I have no aspirations for political office, so free speech comes quite easily. The massacre in Arizona ought to have raised the volume on our hushed national discussions about gun control. It didn’t, however, because no leader wants to be “in the cross hairs” of the NRA, flamed politically, and so at risk for losing several million votes.
When I was ten, I went away to summer camp. I joined the NRA in order to take riflery. I wanted a rifle like my friends, but my father said I would have to take the NRA course before he would consider such a thing. At camp, I earned my Pro-marksman, Marksman, Marksman 1st, Class, and Bar 1 Sharpshooter medals. The following year my parents gave me a Winchester .22 rifle which I was free to use. It was not a deer rifle, but it was fun for target practice and small-game hunting. Mostly I used it to “pop rats” at the Morrisville dump with my pals after it closed. In those days the NRA was about safe hunting.
In the ensuing decades, the NRA has experienced mission creep, becoming a potent advocate of “concealed- carry” and “open-carry” laws within the states. This is gun-speak for a citizen’s right to carry either concealed pistols or pistols hanging openly from our belts in public and private places, a notion that has made us a laughing stock in many civilized countries with much lower homicide rates.
Not only has the NRA’s mission changed, so have its goals. 55 years ago, the NRA taught me how to hunt and shoot targets safely, and generally behave responsibly as an 11-year old rifle owner. Now it advocates for unlimited ownership of weapons. I say “weapons” only because I firmly believe a semi-automatic pistol with a 31 round clip is more like an antipersonnel mine than a gun.
I believe as strongly in the second amendment as I do in the first. There are a couple of old shotguns in our own home, though I hardly ever shoot them anymore. My wife’s grandmother was a champion skeet shooter and her gun came down to us.
To our detriment, however, we often confuse principles with absolutes. And principles often conflict, so they must be prioritized to guide us towards a beneficial outcome. The principle of free speech must be balanced against the principle of national security.
The NRA, with the trembling compliance of political leaders and the explicit support of a conservative court, has interpreted the second amendment as an absolute, arguably to the shame of those who wrote it.
NRA language has moved from sporting safety, to self-defense, to today…the citizen’s right to defend himself against growing government tyranny.
We really must ask ourselves, “Who exactly is the tyrant?” Is it an absolutist NRA hell-bent on seeing all citizens armed and ready to take on their government or is it an imperfect democracy struggling to respond to the broad spectrum of its citizens’ opinions about the role of government?
Our leaders need to talk out loud about this.