Is The NRA Ready To Make A Deal on Gun Control?

In the aftermath of the shocking yet exhilarating electoral victory crafted by Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 18th CD, I have seen numerous comments within the gun violence prevention (GVP) community raising concern about Lamb’s ‘pro-gun’ approach.  That’s understandable, given the fact that his very first television ad contained a snippet showing him blasting away with his beloved AR-15. Which presents something of a dilemma for the GVP crowd going into November, because they have tied themselves to a campaign to ban assault rifles, among other things.

lamb             Actually, Lamb isn’t the first post-Trump Democratic candidate to fashion a campaign around being pro-gun.  Last year a Republican, Greg Gianforte, overcame an assault of a reporter as well as the charge that he was a carpet-bagger to win a special election against Rob Quist, the latter beginning his campaign with a television ad showing him shooting what he claimed was his family’s trusty, ol’ Winchester to prove he was a Montana native through and through.

If I wanted to make a quick buck, I’d go downstairs to my private gun range (that’s right, I can get up from this computer, walk down a flight of stairs and bang away to my heart’s content) and do a couple of shooting videos that could then be sold to the DNC.  And every Democratic candidate running in one of those ‘soft’ red Congressional districts could splice a piece of video into their television ads to prove they are ‘pro-gun.’

Could control of Congress in 2018 depend on which party is better at selling a message about how much they love guns?  Whether or not this turns out to be the case, what I find interesting is how the NRA has suddenly begun to change its messaging in what is obviously an appeal to sell itself beyond its most extreme base. According to Chris Cox, the NRA is ready to engage in a ‘broad discussion’ about the ‘culture of violence’ which exists today. The purpose of this discussion is to “take action to prevent violence and protect 2nd Amendment rights,” including gun-violence restraining orders (GVRO) which the NRA used to oppose.

Even the NRA’s hard-and-fast opposition to expanding background checks all of a sudden appears to have changed.  Before last week, America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ opposed any extension of background checks, anywhere, anytime at all. But last week the narrative changed. Here’s Wayne-o’s latest message to the faithful: “We will oppose any attempt to make people engage in a background check to transfer a gun to a relative, neighbor or friend.” How’s about selling a gun to someone you just met? I didn’t notice that Wayne-o is saying that any and all gun transfers should take place without a NICS check.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that when the 116th Congress begins its 2019 session that the majority switches from red to blue. And let’s further say that a new gun-control is proposed expanding background checks to secondary sales. Right now the bill that has been filed by Senator Murphy (D-CT) basically prohibits the transfer of any gun to anyone without first doing a background check unless the person receiving the gun is a spouse, domestic partner, child, sibling or other relative of the person getting rid of the gun.

Guess what? Figure out how to define ‘friends’ and ’neighbors,’ add them to that list and you’ve got yourself a comprehensive, national background-check bill. But it takes both sides to come up with language which each side can sell to their constituencies as being nothing other than what they have always said.

Until last week the NRA opposed any extension of background checks – no ifs, ands or buts. All of a sudden, the tune has changed. I’m not saying the NRA is morphing into a gun-control organization. But it’s one thing to take a shot at the enemy, it’s quite another to sit down and make a deal. Is either side in the gun debate willing to see something like this actually occur?


Want To Win In November? Run Against The NRA.

If you had told me back last year that a Democrat could win a special Congressional election in a Pennsylvania district that Trump carried by 20 points, I would have grabbed the kool aid glass out of your hands before you drank enough to do yourself in. But it happened, and even though the outcome may have been somewhat based on the fact that the GOP ran a candidate who was even dumber than Betsy DeVos, things begin to look very interesting for November 6, 2018.



Demonstration outside of Smith & Wesson March 14, 2018.


Is Trump’s inability to get his personal poll numbers above 40% going to be a drag on red candidates in races for the Senate and the House? November is still a long way off, but the momentum is clearly with the blue team, which means that the various constituencies that make up the Democratic Party coalition better start getting their messaging together because what they say in red districts may really count.

