Anyone interested in public safety needs to understand the nature of the gun debate in America. It’s not as simple as it might seem at first: Like most political issues, it’s a realm filled with special interests and driven by ulterior motives, and things aren’t always what they seem. The information in this section and the next few chapters will make you aware of some of the hidden going-ons that are happening behind the scenes.
The Different Players in the Gun Debate
Gun rights advocates
These individuals believe very strongly in the second amendment, which they interpret to mean that gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right, one which they try to expand in any way possible. Many want to see a return to the wild west, where everyone carries a gun on their hip holster wherever they go.
The gun lobby
There are many professional organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) advocating for the expansion of gun rights. While many of these entities cleverly adopt the aura of a civil liberties group, most are first and foremost a trade group: Their job is to keep gun manufacturers and sellers in business. They work to keep the money flowing and help secure the steady expansion of the gun industry. Much like the tobacco lobby, their goal is to promote their product … by any means necessary and without concern for public safety or welfare.
Gun control advocates
These are individuals and organizations that fight for stricter gun control, many of them as a result of a personal gun tragedy. Some believe guns are just plain wrong and lobby against them on moral grounds. Others, like our own, believe in stemming the dissemination of guns because we’ve poured over the research and statistics and know them to be a high-hazard product with absolutely no benefit to public safety. Most gun control advocates, including our own organization, do not want to take guns away, we simply want common sense gun legislation that will take a significant bite out of the rising tide of firearm deaths – a problem that leads to loss of life equivalent to that of ten or eleven “9/11” terrorist attacks each and every year.
Then, of course, there are the undecided; those people who don’t know what to think because they’ve received so many conflicting messages.
The Role That Gun Politics Play In General Politics
Gun politics are often inseparable from politics in general. Gun enthusiasts as a group tend to be more paranoid, insecure, distrustful of others, and power hungry – traits typically seen among conservatives. Which is why the Republican Party as a whole tends to be anti-immigration (those Mexicans are stealing our jobs!), anti-diversity (non-whites are taking over America), anti-government (no bureaucrat is going to tell me what to do), and yet pro-war (kill them commies and terrorists!) … all things that would comfort the paranoid and power seeking soul. (We’re not trying to paint all conservatives into a corner or suggest this mindset applies to everyone, there are certainly some reasonable conservatives out there too, along with plenty of utterly insane Democrats. But simply turning on the news will confirm the things we’ve just said.)
Another seldom spoken truth is that guns play a prominent role in the psyche of their owners when it comes to general politics. Though few will admit to it outright, guns provide a sense of comfort to this group, in that in the back of their mind there is the idea that they can always shoot those who disagree with them. You can see evidence of this in the fact that they routinely make hollow threats to take up arms in regards to policy decisions they don’t like. Texas Republican Representative Steve Stockman has a bumper sticker that reads: “If babies had guns they wouldn’t be aborted.” (Rolling Stone, May 9, 2013, p. 35) Though most are not serious about actually exercising this option, it’s an underlying thought throughout political debates of all types: You’re not going to change my mind. My opinions will stand, because I’m the one with the gun.
Why Irrationality is Ruling the Gun Debate in America
Unfortunately, when it comes to the debate over gun control, insanity prevails. Many people assume that the NRA is simply a puppet for gun sellers. But insider Richard Feldman, author of the 2007 memoir entitled Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, says this isn’t the case. “The idea that the NRA follows orders from the gun companies is a joke,” he states. “If anything, it’s the other way around.” (Barrett, 2013) The NRA has filed potentially ruinous consumer boycotts against firearm makers that fail to follow the NRA’s agenda with the appropriate amount of zeal. “If you cross the NRA, you will pay for it,” Feldman says. (ibid)
Take the issue of universal background checks. Safety advocates have wanted to close this loophole for years; a loophole which allows anyone to buy a gun at a gun show or from a private citizen without any background check whatsoever. Most gun sellers would prefer to have universal background checks, since it makes for a level playing field and forces their competition to play by the same rules. Yet the NRA has fought fiercely to keep this loophole open, so that criminals and the mentally ill can purchase a gun as easily as they can a packet of bubblegum. The NRA even opposes seemingly benign legislation that would require secure gun storage.
So the NRA is in charge. Or are they? The organization itself seems to suffer from a severe case of bipolar disorder. After the Columbine massacre, Wayne LaPierre stated that “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America’s schools, period.” In congressional testimony, he urged lawmakers to expand the computerized Federal Bureau of Investigation background check system for sales by federally licensed retailers so that it also covered “private” transactions at weekend gun shows and wherever guns are sold.
Fast forward a decade or two. At a Jan. 20, 2013 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Wayne Lapierre abandoned his earlier convictions on background checks, even going so far as to suggest that they should eliminate background checks altogether. “I mean, we all know that homicidal maniacs, criminals and the insane don’t abide by the law.” (ibid) The organization has also reversed its stance on guns in schools. As stated earlier, some legislators are even calling for kindergartners to be armed with their own guns, so that they can “defend themselves.”
What happened? Did LaPierre suffer a stroke during that time period which damaged his ability to think and form lucid thoughts? It might seem that way, but no. What actually happened is that Wayne received a tremendous amount of backlash for his more reasonable position, which forced him into adopting a more extreme view. It seems that even the head honchos for the NRA aren’t in charge either.
Smaller, more extreme groups end up jostling with the NRA for the attention (and wallets) of gun owners, which ends up pushing the NRA to the extreme. One such example is the Gun Owners of America, a group that calls itself “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.” Two days before the NRA released its response after Newtown, Larry Pratt, the leader of the organization, said in a USA Today Op Ed piece: “In addition to the gunman, blood is on the hands of members of Congress and the Connecticut legislature who voted to ban guns from all schools in Connecticut. They are the ones who made it illegal to defend oneself with a gun in a school.” (ibid)
Despite what the previous comment might suggest, I’m told that Larry Pratt is not in actuality brain-dead, he just sounds that way. Never mind the fact that the Newtown school massacre was committed by a gun enthusiast (much like Larry Pratt), with assault rifles (like the ones Larry Pratt advocates for), and was also a member of the NRA, an organization Larry Pratt thinks too moderate for his tastes. Somehow in Larry Pratt’s twisted little mind, it is the people who tried to make it harder for Adam Lanza to get guns who are to blame. Talk about guilt-laden projection. It’s people like Larry Pratt who share a responsibility for the 20 children and six teachers slaughtered that day, not those who advocate for reasonable gun control.
Yet it’s the morons with extreme positions who are largely guiding this debate. It’s almost as if we allowed foreign policy to be decided by terrorists. Which brings us to the scariest realization of all: No one is in charge. The gun policy debate is being guided by irrationality, and reasonable voices are being buried underneath the fanatics, for the simple reason that the fanatics are the ones screaming loudest and staying most active on this issue. It’s time that everyday citizens started taking back the debate.