On gun reform, both sides need to get serious

The NRA completely wears me out. I’m a hunter (albeit a pretty crappy one), a gun enthusiast, and was once an NRA member. I quit them years ago, when they morphed from the safety experts, marksmanship instructors, and hunting enthusiasts they used to be, into the defend-gun-and-ammo-manufacturers-at-all-costs extremists they became. Not long after I gave up on them, police organizations, once among their most enthusiastic defenders, gave up on them too.

NRA-Armed-With-PrideAnd after their press conference Friday, it’s clear they have no intention of diverting from their usual path of opposing anything that gets in the way of gun and ammo sales, to anybody, under any circumstances.  They warned of the dangers of video games, which feature guns that don’t work and violence that isn’t real, while ignoring the potential for harm regarding guns that do work and violence that is all-too-real. They complained of the lack of a comprehensive national database of mentally ill Americans, while presumably continuing to strenuously oppose any attempt to create a national database of gun owners. I doubt that I’d be in favor of either, but their hypocrisy is stunning.

Recent polling is clear that their own membership is at odds with the organization’s policy positions. In conclusion, they’re little more than political hacks who don’t even advocate the views of their own members. It doesn’t have to be this way. Indeed, it wasn’t always this way. Did you know that the NRA actually used to support responsible gun control, most recently in 1968?

The anti-gun crowd wears me out too. They lost serious credibility with me when they were fighting against the concealed carry legislation in Texas, claiming that we’d return to the days of the old west and there’d be blood flowing in the streets if the Texas Legislature passed the law. Well the legislature did, indeed, eventually pass the law, and after years of permits being issued, it’s pretty clear that on that front, the law has neither helped nor hurt. It mostly didn’t move the needle in either direction, either in preventing crime or causing additional gun violence. Little of the hysteria they stoked turned out to be true.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrible school shooting last week, I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds fill up with those in the anti-gun crowd who hate guns and want to outlaw all guns everywhere. Advocating for this is clearly a waste of time, following the 2008 Supreme Court ruling affirming that the Second Amendment means pretty much exactly what the gun advocates always said it did.

But it goes beyond being a waste of time; it’s harmful to their own cause. It confirms everything the gun advocates always believed their opponents wanted – to do away with all guns, period. If you are like me, and strongly dislike the NRA because they’re always against any reform whatsoever, you might do well to think through why the NRA eventually morphed to that policy position. They undoubtedly worry that one restriction only leads to the next restriction, and the one after that. They theorize that it will never be enough for many of the folks proposing a limited restriction – that after being emboldened by one legislative win, they’ll be back for more.

If you are lamenting the fact that the NRA continues to be a blockade against any reform whatsoever, and complain of their extremist views, I would respectfully suggest that the equally-extremist views of those who would outlaw all guns everywhere are just as non-constructive to progress.

Get over it: guns will not be outlawed. If that horse hadn’t left the barn 100 years ago when I suspect it did, it certainly left the barn in 2008 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment does, indeed guarantee the right of individuals to own firearms. But every time you engage in the pointless discussion of outlawing guns, you justify the pro-gun crowd’s unwillingness to engage in any kind of meaningful discussion about what can and should be done. Why would anybody negotiate in good faith with those who don’t believe they should even exist? You become the extremist you claim to hate – it’s just that you have embraced your own brand of extremism instead of theirs.

Jerry Patterson

Jerry Patterson

One guy not on the list of extremists this week is state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. The original author of the concealed carry law in Texas, Patterson was among the first out of the gate with a serious proposal for gun control – a way to close the gun show loophole. As a guy who sometimes attends gun shows, I personally don’t think the specifics of his proposal would work very well, but the important thing was that he wasn’t afraid to propose one. And that is a grown-up move, and an important concession. Those who advocate for responsible reform should not dismiss his effort, they should absolutely applaud his gesture, and should tell him so. My strong guess is that the extremists among the pro-gun crowd aren’t being shy about giving him hell for it.

I think we could all stand to learn a lesson from Patterson’s move this week. If in your dreams you imagine a world in which gun advocates would be willing to have a serious discussion about reform, you should also take responsibility for your own position, and be willing to concede that outlawing guns is off your table and not among the list of achievable goals. And if the NRA still refuses to be part of that serious discussion, screw ’em – let ’em sit it out. State legislatures and the Congress should pass responsible reform over their objections, if necessary.

I believe we do need to find a way to close the private sale loophole. I think we should restrict the sale of assault rifles, and curtail high-capacity ammunition magazines (as a friend’s son said the other day, “if it takes you 30 bullets to kill a deer, shouldn’t you find a new hobby?”) We should redouble our efforts to ensure guns aren’t sold, and carry permits not issued, to those with criminal histories, mental illnesses, or otherwise unstable folks. I especially believe we need to get serious about research and accessible, affordable treatment for mental illness in America, and should have been doing that whether gun violence was in the mix or not. And I have no idea how to responsibly achieve any of that, hence the need for a serious national discussion.

And wherever you are on the policy spectrum, if you want that discussion to lead to something meaningful and which saves lives, demonstrate that your half of the conversation will be thoughtful and reasonable. All sides just might be surprised in the result.