Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

NRA, We Hardly Knew Ye


Yesterday I asked if we can be reasonable with gun safety measures.  To get a handle on this, we need to look first at the extreme voices on both sides.  On the right is the NRA.

When I took the hunter's safety course  oh so many years ago, I took it through the NRA.  If I recall,   the class took several evenings to complete and there was even some practice time required.  It came with workbooks and a safety test.  It came with a membership in the NRA which was, at the time, kind of like becoming a member of the Junior Rangers or Justice League.  That, however, is no longer the case.  The NRA has become the gun lobby with a budget ranging in the hundreds of millions.  It has long since left its roots to protect and teach young hunters.  The NRA was founded to teach gun safety to kids by veterans of the Civil War.  Its first political voice  was in support of the gun control measures in the 1930s, but for the most part, it was a safety organization and for many states a requirement or  recommendation for a hunting license.  And then the NRA became radical...

In the 60's they did some opposition to gun control, but it wasn't as it is now. Sometime in the late 70's or early 80's the NRA began to oppose gun safety.  They coined the saying that "guns don't kill people..."  They had the very public  speaker of Charlton Heston as their president.  And as their radical stances became more and more anti-anything gun safety, membership began to drop.  That's right, the much vaunted membership of the NRA dropped as the gun owners saw sense in some of the proposals left the more radical organization.  Flash forward to the election following the first assault weapons ban in the 1990's.  The NRA's membership which had declined from 3 million to 2.3 million in 1990, had found a strong and often radical point-of-view and then they were able to take credit for the defeat of several politicians who had voted for the ban.  They became more and more uncompromising on any sort of "gun control" legislation.

But what is more, they also became not just the voice of "gun owners" but in actuality the voice of the gun manufacturers.  It is the manufacturers that have given the lobby even more clout.  If truth be known, however, the people they've targeted to be replaced in elections for their "anti-gun" stance in the last election was statistically an immense failure.  What makes them powerful? It is money and they've convinced many a politician that they wield tremendous power.  All they need to do is force a primary which will give the more radical base a chance to support their candidate and oppose a more mainstream candidate.

Enter Wayne LaPierre who began working for the NRA in 1977.  His rise to vice-president of the NRA and spokesperson and why anyone would listen to him still amazes me.  Shortly before the Oklahoma bombing, he wrote a fundraising letter calling Federal agents "jack-booted government thugs" wearing "Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms." In the late 90's, accused Clinton or tolerating a certain amount of violence because it strengthened the case for gun control and still, in 1999 while testifying before Congress he supported the background check of all gun sales.  So what happened?

"The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" is the new mantra.  It is also more than a bit scary.  Every thing that is offered in the statement blames everything but guns...movies, music and video games.  Yet no explanation is offered as to why other nations have these same movies, songs and video games and not the extreme violence.  It almost seems the argument is now the best way to stop gun violence is more guns.  We tried that.  It was called the Arms Race.  It didn't work. Adding more weapons will not, cannot, solve issues in a culture of guns.  Am I the only person who finds it interesting that the solution for gun violence is by adding to the sales of more guns from a lobby that is supported by gun manufacturers?

It is clear from recent interviews the NRA no longer represents its own constituency.  In a recent survey ninety percent of Americans support the idea of background checks.  Even 75 percent of the membership of the NRA supports the idea. And what is the NRA's stance, "I think what they'll do is they'll turn this universal (background) check on the law-abiding into a universal registry on law-abiding people," says LaPierre.

Suddenly something the NRA's membership supports will become a registry and a way for new taxes.  The evil government will use it to spy on gun owners. Next in his interview comes the flyers from the Obama campaign which tells how Obama will not take your guns.  He forgets that these flyers were in response to his own flyers and emails sent to gun owners about Obama taking away guns and gun rights.  It is political. It does not represent the problem.  It is fear mongering.  It is something which radical groups are very good at.  There is not one shred of evidence that background checks will become a registry or a tax although I am not so sure a national registry of guns is a bad idea.

The NRA has come up with one suggestion that many support and that is added security at schools, but that will hardly solve the problems at churches, malls, businesses.  It is in fact over-simplification of the problem.  So what can we take out of all this? Fear mongering is not a solution.  It is a problem.  The answer to gun violence is not more guns.  We need to look at reasonable voices and reasonable solutions. The NRA says it has four million members. In a nation of nearly 314 million people, it is hardly a staggering number.

So we have the fringe on the right of gun safety making big noise and getting good press.  Next we need to look at the fringe on the left of gun control.