No, it’s not the NRA.
The biggest mistake made about gun violence and what to do about it is accusation, “It’s the NRA!” This is supposed to explain why Congress doesn’t adopt the gun reforms anti-gun activists want. Starting with “ban assault rifles” plus “end the gun show loophole,” or “more stringent background checks.”
This is a canard and one that anti-gun activists know is a canard—or should—because the real reason is more frightening from their perspective: politicians in Washington are afraid of their voters! More afraid than they are of anti-gun activists.
As though there is some gigantic “rightwing conspiracy” led by the NRA to keep laws from being enacted to make it harder to buy guns. It’s not a conspiracy if you do it out in the open. The NRA does, in fact, oppose almost any law proposed that would curtail gun ownership. However, that’s not why so many Republican politicians vote that way. Politicians are not motivated primarily or even substantially by their fear of the NRA. Or by their lust for NRA money, whose donations are smallball compared to the money that can be tossed around by the likes of Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State/County/Municipal Employees.
The fact is that a good percentage of their VOTERS—who or may not, but in most cases don’t belong to the NRA— will turn on them with a vengeance if they go after gun owners. Thirty-two percent of Americans own guns and 44% of Americans live in a gun household. That’s a gigantic interest group. It is, as the Ghostbusters might say, a “very big Twinkie.” They don’t have to give money. They just have to vote and their elected officials will toe the line. What’s more, the number of gun owners grows each year. Why? Because a substantial number of people believe it when they are told that leftwing politicians want to take away their guns. They also see leftwing politicians advocating “defunding” the police and figure maybe they are their own best first line of defense.
So they are gunning up in self-defense. No wonder the anti-gun lobby concentrates its fire on the NRA. They don’t dare to attack gun owners. That would be political suicide. As Democrats discovered during the era of Clinton when Congress passed a “assault rifle” ban and paid for it for decades. The NRA didn’t create the Second Amendment perspective, it reflects it. It’s an American oeuvre, dating back to colonial times. We don’t like to admit it but we are a violent people.
In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas atrocity it is understandable that more people would buy guns. For, if the police are too incompetent to respond effectively when a shooter is murdering elementary school children, how safe is anyone? It is also understandable that a large segment of the population wants to take those guns away. How do we reconcile those two perspectives?
Compromise. I know, it’s a sick and twisted term that causes the heads of the far right and far left to spin on their necks, like candidates for an exorcism. Both sides need to realize they can’t win absolutely, but they might hammer out something everyone can live with.
Fact: the extreme gun control lobby lost the argument a long time ago. They are not going to take our guns. The Supreme Court has enshrined gun rights too firmly. It is a bedrock constitutional right. Too many people believe gun ownerships gives them agency in their own protection. They know police are not our first line of defense. We ourselves are. Often the police show up later to clean up the mess. This isn’t Australia or Canada, and we aren’t compliant sheep who snap to attention whenever the government barks a decree (I concede that the image of militant sheep is jarring.)
But while the gun control advocates will never have the power to take away everyone’s guns, they can’t resist giving the impression that its precisely what they hope to do. Even when it would serve their interests to propose solutions that, while they wouldn’t impact gun ownership, could have an impact on the numbers who die from gun violence.
Proposals such as raising the legal age for buying long guns, of “red flag” laws that make it possible for police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who demonstrate crazy behavior or make credible threats. Such a tool is similar to a temporary restraining order.
The reality that those who regularly demonize the NRA miss, or deliberately misunderstand, is that it is a shadow of its former self. The victim of its own past successes and excesses, which led to a high-living lifestyle of its top executives. Among regular donors to politicians the NRA is far behind such organizations as the Planned Parenthood, American Federation of State/County/Municipal Employees and American Federation of Teachers.
Both sides talk past each other, because neither side can afford to admit that the other side might have some good ideas. No one is willing accept half a loaf for fear of appearing to be less than totally committed.
One recalls Yeats’s Second Coming:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Them’s today’s politicians, all right.
That is the reason why it is hard for there to be significant laws passed that might curtail mass shootings.