This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, September 28, 2013.
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
According to the executive director of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the answer to reducing gun violence in America is always the same: We need more guns.
When there's a shooting in a school, they propose arming teachers. When a disturbed individual shoots up a US Navy yard, the answer is to arm more individuals. Their reply is always the same, always consistent - and usually wrong.
There should be a clear distinction drawn between the dues-paying membership of the NRA and their political leadership. People generally join the NRA because they believe in the 2nd amendment, they believe in their right to responsibly bear arms. They believe they need someone in Washington lobbying for their constitutional position and protecting their rights. No problem there.
But the leadership has become detached from those it represents. Oh, it still does the basic job those members pay them to do. There may be no more effective or feared lobbying force in our nation's capital than the NRA.
But those who run it no longer seek to carry out the will of their members. Instead, they tell those members what it is they really want. The tail is wagging the dog here, and the result is an organization with tremendous power and influence that no longer feels the need to even pretend to act responsibly.
The NRA today is little more than a broker of fear. They are powerful because they tap into the innate distrust most Americans have of their government and their fellow man. That fear is the source of their power, and without it they are nothing more than yet another group of professional influencers trying to make a buck.
Their philosophy is to give absolutely no ground in restricting or regulating gun ownership, regardless of how reasonable any proposal may be. Even the simple and common-sense concept of background checks - which the NRA supported when they thought they could not stop it - is nothing more than an obstacle to their self-serving goals.
Just days after the deadly shooting in Washington, the NRA took to the airwaves to tell us guns were not in any way responsible. They told us the blame lies with our system of mental health care. Or more accurately, they blame our concentration on treatment over confinement.
The NRA director clearly stated we need to lock up more mentally disturbed people, while at the same time opposing even the most rudimentary attempts to screen them and locate them when they try to buy guns.
Yet most of the NRA's political supporters are the same people trying to limit healthcare availability. They want the system to find these people, but don't want to spend any money to make that happen. They want to repeal the law giving access to such care and prevention, while simultaneously complaining about the inevitable result of such an action.
The NRA is hardly alone in practicing this type of fear-based political extortion. There are many organizations and causes on both the left and the right guilty of the same type of reprehensible conduct and strategy. The NRA is just better at it than most. They have turned it into something of an art form.
What kind of world is it we live in when providing healthcare for everyone is something to be repealed and denied, but performing background checks on potential gun owners is seen as outrageous? We seek to increase the possibility of shooting someone, but decrease the possibility of sick people seeing doctors?
The NRA director is right when he says the mental health system is broken. He is right when he says we need to better enforce laws already on the books. He is right when he defends the basic concept of responsible gun ownership.
But he is wrong when he simply espouses more of the product that makes him a rich man as the answer to our societal woes.
He and his organizational team remain a formidable collection of organized thugs intimidating politicians into doing their bidding. They don't care about being "right", nor do they make any attempt at it. They are all about winning.
But if the NRA keeps winning, Americans will keep dying. It is well past time for reasonable compromise.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @billinsidelook.