“I’m the NRA, and I vote”—for sane, reasonable, rational control of private firearms purchase and ownership.
I’ve been a target shooter for over forty-five years. For about a dozen of those years I competed seriously, in and after college, including at the U.S. national championships and the Olympic tryouts. I’ve been coached by multi-time Olympic and World Champions. I won a half-dozen state shooting championships in three different states. I coached and taught others to shoot and to improve their shooting. For me, “gun control” means improving my ability to hit as close to the center of the paper target’s concentric rings as I can, more and more consistently.
I was in my early teens when I got my first target rifle, a .22 cal. Anschutz Model 64. Later in my teens, I became a life member of the U.S. governing body for the competitive shooting sports, the National Rifle Association. Among the NRA’s primary missions then were the promotion of competitive shooting, preservation of and continued access to open lands conducive to enjoyable and safe hunting, and firearm safety. Having come to enjoy the outdoors, thanks in large part to Scouting, I strongly supported those three missions.
Something has happened in the intervening years.
The NRA’s mission has been perverted.
Firearm safety? Where is there the promotion of firearm safety in advocating the arming of elementary school staff?
Firearm safety? Where is there the promotion of firearm safety in the insistence of allowing private ownership of magazines capable of holding 30, 40, 100 rounds of ammunition?
After the murders of children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, the NRA had the perfect opportunity to show national leadership on the political stage. After those murders, more than any others in many years at that time, the call for change was broad, deep, and loud. After those murders, the NRA could have taken the lead and said, “It’s more than enough: it’s too much. Something must change. We must change. We, the people in the United States, must change how we think and how we talk and how we listen about private firearms ownership. We must change what we see on screen, what we glorify, what we promote, away from ever more realistic, ever more frequent depiction of violence—especially with firearms.”
Instead, only a few weeks after those murders, the NRA endorsed a new first-person shooter video game—a game that inures its players to using violence. Instead, the NRA declared that we should deploy armed guards in our schools. Instead, the NRA’s leadership dug in its collective heels and vehemently opposed any meaningful change in our discourse, our country’s laws, and even our psyche.
The dialogue must change. The tenor of the discourse must change.
It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims—49 more dead, 53 more wounded at Pulse nightclub in Orlando—were young. It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims were part of a specific community, the Latino community. It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims were part of another specific community, the LGBTQ community. It’s that the most recent 102 more victims were people: forty-nine more people who died and fifty-three more people who were wounded by a lunatic. A lunatic who used a gun.
I don’t care whether the gun was legal in Florida or not. I don’t care whether the configuration of the rifle was legal or not. I don’t care whether the murderer possessed that firearm legally or not. After all, the murderer didn’t care. Neither did the victims—or the families and friends and colleagues and communities who survive them and mourn them, or those recovering from their injuries and the trauma of the attack.
How we talk about gun violence in this country must change. How we talk about any violence in this country must change.
How should it change?
Stop glorifying violence.
Start passing and implementing further reasonable controls on private firearm ownership. Unlike what perhaps the NRA would like us to believe, there are already restrictions on private firearm ownership in the U.S. Those can be extended without impeding hunting or competition (except competitions that focus solely on those firearms). There are already restrictions on some people’s ownership of firearms in general. In fact, Franklin Orth, who was NRA Executive Vice-President during the Congressional debate on the Gun Control Act of 1968, supported a ban on mail-order sales, stating, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” (Lee Harvey Oswald purchased the rifle he used to murder President Kennedy by mail—legally, at the time—and one of the provisions of GCA 68 banned mail-order firearms purchases.)
I think we could make similar statements about many of the firearms used in large-scale multi-victim murders.
GCA 68 has not been ruled unconstitutional. The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, also known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, is no longer law not because it was unconstitutional, but because of a ten-year sunset clause and Congress’s unwillingness to renew the law in 2004. (In 2004, the Republican Party held a majority in the Senate and in the House, and George W. Bush, a Republican, was president.)
Laws will not change the behavior of those who break them. It is already illegal to murder someone. A law prohibiting possession of an instrument of that murder is just one more law.
Why pass more laws, then?
Because it will begin the change we need. Legislation can be a continuing catalyst to changing the way we talk about violence and violent crime in the United States. Legislation will not be a short-term fix: there are no short-term fixes, and that’s a big part of the problem. The United States, as a nation, has a short attention span. The United States, as a nation, would rather see a quick fix that’s minimally effective than a long-term fix that actually works. But, there is no quick fix for this problem. Fixing this problem will take a generation.
Just because we cannot fully resolve the problem does not free us from beginning the work.
Does the Second Amendment guarantee the right to private firearm ownership? The United States Supreme Court has said it does (in District of Columbia v. Heller—a split decision of 5-4). How broadly can “…shall not be infringed” be interpreted? Not beyond the limits of GCA 68. Within these bounds lies the area for discussion. Within these bounds—not at the one pole of complete prohibition of firearm ownership and confiscation of all private firearms, nor at the other pole of utterly unfettered private access to all firearms of any type—lies the area about which we must talk and listen, listen and talk.
The conversation must move from one of sides and camps and entrenchment to one of compromise. Compromise and cooperation are the only ways that we can solve this problem. Any other route will, at best, result in a small and short-term change instead of a lasting change. Along the way, the conversation must, especially, focus on our national psyche, on changing our society from one which promotes and glorifies violence to one which does not.
“I’m the NRA, and I vote”—for sane, reasonable, rational control of private firearms purchase and ownership, for sane discussion, for listening, for compromising, for reaching a viable and workable middle ground, for changing the way we talk and listen, for beginning to change our national psyche.