One of those constituencies is the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, whose voice has taken on new strength and resonance since the shooting rampages at Las Vegas and Stoneman Douglas High. And if you think that GOP candidates have decided to tone down their rhetoric following these shootings, think again. In Maine, the GOP candidate for the state legislature called Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland student survivors, a ‘skinhead lesbian,’ and even though he later apologized for the remark, what kind of schmuck would say something like that to begin his political campaign?

The Maine GOP idiot happens to be a Life Member of the NRA. What his comment tells us is that the GOP will pull out every stop to demonize the other side going into November, and one of their biggest stops has always been the idea that if we elect Democrats to office, the first thing they’ll do, even before raising taxes, is take away all the guns. I happen to be a Life Endowment Patriot member of the NRA, so I get fundraising appeals from Fairfax every day. Here’s what Wayne-o had to say this morning about the Pennsylvania vote: “It’s all part of a hate-filled campaign aimed at grabbing veto-proof majorities in the U.S. House and Senate this year. If that happens, gun control will be at the top of the agenda – registration, licensing, semi-auto bans and ultimately, the final destruction of our Right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

To make Wayne-o’s nightmare come true, the blue team not only has to keep all their current seats in the W column, they also have to grab vulnerable seats currently held by the other side. And I guarantee you that the GOP narrative in the toss-up districts will lean heavily on the issue of guns. What else do they have to run on? The tax cut? Trump’s hair-do? The GVP may not be comfortable with campaign ads like the first one run by Conor Lamb which showed him blasting away with an AR-15, but when the GOP pushes the lie about ‘protecting’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ you do what you gotta do.

Maybe what the GVP should consider bringing to the November election is not a referendum on guns, but a referendum on the NRA. Frankly, when a 16-year old schoolgirl gets a larger Twitter following than either Wayne-o or Dana Loesch, something is happening out there regarding the value of the NRA brand. And having backed themselves into an extremely crazy, ultra-nationalist rhetorical corner, running ads with a Democratic candidate chastising his opponent for subscribing to such loony views might make sense.

The good news for the blue team and the GVP is that America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ can’t turn around and suddenly present themselves as some kind of moderate group just trying to find a balance between the risks versus the benefits of guns. Wayne-o may have thought that backing Trump was a smart move for the NRA, but it’s not looking so smart any more.


Khalil Spencer: Gun Owners Need A Credible NRA.

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.

bears1The 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?

How Do We Define An Assault Weapon? However You Want To Define It.

Now that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community appears to have come together to push for a ban on assault rifles, and Herr Donald Schumck-o has decided that anyone over the age of 18 should be able to walk into a gun shop and purchase said product, maybe it’s time to figure out how and when the term ‘assault rifle’ should be used.

AR              According to Gun-nut Nation, there’s no such thing as an ‘assault rifle,’ at least not anything that can get into the hands of any law-abiding gun owner, unless he’s willing to plunk down $200 for a Treasury-NFA tax stamp and wait a few months for the purchase to be approved. This is because gun purists have decided that the term ‘assault rifle’ can only be applied to fully-automatic weapons, since the term first applied to a German sub-machine gun, the ‘Sturmgewehr,’ that was issued to German troops near the end of World War II.

Now the fact that this particular design first appeared in a gun issued to Russian troops during the Battle of Stalingrad makes little difference to those gun-history experts who pliantly craft their narratives to fit the marketing needs of the NSSF and the NRA. But why let facts get in the way of whatever nonsense you want to peddle, particularly when you can tie your spiel to something that will protect their 2nd-Amdnement ‘rights?’

The first time the term ‘assault weapon’ appeared in legislation was the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, the assault-weapon ban that became law in California, passed following the gunning down of five immigrant school-children in 1989. And here’s the critical wording of the actual law which needs to be understood today: “a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.”

