Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ memorable novella A Christmas Carol, uttered the equally memorable phrase “I’ll retire to Bedlam” when he thought everyone he was talking to had gone nuts. In the heated and often unfocussed rhetorical aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting I wonder if its time to do the same.
The National Rifle Association has gone off the rails. It promotes a toxic view of citizenship as well as gun ownership. With hunting on a downward spiral, perhaps its goal is to gin up a gun market designed around self-defense, even if we aren’t sure from whom we are defending. Furthermore, prominent NRA organizational spokespeople Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch compete with people like Alex Jones for who can be the most outrageous.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Ohio wrote a bill equating innocuous, 22 rimfire hunting and target rifles from the ninteen-sixties to so-called “assault rifles” used to mow down people at the Parkland Fl school. “Kill the NRA” is a popular hashtag. On the local front, a thoughtful leader of a local gun violence prevention organization demands that school, law enforcement, and government organizations purge themselves of anyone with NRA affiliations, which amounts to McCarthyism. This in spite of people like NRA Life Member Mike Weisser being an outspoken critic of NRA leadership and an outspoken supporter of gun violence prevention on his blog and in the pages of the Huffington Post. My stepdad, also an NRA Life Member, dutifully follows the most recent NYS Safe act, putting ten round plugs in his magazines. Breaking with his single-issue tradition, he refused to vote for the Orange Loose Cannon.
As far as the NRA, gun owners need a voice in government. It’s a fact of life that any party subject to government rulemaking needs a competent, full time representative in the halls of the various legislatures to make sure its voice is heard and story understood; gun owners will be heavily impacted by any state or Federal gun control legislation. Indeed, the gun violence prevention community has multiple full time advocates, such as those funded by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. Mr. Bloomberg’s people don’t always get it right on the details. Neither does the NRA. Most thoughtful gun owners work full time and cannot descend on their elected representatives. We depend on competent spokespeople lurking in the halls of government. I wish we had more
An example of a glaring misunderstanding that could affect legislation was recently provided by Lois Beckett, a thoughtful analyst who extensively covers US gun issues for the UK based Guardian. She noted that in a recent CNN poll indicating 57% of Americans would ban “rifles capable of semi-automatic fire such as the AR-15” the pollsters never defined semi-automatic firearms nor the difference between traditional autoloading hunting rifles and assault-style semiautomatic rifles based on military models.
The problem with the NRA isn’t that its claims that someone needs to represent the interests of gun owners is invalid. The problem is that the NRA leadership no longer represents gun owners; it has become a voice of the far right in the culture wars rather than a voice representing the bulk of the estimated 30-40% of Americans who own firearms. Likewise, many on the left see “guns and bibles” through the eyes of left of center culture warriors. Thus, we don’t discuss the actual problem of gun violence so much as the overprint of our cultural values. That’s what we need to fix.
If I were still an NRA member, I would demand that the entire NRA Board of Directors be recalled and that the organization find spokespeople who understand the role of guns in society rather than competing for the Atilla the Hun Award. How about we start there?