yanking out $13.5 million. Massachusetts is reviewing its policy and is expected to follow suit.