HOW THE NRA COULD WIN
A few weeks ago I had received an email invitation to meet with people who felt strongly that big things needed to be done in this country to stop the slaughter of innocents by guns of all sorts.
Before the date of the meeting I asked friends if they too were going. No one had heard of the confab, period. There as no p.r. about the time, place and purpose of the meeting. Clearly, I thought, these beknighted people needed help.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The people chairing the meeting had purposely kept a low profile. This was partly because one family involved had lost a daughter to gun violence in college. Secondarily, in planning the meeting, they had been unable to sleep for thinking that someone might barge into the meeting to either disrupt it or cause havoc.
(Suddenly I felt as though I were a mole, a sapper, wired, note-booked, and ready to blow up the best laid plans of forty-five people who favor gun control.)
I was deeply distressed at this reasoning, although I must have been the only one who was. Heads nodded agreement and a general feeling that the decision had been the right one circulated in the room. I did not know until later that the organizers and their host had discussed calling in a local constable to maintain order, or to defend the meeting’s participants, if needed.
What chilled me most was the palpable sense of fear in the room: being out-gunned, out-spent, and having to play catch-up contributed to the general unease.
As the first hour progressed, we heard testimony from still grieving parents, from teachers and physicians unable to imagine dealing with outbreaks like that at Sandy Hook, from really nice people forced finally by their own consciences to do something.
These were all people of good will and good intent, stymied at least temporarily by the size of the task on which they were setting out. Many were the suggestions for action, for fund-raising, for broadening the base of the group itself. It was then suggested that the group break into workshop style pods of five to ten people each to discuss the best possible ways to be effective in this new war zone.
My own feeling then was that the group was about to begin re-inventing the wheel. Why not, I wondered, attach itself to the Brady group, already at war for more than thirty years, with resources, mailing lists, and personal clout?
Then again how effective might be new groups, such as this, be in contacting their state and national legislators, providing backbones to those who previously had been operating without any? Threats were also considered: vote the right way, the way you know you want to vote regardless of contributions to your campaigns, or you will likely not be returned to your privileged chairs in the next election.
All kinds of reasonable and workable ideas came out of these smaller group meetings. Michael Bloomberg. Gabby Giffords. Meetings with people of opposite views and turning those conversations into positive action.
Like most of the country, focus was tight on a few items: background checks, ammunition clips, assault weapons.
And yet as I drove home that night, I could imagine how this activism and good-feeling could be undermined by fear. I had watched, on Piers Morgan’s CNN program, a man named Alex Jones (a reputed talk-show host and gun-fancier) lose it entirely, make threats to his host and the nation, wave his arms about and promise that the battle was just beginning. Civil war was in the air.
My reaction to Mr. Jones was that he was number one on my list of people who should be institutionalized and kept from owning guns forever.
And then the crushing corollary. The only way to protect ourselves from Mr. Jones and his ilk was to be armed ourselves.
Suddenly I could see the NRA with two constituencies. Their base, behind the so-often misread Second Amendment lately being bruited about as the correction and salvation of the First Amendment. This group has been buying, as we know, weapons by the carloads.
But suddenly, like others who had watched Mr. Jones go ballistic, a second base, growing every day, of fearful civilians wanting only to have protection at hand should the worst happen, and now going out to buy firearms for themselves and their families.
With both bases now activated by fear of the other, gun sales in the country would triple overnight, membership in the NRA jump horrendously, ranges fill with formerly reasonable people learning for the first time how to fire guns of all sorts.
This prospect is a nightmare. The NRA’s brief is to sell guns. Fear on both sides of the question leads to gun sales. Who benefits? The NRA, which thusly becomes stronger, louder, more difficult with which to reason.
This is no way to run a railroad.
So even though the group meeting I attended seemed to me destined to founder, I think maybe it shouldn’t. I know it shouldn’t.