The NRA’s War on Common Sense
The United States is the most heavily armed nation on earth. We own 90 guns for every 100 citizens— a staggering, even shocking number. We collectively think about guns every time there is a Columbine, a Waco tragedy; every time there is a Virginia Tech massacre; every time a child unknowingly plays with the loaded family gun and dies. We were reminded again when Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot outside a Safeway in Arizona — along with 19 other people attending a political rally; six people died in the tragedy — by the time you read this so-called old news. As the adage goes, history always repeats itself; we know it’s only a matter of time before it happens again.
Every time a tragedy occurs, the conversation in America turns to guns and violence —how or if the two are interrelated, inseparable. The tragic events themselves, ironically, often inspire the purchase of more guns — a cycle that defies common and good sense. After the shooting in Arizona, gun sellers were expecting a surge in sales; one gun shop owner reported that his sales actually doubled.
Animal advocates are reminded of our nation’s obsession with guns when hunting season opens each year, and our nation’s deer, elk, black bear, pheasants, squirrels, ducks, geese, swans, wolves and other animals are under assault — slaughtered in the name of sport. Two hundred million free-living animals are killed annually, mostly with guns. We sign petitions, picket and protest, and fail to call into question the real elephant in the room: firearms.
Following the tragedy in Arizona, The National Rifle Association — the largest, most powerful pro-gun organization in the United States — issued a statement that called the tragedy “senseless.” But what doesn’t make sense is our allegiance to lethal weapons, violence, and an organization that ultimately seeks to preserve our collective insanity.
Who is the NRA?
In the weeks following the Arizona shooting, Rachel Maddow, the famously liberal MSNBC political pundit, invited Meghan McCain — the daughter of Senator John McCain and a Republican blogger/author — to appear as a guest on her show. While it came as no surprise that McCain is a staunch supporter of gun rights and the NRA, it was Maddow herself who dropped the bombshell: Maddow admitted to McCain that her first date with her current partner was at an NRA “Ladies of the Range” event; she even went on to accept an invitation from McCain to attend the next NRA convention.
This is not to say Maddow is a gun lover herself, or even that she doesn’t favor gun control. Who knows? I attempted to reach Maddow for comment for this piece, but received no response. The shock lies in the laissez-faire attitude she exhibited on her show — an obvious nonchalance toward the NRA. Lawrence O’Donnell, also a pundit for MSNBC and host of The Last Word, invited Representative Trent Franks (R-Arizona) to speak about the Arizona tragedy, and Franks repeatedly dodged loaded questions about guns, saying only, “the bottom line is, the real focus should be on the killer, not the gun”— a line right out of the NRA handbook. O’Donnell, it should be noted, was one of the few pundits to unequivocally condemn guns.
Once upon a time, it may have been easy to make sweeping generalizations about the National Rifle Association and its membership, but clearly that is no longer the case. There’s an assumption that pro-gun equals conservative and anti-gun equals liberal. But those stereotypes have been effectively shattered; in reality, while the debate is hotly political, it crosses party lines. Political pundits, politicians, celebrities, ordinary citizens — even animal advocates! — of all political persuasions hold divergent views on guns, gun control and, most strikingly, violence itself. While monitoring the social barometer that is Twitter, it’s hard not to notice that even animal advocates argue about whether guns are the root of violence, or if guns even matter — this from a community who’s asking society to eschew violence towards non-human animals. The NRA famously said, “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” But to point out the obvious, people most often kill people using guns.
The NRA currently reports that it has approximately 4.3 million members — making it not only one of the largest, but one of the most powerful and recognizable non-profit organizations in the United States, if not the world. The NRA lists among its goals the protection of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and the promotion of firearm ownership rights as well as marksmanship, firearm safety, and the protection of hunting and self-defense in the United States. In other words, they care about guns, first and foremost. But what really makes them so powerful, and frightening, is two-fold: first, there’s power they wield over the U. S. government (in 2008, during the presidential elections, they spent $10 million on lobbying for guns); second is the fact that they are so politically powerful and ubiquitous, people — politicians, celebrities and ordinary folks — are clearly afraid to defy and challenge them. They have effectively inserted themselves into the political arena to the point where they aren’t simply a part of the gun debate; they control it.
