March 27, 2018
I can hardly believe it.
After some twenty five years of abjuring the National Rifle Association and considering them to be extremists who were more trouble than they were worth, I am about to join them. I am going to join the NRA. I am going to give them my money. I will hold my nose while doing so, but I see I have no real choice.
How did I get to this point?
I remember arguing heatedly with a buddy about the the Federal Assault Weapons Ban way back in 1994. I was in favor of the ban. This friend, Jim, a passionate gun rights supporter, was most certainly not. He has spent twenty four years trying to convince me to join the NRA. For decades I have argued with him and refused to do it. No way I was going to be on the same team with those guys.
But now, unthinkably, it would appear I am going to join that team. After so many years of opposing them, I can hardly believe it. The world seems turned upside down. But I feel I have no choice.
This morning I read with alarm an editorial in The New York Times from retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens arguing the 2nd Amendment was “a relic of the 18th century” standing in the way of “constructive” gun control and should be repealed. Wow! I have seen numerous persons claim recently that in order to have less gun violence we need to start the process of having less guns in American society, and then finally no guns at all. They claim the need to shame gun owners in the same way they shamed drunk drivers and cigarette smokers in earlier generations. Use public health campaigns and punitive tax measures to foster changes in behavior. Make gun ownership socially unacceptable. Start the long-term process of slowing gun sales, reducing their number in society, and then ridding guns from American life. Make it as much of a social movement as a legislative movement. Try to make America “gun free” the same way we tried to make it “smoke free” with cigarettes. All in the name of public health.
I have no apologies for owning firearms. I enjoy target shooting. My whole life this civil right has been part of what it means to be an American. I appreciate, in the last instance, the ability to defend myself and family in my home, if needed. I have passed the background checks and followed the laws. I have been a responsible gun owner.
Now there seems to be a new push to take my guns away. To go beyond limited gun control laws to repealing the 2nd Amendment. I look at my gun safe today with worry in a way I did not yesterday.
I wrote at some length a few months ago about my conflicted and nuanced views on guns in America. The fact that while I was a strong supporter or “sensible gun control laws” here in California and elsewhere, I also was a rock solid supporter of the civil right of law abiding Americans to have firearms for sport hunting, target shooting, or personal defense (ie. the 2nd Amendment).
This would be called the “middle ground” in American political life.
But that middle ground is apparently gone. There are many Americans who would love to allow the state legislatures (or Congress) to ban abortion by popular vote. Roe v. Wade prevents that from happening. The same thing is happening with gun laws — certain Americans want guns gone from their states, Constitutional rights be damned. (Or, “Change the Constitution and repeal the 2nd Amendment!”) After the recent high-profile mass shootings, they don’t care about gun owners like me. They want the guns gone, period; I have heard these arguments personally. They are extremely emotional about the issue. It is a black and white conflict. “My right not to be murdered is more important than your right to own a firearm,” they argue. “I could be killed any day now… Get rid of the guns!” As if it were that simple. “Why do you even want to own a gun?” they finally ask with pique. “You don’t need one!”
I spent some of this afternoon searching through social media to see what gun control supporters had to say about John Paul Stevens and his call to repeal the 2nd Amendment. Many agreed with him that “constructive” gun control measures which could take large numbers of guns out of circulation will fail as long as the 2nd Amendment exists, so that is the long term goal if one wants “real change.” It should not be just about restricting this one weapon or making a more extensive background check; it is time to start getting rid of the guns and to make America “safer.” Many were pleased to see someone like Stevens give voice to what they had always thought but were afraid to say. “Finally, let’s mobilize and move in this direction,” they claimed. “The future belongs to us!” Political opinion polls reportedly put support for repealing the 2nd Amendment at around twenty percent of the American electorate. So the battle lines seem to have been drawn.
The gun control debate, like abortion, has become less about one law or another and instead become one more “culture war” flashpoint between conservative “Red America” and liberal “Blue America.” The ability to find common ground and then to cultivate and forge bipartisan solutions will suffer. The middle is gone. The emoting and anger from high publicity mass shootings has contributed to the loss of any middle ground. But nothing essential has changed in the last 35 years with respect to abortion law, despite all the bluster. The same will most likely be true with gun control: stalemate.*
Emma Gonzalez and other gun activists after the Parkland school shooting in Florida demanded changes to gun laws that seem to now approach repealing the 2nd Amendment. Gonzalez warned, “You are either with us or against us.”
Well, Emma. If you insist on putting it that way, I am against you.
And former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, you have helped drive a California moderate on gun control into the arms of the NRA after three decades of resisting it.
P.S. Good luck getting the 38 states necessary to change the Constitution and repeal the 2nd Amendment.
* While the United States in the era of Trump is inward directed and in conflict with itself, China and other countries are on the move abroad.
DONE AND DUSTED:
I read the editorial by Stevens in the morning; I paid and signed up as an NRA member that evening.*
* But I did give the NRA an inoperative email address when I signed up. It is bad enough I belong to it, but I don’t have to get emails from them constantly.
P.S. I came to regret the March 2018 fit of pique which led me to join the National Rifle Association. After twelve months of receiving hyperbolic communiques from Wayne LaPierre about evil “gun grabbing” Democrats, I let my membership expire. Why exactly? This is why. Like many of their enemies on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum, the NRA never saw a political fire they didn’t want to pour gasoline on. No thank you.