Yes, We Can Have Sane Gun Control Without Trampling Gun Owners' Rights
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Editor's note: a version of this piece originally ran after the Minnesota Sikh Temple shootings in August.
The United States is not the only country to experience the horrors of mass shootings. We are, however, the only society in which a serious discussion of tighter gun controls doesn't follow incidents like the massacres we've seen at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday. In fact, in most countries these kinds of tragedies result in some kind of concrete legislative action.
The reason we can't have a sane, adult discussion of how to cut down on random gun violence is simple: the NRA has hoodwinked a lot of reasonable gun owners into believing that there's a debate in this country over banning firearms altogether. We'll never be able to have a serious discussion about how to cut down on gun violence until that group accepts the actual terms of the debate. And the NRA has a vested interest in making sure they remain obscure because the organization represents gun manufacturers and a small, highly ideological minority of gun-nuts, rather than (typically responsible) gun owners.
And that means that, at least in theory, there is political space for a new kind of gun control advocacy – one that isn't about whether Americans have a right to bear arms, but instead explicitly advocates safe and responsible gun ownership, a goal the polls tell us most gun owners would embrace.
How the NRA Dupes Gun Owners for Political and Economic Gain
Th idea that someone wants to grab Americans' guns couldn't be further from reality. The truth is that Americans' right to own firearms has never been more secure at any time in our nation's history. A series of Supreme Court decisions – notably a 2010 decision that settled, in gun owners' favor, decades of debate about whether the Second Amendment was an individual right – effectively ended any question of banning firearms.
At the same time, Democrats determined that guns have become a culture-war issue they don't need to fight and can't win. Whereas just over a decade ago the federal government was enacting bans on assault rifles under Bill Clinton, in 2009 Barack Obama signed legislation into law that contained an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., opening up America’s national parks to concealed weapons.
In 2009, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who had been the most vocal champion of the 1993 Assault Weapons Ban, said of today's climate: “I wouldn't bring it up now.” So the fight over guns has moved to the margins, with state legislatures grappling with issues like whether people can carry concealed firearms into airports, whether to ban concealed weapons in bars and even whether a person should be able to get drunk when packing heat at their favorite pub. Florida is now spending big bucks defending a bizarre law that prevents physicians from asking patients whether they have firearms in their homes.
That reality hasn’t interfered with the gun lobby’s fear-mongering. During the 2008 election, FactCheck.org called out the NRA for running an “advertising campaign [that] distorts Obama's position on gun control beyond recognition.”
Much of what the NRA passes off as Obama's "10 Point Plan to 'Change' the Second Amendment" is actually contrary to what he has said throughout his campaign: that he "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and "will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns."
Four years later, NRA president Wayne LaPierre continued to deceive the gun owners his organization claims to represent, peddling a ridiculous conspiracy, dug from the fever swamps of the far right, about how Obama and the UN are conspiring to use an international small-arms treaty to confiscate Americans' guns in a second term. (Despite the fact that this claim is utter nonsense, the administration recently caved in to the NRA and scuttled the treaty. That hasn't assured gun owners who've been suckered by LaPierre, however.)