The Trouble with Mary

By now you will have heard the story of Mary Lou Sapone/Mary McFate, the woman who since the late 1990s has covertly infiltrated gun control groups for a private security firm hired by the National Rifle Association (NRA). I knew Mary McFate. I considered her an ally in the campaign to stop gun violence in this country. Like others in the movement, I felt deeply betrayed by her mendacity and duplicity.

I am particularly dismayed by the pain felt by many victims and survivors of gun violence who befriended Mary and poured out their own personal stories to her. At times, they relied on her for solace and for assistance. What they got was betrayal. To me, this is the greatest damage done by this spy in our midst.

I suppose that we should take comfort in the fact that the National Rifle Association was so frightened by our activities that they were willing to pay Sapone/McFate huge sums of money to spy on our organization and betray those who considered her a friend and co-worker. I can express shock that Mary McFate was the agent, but no shock that the NRA would stoop so low. This high-priced, unethical operation confirms the manner in which the NRA works. As Bryan Miller of States United to Prevent Gun Violence recently observed, the NRA has “no rules, no question of fairness or honesty. Anything that they can do they will do to protect the profits of the gun industry.” In the words of James Jay Baker, who was executive director of the NRA’s legislative arm when Mary was hired, “We got information from whatever sources we can.” This incident is but one in a long list of dirty, underhanded activities undertaken by the NRA. Anti-gun violence advocates across the nation-indeed around the world-can bear witness to the varied and vicious skullduggery of this mouthpiece of the gun industry.

As sad as this incident is, we must not let it make us paranoid. It should not color our attitude toward the good people who step forward to become involved in the vital campaign to stop gun violence. Mary Lou Sapone will have to live with her betrayal; we do not have to bear that burden. We have the responsibility to past and potential victims of gun violence to do all within our power to reduce the death and destruction caused by our country’s lax policies regarding firearms. Let us bury the memory of Mary with our re-dedicated activity.

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