There are few third rails in politics quite like gun control. Like abortion and same-sex marriage, it is a debate that is deeply rooted in faith-based, ethical convictions that are not easy to bend, never mind change.
When President Obama traveled last week to Roseburg, Oregon, where an armed man killed nine students at a community college before killing himself, he was met by some 300 protesters waving Confederate flags and rifles. I can’t help but wonder why?
Anyone who has followed the issue of guns in America knows that gun advocates have already won the debate. There are more than 300 million firearms in the United States by recent estimates – a gun for every citizen – and federal gun policy has remained relatively unchanged since the National Firearms Act of 1934 outlawed fully automatic weapons. Even the $200 tax exemption set by Congress then to own an automatic weapon has remained unchanged.
Recent challenges to gun ownership have also been poked with wide holes. The Brady act of 1993 that mandated federal background checks for all gun purchases was rendered toothless when an NRA-backed provision rendered any check not completed in three days void. If a gun dealer hears nothing in three days, he can sell the weapon legally.
For all practical purposes, there really are no barriers to owning a gun.
For the law abiding majority, this is how it should be. Gun control advocates are usually too quick to dismiss the concerns of gun advocates as hysterical, but the right to bear arms is a serious one and any move to make owning guns more difficult should be considered carefully.
That said, however, I think the NRA and gun advocates in general have taken their fear of a slippery slope – that any gun restriction is an open door to some sort of rapturous moment when the government takes away all guns – too far. And, furthermore, I think the NRA would be smart to concede a little ground and compromise before it and other gun rights groups look around to find they’ve really been left on the fringe.
The writing is on the wall. A majority of NRA members support common sense restrictions that the NRA has fought. Recent polls by Pew have shown 85 percent of gun owners support universal background checks, which the NRA strongly opposes. Gun owners also favor a universal database of gun owners, another measure the NRA opposes.
How much longer will it be before the majority begins to dictate policy on guns? And what would a marginalized gun lobby do when – not if – public policy begins to turn against them, and the public really does go for an Australia-style gun ban. Recent years have shown that policy and law in this country can change swiftly and unexpectedly.
The NRA needs to get over the idea that a compromise is inherently counter to the spirit of the Second Amendment. The group should recognize the fact that it has already won. Guns are not going anywhere. If it compromises now, it might just be able to do more to preserve gun rights in the long run.
— Pete Mazzaccaro