I get my Busches confused.
There’s Adolphus and August. Gussie and Billy. III and IV. So, it’s not surprising that when I went looking the other day for a piece I had written a few years ago about the Busch family and guns, I couldn’t find it. I remembered that after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults, one of the Busch family members had resigned a lifetime membership from the National Rifle Association.
This was big news at the time. Historically, the Busch family loves their guns almost as much as their beer. I was searching for the past coverage because of a new kerfuffle involving guns and the Busch family. It turns out, as it has many times in the past, the NRA had a fundraiser planned this summer at the historic Busch family estate known as Grant’s Farm. Political fundraisers are common at the complex. But coming on the heels of the latest massacre of schoolchildren by a madman with an AR-15, this time in Uvalde, Texas, that news contained a bit of particularly bad timing for Trudy Busch Valentine, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.
Valentine’s opponents in the primary — Lucas Kunce and Spencer Toder — jumped on the story, at least in the fleeting social media space. Really, it was a few hours of ado about nothing. All three Democrats are opposed to the NRA, in favor of the same gun safety measures, and at polar opposite sides of the gun debate from whichever gun-loving candidate wins the Republican primary.
By the end of the day, Valentine had made a donation to Mom’s Demand Action, a gun-safety group, and convinced the family to drop the NRA fundraiser.
Valentine isn’t alone among Busch family members seeking sensible gun-safety measures. That’s what I was seeking in my bungled Google and Post-Dispatch archive searches. But I was looking for August III, when I needed to be searching Adolphus IV. Eventually, I found it.
After Sandy Hook, in a moment that felt quite a bit like the current environment, Congress considered the most basic of gun-safety measures, universal background checks. It’s an idea the NRA used to back. It’s a proposal that the majority of Americans have long supported. Republicans funded by the NRA killed the bill.
That led Adolphus Busch IV, a hunter and environmentalist, to resign his lifetime NRA membership. It was a strong letter, that Busch made public in the Post-Dispatch and other publications.
“I fail to see how the NRA can disregard the overwhelming will of its members who see background checks as reasonable. In fact, according to a Johns Hopkins University study, 74% say they support background checks,” Busch wrote. “I am simply unable to comprehend how assault weapons and large capacity magazines have a role in your vision. The NRA I see today has undermined the values upon which it was established. Your current strategic focus places a priority on the needs of gun and ammunition manufacturers while disregarding the opinions of your 4 million individual members.”
Nearly a decade later, here we are again, with Democrats pushing for the most incremental of gun-safety measures and most elected Republicans continuing to send out mailers to their constituents with pictures of them holding weapons of war, because the NRA has turned America’s gun obsession into a profit center, as gun manufacturers cash in on dead kids. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. After school shootings, gun sales often spike.
Former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative, famously said years ago that the interpretation of the Second Amendment that got the U.S. in this spot is a “fraud.” Thomas Coffin agrees. He thinks relitigating that point, in the court of public opinion, and state and federal courts, is the only way out of this mess.
Coffin, a St. Louis native is a retired federal judge who spent two decades as a prosecutor. The way back to a more accurate interpretation of the amendment should begin the same way the current NRA-fueled view became so common, he says, with a nonstop drumbeat of education, and court cases that can turn the tide.
“The most important thing is to educate the public,” Coffin tells me. “America has been conned by the industry’s propaganda. The politicians hide behind the cover story. Peel away the false narrative and go from there.”
Coffin spent his life in a courtroom, and that’s where the change must happen, with cities and states passing common sense gun-safety measures that will eventually force the gun manufacturers into court where they have to be questioned under oath, and a record can be built. Then, someday, a Valentine, or a Kunce or a Toder, perhaps, can propose the legislation on background checks and ammunition limitations and assault weapons bans that a majority of Americans would like to see become law.
That sort of change won’t happen overnight. Until then, perhaps we should all head out to Grant’s Farm, drink a beer and feed the goats. Just keep your guns at home.