Two mass shootings in the span of a week. Eighteen people killed. This is what has and will dominate the news cycle for days. Along with these tragic stories will be calls for gun control. And why not? It would be beating the skeletal remains of a long dead horse to point out that we in the United States have more gun deaths than any other country in the world. We’ve also outdone every other country in deaths from Covid-19, but that is another sad story.
Why is the United States such a gun culture? Why are weapons like the AR-15 class and AK-47 class of firearms deemed “necessary” as our prized possessions? There are lots of answers to these conundrums. But they likely lead back to three letters: NRA.
Political historian Heather Cox Richardson published a piece yesterday tracing the history and development of the NRA. The organization started out focused on guns as a sport. But, “…in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing ‘gun control.’ It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on ‘gun rights.'”
Cox Richardson also notes:
“The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns. Even though 90% of Americans—including nearly 74% of NRA members—recently supported background checks, Republicans have killed such legislation by filibustering it”
The NRA’s decades-long campaign has pulled no punches with a say-anything, scorched-earth messaging strategy that left acolytes convinced that if certain candidates (not Republican) were elected that their beloved guns would be confiscated. It wasn’t true when Obama was elected. It isn’t true now. But gun sales went off the charts. And remember, while the NRA beats the drum for the 2nd Amendment, its primary source of income is lobbying for gun and ammunition manufacturers and that effort is supposed to result in sales. It consistently has. But at what cost to other aspects of the rights of American citizens?
This never ending stream of messages equating the 2nd Amendment as the key right afforded by the Constitution obscured other rights. Others that are frankly far more important.
Let’s take the 14th Amendment as an example. While there had been theoretical discussion of equality for all in the United States, it was not until the 14th Amendment that this equality became enshrined in the Constitution and after decades and endless court fights to secure the rights that it has afforded. Some of these are actual citizenship for all those born here and the right to equal protection under the law and the end of Jim Crow laws. The 14th also has Section 3 which understandably scares the hell out of all those in office that in some way participated in or enabled the insurrection of January 6th. It essentially forbids them from holding office, ever. This amendment is vastly overlooked but thankfully education on it is rebounding thanks to the work of Will Smith and Netflix with the series Amended.
It is not hard to think up other examples of imbalances in our society caused by the over-stress of the 2nd Amendment. The remedy is simply to understand all of our rights under the Constitution and protect the whole of the document, not just gun rights.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I am against guns. On the contrary, I am a gun owner. I enjoy shooting. At targets. I’ve fired many types of guns, even a full auto AR-15 at a range. That experience, in spite of how much fun it was, was also sobering. Each one of those rounds—which I was able to place on target with astounding ease, never having fired anything full auto before—was capable of liquifying bodily organs if they had hit a person instead of a paper target. Assault rifles are weapons of war. And war is in itself an insanity all too prevalent on this planet. There is no actual need for these weapons in the hands of the general public and I fully support a ban on such weapons. This will of course make me seem an enemy of those who labor under the delusion that they are in some sort of war for their rights.
The Bill of Rights, the conglomeration of Amendments to our Constitution, is essentially about humanity. The perversion of importance of the 2nd over all the rest endangers all the rest and the vast majority of our rights. We need to restore the balance.