Yes, We Can Have Sane Gun Control Without Trampling Gun Owners' Rights
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The NRA president's motives for lying to his members are clear: his fearmongering brings a windfall of fundraising to the organization and expands the market for the arms manufacturers -- his true base -- that finance much of the lobby’s work. As Alan Berlow wrote in Salon, “The only way to avert this calamity, the NRA’s 4 million members are told in daily email alerts, the organization’s various magazines and regular fundraising appeals, is if they all dig deep into their pockets and send money to the NRA.”
While a lot of gun owners are quite concerned, the arms industry is laughing all the way to the bank. Just after the 2008 election, the New York Times reported that “sales of handguns, rifles and ammunition have surged in the last week, according to gun store owners around the nation who describe a wave of buyers concerned that an Obama administration will curtail their right to bear arms.” A year later, CNN noted that “Gun shops across the country are reporting a run on ammunition, a phenomenon apparently driven by fear that the Obama administration will increase taxes on bullets or enact new gun-control measures.”
Most Gun Owners Are Reasonable; Our Discourse About Guns Is Not
This bogus "gun-grabbers" narrative results in a discourse that is truly bizarre – one tilted toward a small minority of gun-nuts whose fantasy lives are wrapped up in heroic notions of fending off government “tyranny” with their deer rifles or saving the day by blowing away a crazed killer rather than what most gun owners see as a safe and reasonable way to balance the rights enshrined in the Second Amendment against concerns for public safety.
The right to bear arms is the only one that draws the kind of absolutism we see among the hardcore gun-rights set. Most of us recognize that the right to free speech has certain limits. You can't claim First Amendment protection for yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theater, slandering someone or using “fighting words.” But Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently made news when he suggested that Americans may have the right to own Stinger hand-held missiles because they are portable, and therefore, unlike cannons, they count as arms that a person might “bear.” (How twisted is this view? During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union developed miniature nuclear weapons that could be carried in a backpack.)
Another example: fearful gun-owners often say that "cars kill more people than guns but nobody's trying to ban them." But consider that there are many jurisdictions in which it is perfectly legal to shoot while intoxicated. Cars are certainly dangerous, but we have strict licensing requirements and it's illegal to operate them under the influence everywhere in the United States. The same is true for boats and airplanes, but not firearms.
Or consider that the NRA constantly tells us that "guns don't kill people, people kill people,” and then blocks any and every attempt to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people – things like expanded background checks, or closing the gun-show loophole. In fact, that loophole – which allows anyone who isn't a full-time gun-merchant to sell weapons at gun shows without any background checks whatsoever – was pushed hard by the NRA back in the 1980s.
In 2007, the NRA went so far as to lobby the Bush administration to oppose a law that would have barred suspected terrorists from buying firearms. (Most intelligence experts say a Mumbai-style attack with small arms is one of the greatest terror threats we face, and last year an Al Qaeda spokesman encouraged “terrorists to use American gun shows to arm themselves” for such assaults.)