Now the good news about this bill was that it made an explicit distinction between weapons designed to be used against human beings, as opposed to weapons designed for hunting and sport. The bad news is that the law didn’t explicitly define such terms as ‘high rate of fire,’ and ‘capacity for firepower,’ which opened the Pandora’s box of how to define an ‘assault weapon’ that remains open to the present day. Instead of defining these terms and then banning any weapon which met these definitions, the law listed over 50 specific banned guns, and added some silly language about various cosmetic doo-dads (collapsible stock, flash hider, etc.) which don’t really change a gun’s lethality in any particular way.

When the Feds put together their AWB in 1994, they borrowed the list of California-banned guns, included the various design features but dropped any reference to lethality; i.e., no mention of ‘high rate of fire’ or ‘capacity’ at all. This opened the door for Gun-nut Nation to claim that since no semi-automatic rifle can shoot faster than the speed at which the shooter pulls the trigger, there is no real difference between an AR-15 and any other kind of semi-automatic gun. In fact, the 1994 AWB, a creation of Chuck Schumer by the way, said absolutely nothing about why the law was needed beyond this statement in the Introduction to the bill: “To make unlawful the transfer or possession of assault weapons.”  Period. That’s all she (or he) wrote.

I don’t want to predict whether an AWB has any chance of becoming law. But the GVP still needs to come up with a comprehensive and accepted definition of an ‘assault weapon,’ a definition not based on what the gun looks like, but what it’s designed to do; namely, to kill and injure as many human beings as quickly as you can. And anyone who denies that this is how and why assault weapons are used will also believe that Mexico is going to pay for the wall.


Thanks To Bumble, The Culture War About Guns Takes A Big Turn.

If anyone thinks the decision by the online dating website, Bumble, banning gun pics from their site isn’t a very significant, if not the most significant event in the current culture war over guns, think again. And the fact that Bumble caters to the two audiences which the NRA would love to have enamored of guns – millennials and women – only makes its decision even more important in terms of its impact on how the gun debate will turn out.

bumble             Let’s allow the founder of Bumble to speak for herself:  “this move shouldn’t be seen as the startup taking a hard stance against (or for) guns or gun owners – rather it’s the dating app taking a hard stance against normalizing violence on their platform.” Incidentally, I scraped this quote not from a media website but from Forbes, which tells you something right there about how the gun debate may end up playing out This time around. Because the discussion is no longer being led by the usual pro-gun and anti-gun suspects (e.g., NRA versus Brady.) Now the real heavies are getting involved.

All of which, incidentally, goes back to the cultural war ignited by the Presidential campaign of a certain individual who now happens to be somewhat less enthusiastic about his love affair with guns.  When Hillary talked abut gun violence during the campaign, she framed her narrative in the usual, safe way – a new law here, a new law there. Herr Donald, on the other hand, injected actual appeals to gun violence as a defining narrative of his campaign.  Remember when he said that his followers were so loyal they would vote for him even if he ‘shot someone down’ in the street?

That was then, this is now. And now means that a day doesn’t go by when another commercial enterprise doesn’t get up and announce splitsville with the NRA. And even when Delta faced the wrath of some pandering local pols over a tax cut that was placed in jeopardy by the announcement that NRA membership no longer entitled the flyer to a discounted fare, the airline held firm, telling the politicians to stick their threat you know where.

While Bumble’s decision is obviously part of this trend, I see it being both different and more important in two respects. As I said earlier, the website aims primarily at young women, a demographic segment that the gun industry has been courting for years. And while you’ll hear all kinds of claims from NRA and NSSF about how many more women are getting into guns, the truth is that it’s not true. Women may be more engaged in shooting guns, but that’s because the age-old distinction between his interests and her interests are breaking down. Women buying guns? They are more than half the adult population and as gun owners, women never register above 20%.

