Skip to main content

Guns were last straw for me with GOP

By Steve Kozachik, Special to CNN
updated 5:43 PM EST, Tue January 22, 2013
A police officer oversees assault weapons collected at the LAPD's gun buyback event on December 26, 2012.
A police officer oversees assault weapons collected at the LAPD's gun buyback event on December 26, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Steve Kozachik organized a gun buyback in Tucson, the city where Gabby Giffords was shot
  • He was vilified and threatened by pro-gun people, who staged a "Cash for Guns" flea market
  • This spurred Kozachik to leave the GOP, which he says is beholden to gun lobby
  • Kozachik: Discussion of sensible reforms is drowned out by extremists

Editor's note: Steve Kozachik is vice mayor and a member of the Tucson City Council.

(CNN) -- In defiance of Newton's law that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, any discussion of legitimate controls on the use, handling and sale of firearms routinely yields an explosive overreaction of opposition. I learned that firsthand when I organized a voluntary gun buyback program for January 8 in Tucson, Arizona.

It was the tipping point for me to change my party affiliation from Republican to Democratic.

On January 8 in 2011, a seriously deranged young man murdered six people, including a 9-year-old girl, and wounded 13, including Rep. Gabby Giffords, during a 45-second shooting rampage in Tucson. He was finally subdued when he stopped to change clips in his semiautomatic weapon, after firing 31 rounds.

In the immediate aftermath, our community came together as one in our grieving over the deaths and in our resolve to do what we could to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Steve Kozachik
Steve Kozachik

But the irrational fears of the gun lobby succeeded in shouting down the debate, and in the intervening two years not a single piece of meaningful legislation has been adopted that would even begin to solve the problem.

I was the target of some of that violent overreaction in the two weeks leading up to the buyback. Thinly veiled threats were leveled at me. I was referred to as "Hitler." The response made it clear the event I was planning hit a nerve among a group who evidently believe the proper disposal of a firearm is tantamount to the desecration of a holy icon.

Opinion: A father's murder, a plea on gun control

Guns are not fetish objects. The buyback was simply an offer to people who were uncomfortable with having a weapon in their homes to trade those weapons into the Tucson Police Department in exchange for a $50 grocery gift card. More than $10,000 in gift cards were distributed during the event.

Obama's gun plan and the NRA's ad
Las Vegas hosts world's largest gun show
Kaine: Obama's gun orders 'reasonable'
Bloomberg on guns: 'There's a limit'

The money I used to buy those cards was donated in just under two weeks by Tucson residents, who still cling to the hope we will re-engage on the topic of rational gun control. They showed that the loud voices are not going to shout down the discussion this time around.

But on the periphery of my buyback, and on the periphery of rational discourse, was a group of gun and NRA enthusiasts holding a "cash for guns" firearms flea market. They held it on the boundary of the police department parking lot in which my buyback was taking place.

Obama's gun violence measures: Would they work?

In Arizona, it is legal for a person to walk up to another on a street corner, hand him cash for a firearm and simply walk off with it, with no need for a background check into his psychological or criminal history. That was exactly what happened with those who came to my buyback to "score some deals" on weapons by outbidding the gift cards I was offering.

I was a Republican at the time, but less than one week after the buyback, I chose to switch parties. I believe there is a centrist element among the rank and file in the GOP, but the leadership is led by the far right and openly beholden to the NRA and the gun lobby. It is that rigid ideology that is driving the party into irrelevancy. The overreaction to the gun buyback made it clear that, in Tucson at least, the Republican Party is out of touch with the values of the community.

The cash for guns event clearly highlighted that anyone, a criminal or someone who is mentally ill, can immediately buy a gun with no questions asked in Tucson. It's obvious that public safety demands that background checks be incorporated somehow in private, person-to-person purchases of guns.

Newspaper removes online data of gun permits

That really is low-hanging fruit in the regulation of weapons sales. Legislators have got to stand up to the gun lobbyists who resist even this minimal change in the law and adopt it -- federally and immediately.

Consider if the Tucson shooter had needed to change clips after just five rounds had been fired, or even 10. The carnage of the day would have been significantly decreased. Lives would have been saved. The size of gun magazines is also low-hanging fruit in this conversation.

So is the need to stop selling armor-piercing ammunition on the open market. Unless the goal is to kill a police officer, certainly rational people can agree that restrictions on the manufacture and sale of this sort of ammunition is in order.

NRA draws heat over shooting game

Over the past three years, the Arizona Legislature, with a Republican supermajority, has adopted statutes that have been offensive to Latinos, women and youth. I have openly resisted those bills, and after the recent elections in which those three demographic groups rejected the Republican brand, I had hoped things would change, and that the party leadership would resist the continuing lurch to the far right.

But even after 20 schoolchildren were killed in Newtown, leaders of the GOP have shown no inclination to resist the gun lobbyists who fund campaigns, but who come empty-handed when asked to craft reasonable gun legislation.

Until the Republican Party hemorrhages more and more centrists, leaders will not wake up to the damage they're doing to themselves and the party. The debate over rational gun control legislation is an opportunity for them to engage in a productive manner to make this nation safer.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Steve Kozachik.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT