SEPARATED AT BIRTH: God, we are told, works in mysterious ways. Coincidentally, so, too, does California’s infamously sleazy Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. For the record, I’m not conflating the two. Newsom may see God when he looks in the mirror, but there’s no indication yet that God ever carried on a sexual affair with the wife of his campaign manager and best friend as Newsom did. But then, no homicidal maniacs have yet to cite fealty to California’s oleaginously opportunistic lieutenant governor to justify their blood-thirsty eruptions. By this metric, the advantage clearly belongs to Newsom.
In the wake of Orlando’s mass shooting, the experts are still debating whether the massacre was a hate crime or act of terror. The evidence, while not conclusive, suggests the killer could have been a violently self-loathing gay man. He’d been frequenting the nightclub he would ultimately shoot up two to three times a week for about three months. There were the frequent visits to gay chat rooms and his use of the gay app Grindr.
Certainly, history is bursting with angry, destructive repressed gay men, most famously former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover — now famous for his predilection for red dresses — and Roy Cohn, Red-Baiting Senator Joe McCarthy’s right-hand political hit man. Both Hoover and Cohn relentlessly persecuted gays in the federal government long before — and well after — they went after commies. It’s theoretically possible the Orlando killer may have also held some sincere terrorist beliefs, but if so they were sincerely confused. For example, the killer told coworkers he was simultaneously affiliated with Hezbollah and Al Qaeda — two groups now engaged in an intractable and irreconcilable war with each other.
I’m dragging Newsom into this mess because he, improbable historical change agent that he is, may wind up getting serious gun-control legislation passed in spite of the NRA’s political omnipotence on Capitol Hill. Clearly, Orlando by itself is not enough. If 20 dead elementary schoolkids in Connecticut three years ago wasn’t persuasive enough to get universal background checks passed, why should anyone think 49 bullet-riddled gay corpses will? The remarkable audacity and opportunism of Newsom’s political ambition, however, might just make the difference.
Newsom is already running for governor in 2018, and to that end, he’s collected the signatures to qualify a confrontational, in-your-face gun-control initiative for this November’s statewide ballot. If passed it would require background checks for people buying ammo, not just guns. It would also ban outright any gun with magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds of ammo. All such weapons would have to be turned over to authorities. This has Sacramento Dems defecating cinder blocks. They worry Newsom’s initiative will bring gun-toter voters to the polls in record numbers. In hopes of persuading Newsom not to turn in his signatures, Sacramento Dems have introduced a record number of gun-control bills at the state house.
In the past, Newsom has been a reckless, heedless, self-aggrandizing force of history. But he undeniably accelerated the pace of change where gay marriage is concerned. In February 2004, Newsom — then mayor of San Francisco — ordered the city clerk to perform same-sex marriages. It took the California Supreme Court one month to shut him down. In that time, 4,000 gay couples tied the knot. That was 4,000 genies that could never be put back in their bottles. That reality changed the world.
In the meantime, however, Newsom’s critics — many within the gay community — were proved absolutely correct. By moving too soon, too fast, Newsom generated a massive homophobic backlash that helped get George W. Bush reelected president in 2004. There were ballot initiatives in 13 states that defined marriage as something exclusive to a man and a woman. Of those, 11 won, generating massive turnout among social conservative voters. In the aftermath, Newsom was a four-letter word among many Dem Party strategists. Only in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of gay couples to wed, would that monkey be taken off his back.
Maybe Newsom is being heedless and reckless again. But with blood from Orlando and San Bernardino still wet on the pavement, my hunch is he prevails. The vast majority of California voters understand there’s no justification — constitutional or otherwise — for owning any firearm capable of spraying 13 rounds of ammo a second.
In 1934, the federal government outlawed machine guns, and somehow the Republic did not crumble. In 1996, Australia’s conservative Prime Minister John Howard got a serious gun-control package approved after a 28-year-old psycho killer with the intelligence of an 11-year-old went on a shooting spree, killing 35 and wounding 23 in just a few seconds. Automatic and semiautomatic weapons were banned outright and a mandatory gun-buy-back program enacted. Nearly 700,000 weapons were thus taken out of circulation. In the years following implementation, Australian firearm deaths declined 7.5 percent annually. Between 1995 and 2006, they dropped 59 percent. Opposition was sufficient that Howard felt the need to wear bulletproof vests when speaking in public. But amazingly, he and parliament managed to get something passed within 12 days. Today, there’s no controversy.
The NRA has been nothing if not imaginative, resourceful, and diabolically inventive in purporting to speak for every oppressed constituency’s right to defend itself. It recently posted an ad showing a transgender woman asking how she’d be able to defend herself from attack if any of the proposed gun control measures were to be passed. Newsom went ballistic and described the ad as “one of the most disgusting things they’ve ever done.” This earned Newsom sharp retort not from the NRA but a group calling itself the Pink Pistols. They blasted Newsom’s remarks as “ignorant and unfounded.”
It should be acknowledged that only a small portion of gun violence can be laid at the feet of automatic and semi-automatic rifles. As the NRA noted — yet again outdoing itself in the realm of cynical sophistry — that more people are killed in the United States by hammers than by rifles. If you burrow into the fine print of this claim, it really means hammers and other blunt objects, which are used to kill nearly 500 people a year. Rifles, by contrast, are used to kill about 325. Handguns, obviously, are the most deadly.
In 1994, then-president Bill Clinton managed to get an automatic-weapons ban passed, though riddled with loopholes. In retaliation, the NRA targeted 24 lawmakers who voted for it. In the November 1994 election, 19 of those 24 lost. (That ban expired in 2004. Since then the number of mass killings has doubled.) As a result, no one in D.C. messes with the NRA. But when the winsome Newsom prevails in California this fall, I predict that’s going to change. Normally, if I had to choose between God and Gavin Newsom, I’d side with the Supreme Being. But this year, I’m rooting for the sleazeball.