Aside from these demographic considerations, there is another, more powerful issue represented by Bumble’s decision to get guns off their site; an issue which hits at the very shape and structure of the movement against guns. To a greater or lesser degree, most of the gun violence prevention (GVP) organizations promote changes in laws and regulations that will keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Which is fine as far as it goes, but these strategies are based on an assumption that wither goes laws, behavior will then follow.

For most gun owners, the presence of a gun isn’t a legal decision, it’s a decision which reflects the culture and values they have. And who’s to say that culture will change just because a law is rewritten, or a new regulation is passed? Let’s go back to what the founder of Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd, said above. She won’t allow her website to ‘normalize’ violence, which is what the current gun debate is really all about.

Ultimately changing the culture will end gun violence, not the other way around. The announcement by Bumble is an important marker in that respect.

Trump Versus The NRA? Not Such A Big Surprise.

Want to watch what may be the most remarkable minute of video ever devoted to gun violence? Try the snippet posted by The New York Times from yesterday’s ‘gun summit’ at the White House, with President Trump (TRUMP? TRUMP?) asking ‘Joe’ and ‘Pat’ whether their bill would include a prohibition against guns being sold to anyone under the age of twenty-one.

prayerNow for those of you who, like me, sometimes suffer from short-term memory loss, Joe and Pat are also known as Manchin and Toomey, whose gun-control bill introduced after Sandy Hook ended up dead on the Senate floor.  And for good measure as Trump’s new-found buddies nodded up and down saying they would add this provision to their bill, Trump adding, “I’d rather have a comprehensive bill that’s harder to pass than a bill that’s easier to pass but does nothing at all.”

Today I’m going to look at Alex Jones who will no doubt be telling me that the entire White House meeting was faked, that it wasn’t the real Dianne Feinstein sitting next to the President and agreeing with everything he said, who even gently smiled when Trump told Steve Scalise, the NRA toady who was shot in the rear end last year, to take his national reciprocity bill and stick it someplace near his wound.

Can you imagine the Breitbart headline, the big one in red, reading: TRUMP THE GUN GRABBER?  No, you can’t. But that’s what came out of yesterday’s sit-down between what was mostly a group of Senators committed to gun control and a President who never stopped reminding the NRA that he was the best friend they ever had. The truth is that with a friend like that, as the old saying goes, the NRA doesn’t need any more enemies. Personally speaking, I never believed that Herr Donald was ever such a great friend of the NRA.

For years Gallup has run a poll asking people to identify the single, most important issue facing the country today.  The last time they ran this poll was in January and the gun issue received the lowest possible score – one percent. Which is more or less the score that guns always receive because other than moments when the media fixates on a particularly nasty shooting, guns simply don’t seem all that important compared to other human affairs.

What gives the NRA its aura of power is that people who are pro-gun activists can usually be counted on to hold conservative positions on most issues – taxes, education, welfare, you know the rest. The NRA is a true membership operation, and take it from someone who has been a member of America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ since 1955, they do a remarkable job when it comes to care and feeding of the folks who fork over $40 bucks a year.

But the fact that NRA stalwarts can be counted on not only to come out in force for a gun issue, but also make themselves heard on other conservative political points is the group’s greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. Because let’s say that Trump suffered some kind of brain fart and decides that guns have to go. Who will his most devoted followers turn to next? Hillary? Yea, right.

I’m no fan of Schmuck-o Donald, but he and I are both New York guys. And one thing for sure is that guns simply don’t count in New York’s political DNA. On the other hand, if you’re trying to convince the alt-right/white that you’re conservative through and through, what better way than to pretend that anyone who loves the 2nd Amendment is your best friend?

I’m not saying the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement has a new friend. I’m saying that a Republican President may have wriggle room on the gun issue which a Democratic President would never have. And that happens to be a political fact of life that the boys in Fairfax better understand.

Khalil Spencer: The Gun War Is Joined.

