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Beyond the Pale

On Gabby Giffords and the NRA and the slurs of Kevin Williamson

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We're almost embarrassed to report this, but it's receiving enough attention elsewhere for what it illustrates about the right wing in this country that it becomes a duty to hold our nose and do so.

In a column entitled "The Corner" in the online edition of the arch-conservative National Review on Sunday, Kevin Williamson poured scorn on an op-ed written by Gabby Giffords for The New York Times. It will be recalled that Giffords is the plucky, incredibly brave Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the back of the head two years ago by a gun-toting marauder while greeting constituents on a shopping-center parking lot. Giffords was lucky in one sense: By some miracle she survived, while others victimized in the onslaught didn't (though we shudder to imagine the difficulty of her rehab or the gruesome pain and frustration she has encountered in going through it).

Ever since then, Giffords, now retired from Congress, and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, have devoted their energies to raising the consciousness of their fellow Americans about the need for finding some means to arrest the upward curve of gun violence in this country. In her Times article, Giffords regretted the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass moderate legislation requiring background checks for gun purchases in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre of school children last December.

Astoundingly, though a majority of senators favored it, the bill was filibustered and blocked by a dedicated minority (Republicans, though Giffords, a Democrat, chose not to mention the fact). She observed, sensibly (and knowledgeably) enough, "These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending." Telling it like it was, Giffords described such behavior as "cowardice."

To this, the wretched Mr. Williamson retorted: "[B]eing shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions, nor does it give one moral license to call people 'cowards' for holding public-policy views at variance with one's own. Her childish display in The New York Times is an embarrassment."

Not since Rush Limbaugh used his broadcast perch to mock the uncontrolled limb movements of Michael J. Fox, Parkinson's-disease sufferer and actor-become-advocate of stem-cell research, has there been a public assertion so vile. But, as in Limbaugh's case, Williamson's remark served to point out just how unconscionably beyond the pale these professional "conservatives" have become.

As for the accuracy of Giffords' descriptions, here is confirmation from former Tennessee state representative Debra Maggart, who was chair of the state House Republican caucus until 2012, when, after failing to rubber-stamp a bill being pushed by the National Rifle Association, she was defeated for reelection via a well-funded NRA campaign on behalf of her primary opponent.

In her own op-ed for the Times after Newtown, Maggart, a conservative's conservative, drew upon her experience to observe, "Because of N.R.A. bully tactics, legislators are not free to openly discuss the merits of gun-related legislation."

It's true in Nashville, and it's true in Washington, and not all the monstrous musings of the Kevin Williamsons can change the fact.

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