Blame Wayne LaPierre!
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. — 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
I believe in the importance of the 2nd Amendment — but I also believe that Wayne LaPierre’s scorched-earth, no compromises, take-no-prisoners approach to the NRA’s defense of the 2nd Amendment is compromising public and political support for it.
My Southern mother taught me to safely handle and shoot a .22 LR bolt action rifle when I was in elementary school. Though I’ve since gifted my guns to my children and grandchildren, I was a combat veteran, a competitive shooter, and a handloader — and I enjoy and respect firearms for the excellent tools they can be. I very much agree with the reasons for which the drafters of the Bill of Rights ranked it as the 2nd Amendment, right after the 1st Amendment’s freedoms of religion, speech, peaceable assembly, and the press. Without the ability to resist unlawful compulsion there are no freedoms, though you may have noticed that the Bill of Rights nowhere enshrines any right to violent insurrection.
So why do I blame Wayne La Pierre for the peril in which he has placed the NRA and the 2nd Amendment? The 2nd Amendment begins with the words a well regulated militia. Historically, the term militia has referred to all able-bodied males capable of bearing arms to defend the state. The Supreme Court has so ruled. Hopefully, we can agree on that. So the issue gets down to the meaning of the words well regulated. At the very minimum, the words imply that the right is not unbounded and can be regulated.
In today’s America, the privilege of operating a motor vehicle can have profound economic implications for individuals who need to drive to earn a living. Yet, our society considers it perfectly reasonable to require individuals to prove that they are competent to safely operate a motor vehicle before being allowed to drive one on public roads. A driver’s license is assumed to be a reasonable compromise between individual rights and public safety. As long as the government cannot unreasonably or capriciously deny firearms ownership to citizens who can demonstrate the competence to safely own and operate a firearm, whose rights are being infringed?
LaPierre’s position that any limits on the 2nd Amendment are unacceptable and that there can be no reasonable compromises — and his ability to punish politicians who defy him — have made requirements like background checks and minimal waiting periods impossible. Further, to increase his personal influence and financial compensation he has used the bully pulpit of the NRA to promote a mostly unfounded fear of violence that requires military-grade firearms to defend one’s home.
The NRA of my youth fostered responsible firearms ownership, marksmanship, and safety. It promoted the shooting sports and training. I was a proud NRA member and the newsletter I edited for my local gun club once won an NRA award that got our club president dinner with Charlton Heston. LaPierre has changed all that. There are now ugly battles among NRA executives over power and money and frequent allegations of misuse of funds — not particularly positive advertisements for a responsible corporate culture. We are treated to armed protesters invading invading the Michigan Capitol, heavily armed private militias fomenting insurrection, and an out of control gun culture hoarding ammunition in preparation for the coming revolution.
We do not need private armed militias to protect democracy. There are few places in America where you need to be armed to defend your home (and they tend to be in inner cities). The right to keep and bear arms does not imply the need for paramilitary organizations. Wayne LaPierre’s stewardship of the NRA has turned it into an agent of fear and paranoia and has helped turn segments of our society into armed camps. It’s misguided extremism has turned it from a defender of the 2nd Amendment into a threat to its very purpose. Extremism breeds extreme responses and could jeopardize popular and political support for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Thank you, Wayne.