I’ve said before that the firearms community should be involved in firearms violence prevention. Two reasons come to mind. One, we know more about firearms than the typical non-shooter. Two, we need to engage and try to reduce the harm out there while moderating the discussion. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are not always the most careful ones. While some of the gun violence prevention folks tend to suggest ideas that many gun owners loathe, the 2nd Amendment purists are typically the Party of No, regardless of the question.

spencer2As a result of the latest high school shooting in Florida, all Hell is breaking loose on the “gun prevention”, so to speak, side. An example is the Sunday editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican, which pretty much threw everything the Editorial Board could think of at gun owners and then tossed the kitchen sink along for good measure. Given the blood-soaked circumstances, who can blame them? Among the suggestions are”…bans on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, better background checks and numerous other laws…an amendment to the state constitution removing the prohibition on local governments passing any gun restrictions, or even rewriting a provision upholding gun rights…” A law abiding citizen who has never raised a gun in anger might find himself or herself suddenly on the wrong side of the law simply by virtue of having bought a gun with a 12 rd magazine. Its not even about “common sense gun laws” but about retaliation for the NRA and GOP’s intransigence and, as many Progressives would like to do, make many if not most of today’s modern, high capacity semiauto guns (see below) scarce and inconvenient to own.

But protecting the 2A, and the state constitution’s analog, from emasculation should not have as a price tag more and more bullet-spattered schools, theatres, and churches. Something is going seriously wrong in the country and its not just one issue but as our Los Alamos Catholic priest said yesterday, a host of variables are responsible of which the firearm is the enabler, even if the culture is the ultimate culprit. As anyone who reads knows, we have always had guns. Lots of them. Actual household ownership rates are probably down even as sheer numbers have gone up (based on recent research). What’s changed?

When I was a teen, I legally carried a box of 22 Long Rifle ammo to school in my book bag as I was a member of the Rifle Club. One could mail order a rifle or walk into the local K Mart and see racks and racks of military surplus, “NRA-Fair-Good-Excellent” rifles that could be had for a few greenbacks. Indeed, these could be had without telling your life story to the FBI’s NICS system as these were pre-background check days.  Most of those surplus guns were purchased to be modified to be sporting and hunting rifles. We didn’t have endless mass shootings by me-too youths, or self-styled militias of the right and left parading under banners of intolerance. Its the culture that has changed, and in part, the kinds of guns flying off the shelves reflects the change in culture. Guns used to be primarily for sport and secondarily for guarding the hearth. Nowdays, Gun Culture 2.0, as Wake Forest Sociology Professor David Yamane calls it, is about self defense and even the shooting sports reflect that, i.e., NRA Precision Pistol has given way to International Defensive Pistol Association matches. The look and function of the guns follows the paradigm shift. Black rifles, high capacity or pocket pistols, and short barrelled shotguns with only a pistol grip to make them street legal replace Grandpa or Dad’s Model 70 Winchester or Smith and Wesson revolver.When you are planning for a personal defense moment, more bullets are better. My concern, articulated here before, is that Maslow’s Hammer has become, in part due to this paradigm-shift in gun culture, Maslow’s Handgun.

I think those of us who enjoy firearms need to hustle over to the Middle of the Road and help find some solutions. For the life of me, I don’t know why an immature nineteen year old with emotional problems should be able to walk out of a gun store with a weapon designed to control a battlefield, no questions, other than the innocuous NICS ones, asked. As I have said before, anyone old enough to get a driver’s license can drive. Not everyone is allowed to drive a Freightliner. If I want to drive a Freightliner, I owe it to society to show I can handle it safely.

As far as armed teachers and the like? Aside from the fact that teachers are underpaid as it is while not being asked to get into firefights with heavily armed terrorists, surprise matters. Pearl Harbor showed that its not enough to be armed. A school shooting is a surprise attack, and will succeed just as the Japanese naval air forces succeeded. Sure, someone can eventually shoot back to limit the damage but meanwhile, people are getting shot. More guns is not the answer. More sanity, perhaps, is.