A BuzzFlash Guest Commentary
August 22, 2002
Bye, Bye Bob Barr
By Joe Sudbay, Political Director, Violence Prevention Campaign
Soon, he will be referred to as the former Congressman from Georgia...and this time it looks like both gun control advocates and his constituents agree that it couldn't come soon enough. Bob Barr, NRA Board Member and one of the leading pro-gun advocates in Congress, got thumped in his Republican primary on August 20 by a huge margin. If gun control played any part in Barr's loss, it was not because of his gun control voting record, it was literally his failure to control a gun. An incident where Barr and a colleague unintentionally fired a handgun during a campaign event garnered enormous media coverage and reinforced his image as a loose cannon.
Across the country, gun control advocates are among those who are clucking that Barr, the leading gun nut in Congress, lost...not just lost...he got trounced by a two to one margin in the primary. This humiliating defeat followed a campaign in which he trumpeted his pro-gun credentials while driving around his district with NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre and fellow NRA Board Members Grover Norquist and David Keene in tow.
Barr, a vocal member of the NRA Board, appeared at the 2001 NRA Annual Meeting to let them know he would stop any gun control effort in Congress. He was there, in front of the faithful, extolling his power for them while assuring the NRA members that he would be their savior in Congress.
As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Barr had his hands in every gun-related bill during his tenure and he used that role in nefarious ways. In 1996, Barr single-handedly tried to drive a wedge between law enforcement and the gun control community. The Senate had passed a provision that added persons convicted of misdemeanors for domestic violence assaults to the list of persons prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. The measure passed by an overwhelming margin: 97ó2. President Clinton insisted that Congress pass the measure before it adjourned. Traditionally, gun control laws exempt law enforcement and the military. However, during final negotiations, Barr added a provision that differentiated this prohibited class by including police and military personnel. The bill passed as part of the 1997 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act. Per Barrís plan, law enforcement reacted negatively.
If there is one anecdote about Bob Barr that sums up the man, it is probably his interaction with a survivor of gun violence that paints the most insightful picture. Barr was willing to puff out his chest before the NRA and jumped in front of every television camera willing to listen to his views on guns. Yet, Barr refused to listen to people affected by gun violence. During one hearing of the House Sub-Committee on Crime, in May of 1999, a survivor finally called him on it. Byrl Phillips-Taylorís only son Scott was killed in 1989 by an acquaintance who murdered him using an AK-47. Ms. Phillips-Taylor became an ardent advocate for gun control, including the federal assault weapons ban. At the May 27, 1999 hearing, NRA Board Member Barr explained his solution to school shootings was to post the Ten Commandments in schools. Despite his willingness to pontificate before the gun guys, Ms. Phillips-Taylor noticed that he always managed to slink out whenever she testified. She was a forceful witness, having appeared before the full House Judiciary Committee only two weeks earlier. Finally, at the May 27 hearing, she called Barr on it. Byrl expressed her frustration to Representative Bill McCollum, the chair of the subcommittee. She found it irritating that whenever she appeared, someone got up and left, referring to Barr. It was clear to Byrl that Bob Barr did not want to hear the story of her only son who was killed with an AK-47. From Barrís perspective, it certainly made taking the opposing view a lot easieró when the human toll was not a factor. Plus, the true carnage of gun violence might make his Ten Commandments solution seem a bit weak. Three weeks later, Barr led the movement to kill the House gun control bills insuring no action in the wake of the Columbine massacre.
The reality is that John Linder, who defeated Barr, is also an ardent foe of gun control. But he is not Bob Barr. Byrl expressed the views of many when she was told of the Barr loss, "This is the best news I have heard all year."
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