There once was a time when I bore a fondness in my heart for the National Rifle Association. Back when I was a kid, growing up in the deep south surrounded by friends and family members that hunted for sport, I was introduced to the NRA at an early age. Back then, they promoted the point and purpose of the so-called “sporting life” as equally as they promoted the Constitutional principle of gun ownership as a basic human right, and they backed up both with a comprehensive focus on safety and responsibility that ensured that no gun owner ever underestimated the awesome power of the device he carried.
But over the years, something changed. America changed. Wealth flowed freely, opening avenues of prosperity to almost every branch of an increasingly diverse populace, yet somehow, the competitive nature of the American dream stymied rather than cultivated a sense of community. Rather than see each other as “one nation, under God,” Americans became increasingly more intra-culturally isolationist, almost tribal. Political parties, finding themselves too close philosophically for comfort, began to encourage and inflame minor divisions, creating a climate of polarization founded on the principle of an “us versus them” mentality that did not (and still, does not) need to exist. In the midst of this, gun-related crime rates began to steadily increase, and the focus of discussion began to turn to ways to use the laws of the land as a mitigative force against things getting any further out of hand.
And this is where the NRA went off the rails. At a time when the public needed sincere and full-bodied about the history, purpose, and uses of firearms in American history, the NRA retreated into a beleaguered position of defensiveness and hostility. It’s organizational mission shifted from being one of gun safety, to one of gun advocacy, lobbying aggressively to block any attempt at “well regulating” the militias that were already visibly forming before their very eyes. Where before the NRA’s message was one of safety and responsibility, now it became a message of duty and defiance. “You can have our guns when you pry them from our cold, dead fingers.”
And that brings us to the crux of the matter.
The Bill of Rights has this, and only this, to say about the ownership of firearms:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Today’s NRA rightfully acknowledges the clarity of the latter part of that phrase, accepting it outright as Constitutional “gospel,” while blindly labeling the lead-in as something vague and somehow worthy of intense, and if necessary, armed, debate. To use an all too current example, the assault rifle used by the Colorado shooter had once been a well-regulated device, but NRA in its zealous belief that any form of gun control only increases the risk of similar events demanded that regulation be discarded. As a direct result of this reversal, 12 people were killed, 58 wounded, and one unborn infant miscarried as a result of wounds sustained by her mother when the Aurora shooter opened fire on an audience trapped in a darkened room.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the NRA has fallen back on the same old platitudes it has always deployed. “Guns didn’t kill those people, the shooter did,” and “If you outlaw the guns, only outlaws will have guns.” As expected, any suggestion of partial culpability was rejected out of hand, and some vocal, if not very articulate arguments were made that, if only someone else in the audience had been as equally well-armed, the entire tragedy could have been avoided.
And this is where the NRA and I part company.
The notion that death by gunfire can be avoided by an increase in the amount of gunfire is not only patently ridiculous, but grossly irresponsible. If this is, in fact, the crux of the NRA argument, then the NRA of today has officially abandoned the principle of gun safety in favor of the ice-cold war of deterrence via escalation, and thus, death. They would have you believe the best society is a “kill or be killed” society in which everyone is not only justified in the taking of another human life. This is no longer about about the freedom to bear arms, but the freedom to kill. In this version of the NRA’s future, every man, woman, and child has to surrender their respect for human life — both that of their own, and that of everyone else — in a perpetual free-for-all of fear, violence and rage where only the strong survive (a perversely Darwinian idea, albeit one mechanically enhanced). It is the ultimate zero-sum game; where there can be no winner, only generation after generation of lives lost and mourned.
Well, contrary to what the current NRA may believe, today’s America is not some prehistoric tribal community where killing is sometimes necessary for survival. We are better than that. We are civilized. And civilization is about not about mechanized high-capacity slaughter. It is about cooperation, about the shared will to live and the shared struggle to find a way to do so with minimal bloodshed. The NRA and its supporters would have you believe the opposite is true; that the darker path is the safest path, and that fear should be your primary motivator, and I, for one, am sick to death of fear.
The best way to stop a killing is to take away the means to perform it. The NRA knows this in its bones, but is stubbornly clinging to the notion that it takes a gun to make the man. I say just the opposite: It takes a man to put down the gun.