The NRA Opposes Common Sense
But the NRA’s mission isn’t as straightforward as it appears. The NRA isn’t merely trying to “protect Second amendment rights”; in truth, the NRA opposes any and every effort that seeks to limit the availability of guns — except to the mentally ill and convicted criminals. But mental illness, in reality, is not clear-cut: It’s an extensive, exhaustive list of diseases and disorders, and there are countless high-functioning mentally ill people who have access to weapons; one could even argue, all of us are one terrible event away from “going postal.” In other words, they are paying lip-service on the issue of control; it’s practically impossible to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill — or anyone else, for that matter.
The NRA opposes all gun control measures — and regularly engages in smear campaigns to discredit public figures who support them. The NRA website continuously scrolls news stories about any and every measure, and the people behind it, that seek to regulate or control gun ownership. To the NRA, it’s a completely black and white issue, without nuance: either you support gun rights or you don’t. There’s no room for dialogue or rational discourse — much less a conversation about the ramifications of living in a gun culture. A more important question, completely absent from the debate: why would anyone actually want to own a gun?
NRA: Skew-er of Facts
In 2007, there were 31,224 gun deaths in the United States. In one year on average, almost 100,000 people in America are shot or killed with a gun. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disturbing gun statistics. Consider this: A gun in the home increases the risk of homicide of a household member by three times and the risk of suicide by 5 times compared to homes where no gun is present. Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths— a fact that the NRA not only ignores, but denies altogether (they present this as a “myth” on their website). And perhaps most disturbing of all: Guns can be sold in the United States without a background check to screen out criminals or the mentally ill. But one also has to wonder: is the wish to kill not itself, by definition, an affliction all on its own?
The NRA provides answers to some of these issues, too, and —surprise, surprise! —comes up with different conclusions entirely. That’s because they ignore the scientific studies that don’t fit into a pro-gun, pro-violence agenda. When the facts don’t reconcile with their agenda, they engage in their own version of scientific study; they cite nameless surveys to support their data about the safety of guns and how guns in society affect citizens — not peer-reviewed science. The NRA paints a sham picture of gun owners — as if the whole lot of them are mentally stable, upstanding citizens who merely want to ensure their personal safety or the ability to hunt and kill animals. The NRA promotes the ownership of every type of gun, too — including machine guns; the only thing preventing anyone from owning one is a $200 Federal Transfer Tax. Ostensibly, machine guns and hand guns are not weapons for criminal activity, but necessary for hunters — in case a hunter needs to take out an entire herd of animals with one squeeze of the trigger.
Perhaps that’s why hunters embrace the NRA with abandon, and why hunters have so much political power and sway in the United States. That is a serious shame, especially in light of the fact that very few people in the United States actually hunt — only about 4% of the population. And the number continues to slowly go down in every state except Alaska. It’s a full on love-affair — seeing as how part of the mission of the NRA is not only to maintain hunting rights, but to promote the violent practice. The NRA has infiltrated public schools and other civic organizations — teaching hunter and gun safety classes; they even promote handguns (which ostensibly only serve the purpose of killing other humans) as hunting weapons and means of self defense. When I attended high school, I had to take an NRA-sponsored “hunter safety” class myself — even though I have never hunted and never would.
Most people in the United States say they’d rather observe nature – to see animals in their natural habitats, living the lives they were meant to live. Perhaps that’s the opportunity we all need: to bear witness to the vast, mysterious, wondrous aspect of nature that exists outside of human society, with its conflict, war and violence. Maybe then we’d know the insanity of guns, and the NRA would vanish. Who could imagine such an organization existing in a world where humans aspire to respect nature instead of controlling, or destroying, it.
- U.S. most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people by Laura MacInnis; REUTERS; August 28, 2007 http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL2834893820070828; last visited January 19, 2011.
- Arizona Shootings Trigger Surge in Glock Sales Amid Fear of Ban by Michael Riley; Bloomberg.com; January 12, 2011; last visited on January 19, 2011
- Numbers obtained from CDC National Center for Health Statistics mortality report online, 2010; and the American Association of Suicidology
- Kellerman AL, Rivara FP, Somes G, et al. “Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership.” NEJM. 1992; 327(7):467-472
- The 2010 Census states that there are 311,999,240 U.S. residents; the US Fish and Wildlife Service reports that there are 12.5 million hunters = 4% of the U.S Population