Yes, We Can Have Sane Gun Control Without Trampling Gun Owners' Rights
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The good news is that while 47 percent of Americans say they own a gun, the overwhelming majority aren't gun-nuts; they're responsible people who worry about their kids getting caught in a cross-fire, who believe firearms should be handled safely and see it as perfectly reasonable to keep them out of the wrong hands.
That's reflected in the polling. As Cliff Schecter noted last month, studies of public opinion find that a majority of gun-owners are in favor of closing the gun-show loophole the NRA championed (85 percent of all gun owners, and 69 percent of NRA members). Eighty-two percent of NRA members believe that people on the federal terror watch list should be barred from buying firearms. Almost seven in 10 NRA members disagree with the organization's efforts to prevent law enforcement from determining the origins of weapons used in crimes.
Schecter writes that the NRA has “fought all efforts to make reporting lost or stolen guns to the police a requirement,” and in some cases has “actually threatened to sue to overturn these laws.” But 88 percent of gun owners – and 78 percent of NRA members – think that requiring people to report lost or stolen weapons is a pretty good idea.
The uptake from all this is that we can have reasonable, commonsense restrictions on firearms, but we'll never achieve that until people realize that nobody's trying to ban all firearms, and that the NRA in no way represents the interests of most gun owners.
Time to Reset the Debate
At first glance, it appears that the NRA has a stranglehold on gun advocacy in this country – it is, after all, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. But that's not entirely true. In 1975, an NRA board member who didn't think the organization was taking a sufficiently absolutist position on the Second Amendment founded Gun Owners of America, which reportedly has 300,000 members (compared to the 4.3 million claimed by the NRA) and lobbies well to the right of its more senior cousin.
Given the rather significant divide between the NRA's positions and the views held by most of its members, there appears to be ample political space to the organization's “left” to advocate reasonable gun controls on behalf of American gun owners – people who cherish the basic right to bear arms but also recognize that allowing drunken bar patrons to carry concealed weapons is just stupid.
Such an effort could go a long way toward convincing reasonable gun owners who have been deceived by the NRA's brazen lies into believing that someone's out to get their guns, and that's really the only way that we'll ever be able to have a serious discussion about safe and responsible gun ownership.
At this point, that should be the goal. There is simply no good reason, for example, that 100-round magazines should be legal given that they serve no legitimate purpose for hunting or target practice, and Americans favor banning them by a 63-34 margin. Or how about discussing the potential merits of a national "no-sell" list that would give law enforcement and mental health personnel the opportunity to flag potentially dangerous people to licensed gun-merchants?
Would these kinds of modest regulations of gun ownership end the scourge of gun violence in America? Of course not – people will always snap. But we're living in an era when mass shootings (which, it should be noted, represent only a small fraction of all gun violence) have become commonplace – we've seen four just since the beginning of June – and most of them were with weapons purchased legally. We don't have to tolerate this many killings as a new normal. Given where the Supreme Court is on the issue – and public opinion – our goal shouldn't be to ban firearms, but simply to make gun violence as rare as possible.