It is easy to ignore the issue of gun control, given the perfect leaderlessness it enjoys in Congress. Then again, it becomes harder to ignore when your relatives or friends are murdered in the company of someone you idolize, which describes thousands of us in Tucson.
I have owned guns, continuously, since I was 6. I still own my grandfather’s pump-action Winchester, carried for decades in a scabbard behind his saddle as he rode the range where he ranched, in Wikieup, Ariz. All the guns I’ve owned have been what are quaintly called long guns. I began my brief assault on local fauna at age 12, and I had “taken” four white-tailed deer, a couple of javelina and innumerable quail and dove by the time I got my driver’s license at 16. A driver’s license is a far greater liberator than a hunting license, and thereafter, trekking around in the wilderness killing things lost its luster. It has been decades since I engaged in those adventures.
There are, today, few who hunt with handguns or assault rifles equipped with 100-clip magazines. There are even fewer reasons to do so. But the National Rifle Association’s principal focus has evolved mostly to those. It is news to no one that the NRA has abandoned the sportsman in every practical sense; if the group were honest, it would change its name. Speaking as a rifleman, I think it’s an embarrassment.
The NRA not only dependably opposes limits on assault-rifle sales but even opposes reporting bulk sales of assault rifles. Last year, the NRA went to the mat to prevent anyone from cross-checking the names of those on the terrorist watch list against the names of those buying guns. These two actions clarify beyond argument that the safety and welfare of you and yours have simply dropped from the NRA’s list of priorities. The NRA represents gun manufacturers, end of story.
Now, handguns excel at certain things. They are unequaled at killing people at close range: quite useful for law enforcement officers and drug dealers. They’re genuine security in a drawer for those who have received unambiguous threats, like my friend Gabby Giffords. They’re even a useful, if dubious, tool to defend yourself from murderers and rapists breaking in at 2 a.m. That hasn’t happened to me in the past 60 years, but maybe your experience is different. NRA President Wayne LaPierre thinks it may happen to you tonight: If you search YouTube for “The NRA’s Circus of Fear,” you’ll find a collection of LaPierre’s reasons why he lives in fear, and his arguments as to why you should, too. Personally, I think that “living in fear” is inconsistent with being an American, and I’m not going to play.
But how else are the gun manufacturers going to “grow the market,” to sell more than the 3 million handguns they already do per year? Fear is a great motivator; mass murder is great for the gun business.
Just days ago a dozen citizens were murdered and about five dozen plugged with slugs from a trinity of firearms. Setting aside the shotgun, it bears mentioning that the Glock and assault rifle James Holmes is suspected of firing in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater were being used for the purpose for which they were designed, manufactured and sold. But the gun makers have no product-liability litigation to worry about, because in 2005 Congress approved and President George W. Bush signed into law legislation providing immunity for gun manufacturers from the foreseeable consequence of building instruments of murder. Every year three times as many people are murdered with guns in the United States as were murdered on Sept. 11, 2001. But blessed be the gun makers, for they are pardoned in advance.
It strikes me that the NRA is pretty comfortable when debates over mass murder devolve into intellectual discussions relating to civility vs. demagoguery, insanity vs. impressionability, and freedom vs. the tyranny of gun zealots. The more abstract, the better. In the end, however, it’s simple: The NRA shills for gun makers who profit from the murder of American citizens. If you think the country’s policies are shaped by Judeo-Christian values, you’re not paying attention.
Michael McNulty is an attorney in Tucson. He was chairman of the Giffords for Congress campaign in 2006, 2008 and 2010.