With the abject lunacy of the Trump administration permeating every newscast, comedy show and countless discussions, one positive news item seems to have slipped by without much notice. It seems the formerly all-powerful paranoia factory, The National Rifle Association, finds itself panhandling for spare change as dues-paying membership drops off and its shameless promotion of every kind of firearm finally comes home to roost in a nation becoming weary of the level of gun violence that saw almost 40,000 people die in 2017 alone.
Operating with the impunity of organized crime, pocketing conservative politicians like dime store hoods, the NRA has for years sponsored legislation ensuring gun sales remain unregulated while stifling any discussion to the contrary. Absurdly, we consequently find ourselves living in a country where children’s toys are more stringently regulated than lethal firearms; where medical doctors are chastised to “stay in their lane” rather than discuss gun violence; and where gun manufacturers are nearly immune from prosecution or any accountability over the carnage their products visit upon innocent people.
wHopefully, all that is changing.
Perhaps it began with a nationwide effort to turn horror into hope by courageous teenage survivors of a mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead last Valentine’s Day. Rejecting the irrelevant “thoughts and prayers” response to school shootings as the BS it has always been, Parkland students initially organized a rally in Washington, D.C. — the “March for Our Lives” — that drew hundreds of thousands, receiving national attention and paving the way for a year of unprecedented progress toward a more realistic approach to gun violence.
After the shooting and a two-month, cross-country bus tour that saw the registration of 85,000 new gun-violence-prevention voters, the passage of 68 GVP state laws, a doubling of the 18- to 29-year-old turnout, and the most NRA pawns ever voted out of office, the new democratically controlled House of Representatives passed two bills in February that tightened background checks for gun buyers. Even the GOP-controlled Senate got into the act, convening a bipartisan hearing addressing so-called “red flag” laws, designed to allow police to confiscate the guns of someone believed to be an imminent risk to themselves or others.
On another front, the NRA lost its insurance coverage after regulators in New York state halted “Carry Guard,” an insurance program that promised to reimburse NRA members from any costs incurred after firing a legal gun. The state ruled it was unlawfully providing liability insurance to gun owners “for certain acts of intentional wrongdoing” and fined the NRA $7 million. The NRA’s laughable response claimed the organization was being discriminated against, threatening its survival as a “charitable organization.”
By way of demonstrating its “charity,” the NRA is currently engaged in an effort to arm abusive boyfriends, attempting to block re-authorization of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that supports victims of domestic and sexual violence. (Why the law would expire and require “re-authorization” is beyond stupid, but that’s another story.)
The law includes a new provision that allows domestic abusers to have their guns confiscated while closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” barring those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a dating partner or those under a restraining order from buying or owning firearms.
More sensitive to the law being “abused” than the women it protects, the NRA ignores data indicating more than half of women homicide victims are killed by intimate partners: current or former spouses, their boyfriends or significant others. In fact, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abusers if the abuser owns a firearm. None of this appears to have much effect on the NRA’s erroneous and ongoing assertions that any gun regulation is a violation of the Second Amendment.
That the NRA’s propaganda has become gospel to some gun owners played out here in Vermont recently as supporters and detractors of a handgun purchase waiting period debated their positions at the State House in Montpelier. Although the debate remained civil — this is still Vermont, after all — opponents consistently repeated the NRA fall-back position that their “right” to own a gun was infringed upon by the proposed waiting period. This is simply untrue.
Although the right to own a firearm was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2010, it was with the stipulation that such rights “were not absolute” and could be subjected to a variety of regulations just as the First Amendment — freedom of speech — can be limited: Screaming “fire” in a crowded theater is not constitutionally protected. The justices were quite specific, ruling that government can ban firearm ownership for felons or the mentally ill; can prohibit guns in specific places like schools and government buildings; and can impose conditions on the commercial sale of guns, all without infringing upon anyone’s Second Amendment rights.
Almost 70 percent of Americans favor increased restrictions on firearms, but only 14 percent are very confident their elected representatives would do anything about it, for good reason. The simple fact is that politicians — particularly Republicans — have been dependent on NRA money, groveling for gun dollars, ignoring their constituents and turning a blind eye to years of NRA-sponsored carnage.
Maybe it’s time for the NRA to die instead of a classroom full of kids.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.