School shootings have become so commonplace that many have now turned to gun control as an answer for stopping, or at least preventing, gun violence in not only our schools but society in general. Students of the “school shooting” generation are especially vocal when it comes to gun control, as shown by Saturday’s “March For Our Lives” events. I admire this generation of students just as I admired the generation of my daughters who also marched while waving signs on the streets of Washington.
I wish gun control were a simple problem that could easily be solved — I truly do. Not to put too fine a point on it, but our culture of violence will simply not allow effective gun control. Before I talk about gun control, though, I think it worthwhile to provide some background on the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Without knowledge of these two topics it is impossible to understand the difficulty in controlling guns.
The Second Amendment says, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Gun-rights supporters believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. Hard-line gun rights advocates, such as today’s NRA leadership, portray even modest gun laws as infringements on the Second Amendment and are rigidly opposed to even background checks. Their reasoning is that any gun control measure, no matter how seemingly reasonable, puts us on the slippery slope toward total civilian disarmament. For these people, the Second Amendment is all rights and no regulation.
Gun control advocates, on the other hand, feel the Second Amendment is a collective right and only applies to state militias. All guns, which are tools of power, for example, belong in the hands of the state. These gun control hardliners support any new law that has a chance to be enacted even if that law is unlikely to reduce gun violence or school shootings. For these people, the Second Amendment is all regulation and no rights.
Today, the NRA is the strongest advocate against gun control; however, that was not always the case. The NRA was founded in 1871 by George Wingate and William Church primarily to improve the marksmanship of American soldiers. They had been in the Civil War and knew firsthand the poor marksmanship of the average Civil War soldier. I’m not sure much has changed for soldiers in the intervening years. From my perspective, the Marines seem to be the only branch of service that truly stresses marksmanship because for them, every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman.
In the 1920s and ’30s, the NRA was at the forefront in legislative efforts to enact gun control. For example, Karl Frederick, the NRA president at that time, helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, which was a model then and now for state level gun control legislation. Frederick’s model law had three major elements:
• First, no one could carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit from the local police.
• Second, gun dealers must report to law enforcement every sale of a handgun.
• Third, the law imposed a twoday waiting period on handgun sales.
Interestingly, the NRA today condemns every one of these provisions as a burdensome and ineffective infringement on the right to bear arms.
During the 1930s Congress passed the National Firearms Act of 1934, which imposed a steep tax and registration requirements on weapons such as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, which were easily acquired by Chicago gangsters.
When this law was passed, the NRA supported it with some exceptions. For example, they successfully lobbied to have excessive taxes on handguns stripped from the final bill by arguing that people needed such weapons to protect their homes. Nevertheless, at this time, the NRA supported what they termed “reasonable, sensible, and fair legislation.”
All that was about to change as the NRA underwent a seismic transformation in policy. In the 1960s and 1970s, a growing number of NRA members, because of their fear of rising crime rates were buying guns for protection. The NRA leadership seemed oblivious to this seismic change to such an extent that in 1976, Maxwell Rich, the executive vice president, announced that the NRA would sell its building in Washington, D.C., and relocate the headquarters to Colorado Springs, thereby retreating from political lobbying and expanding its outdoor and environmental activities. Rich’s plan resulted in an uprising among the NRA hardline gun-rights advocates.
A palace coup was staged by Harlan Carter, a bulldog of a man and the former Border Patrol director who ran the NRA’s recently formed lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA). In May 1977, Carter and his allies staged a coup at the annual membership meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. Carter was subsequently elected the new executive vice president and immediately began to transform the NRA into a lobbying powerhouse committed to a more aggressive view of the Second Amendment.
Harlan Carter felt the best way to do that was by entering the political arena. A sign of this new determination to influence electoral politics was evident in his 1980 decision to endorse a presidential candidate. For the previous 100 years, the NRA had stayed clear of politics. The NRA had now entered politics with a vengeance.
Carter’s stance for the NRA boiled down to the mantra, “No Compromise!” which was summed up by Neal Knox, the new head of the ILA, when he said, “It is nice to be loved, but better to be feared.” That philosophy has been carried out by all subsequent leaders of the NRA to include its present executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, and has been exceptionally effective in making political leaders tow the NRA line.
During this period, the NRA went from being reasonable to radical. The NRA has basically become a Political Action Committee (PAC) that fronts for the gun and ammunition manufacturers, using the Second Amendment as a cudgel against all who attempt to impose any gun control measure that would reduce firearms and ammunition sales. The NRA and their supporting politicians know that fear mongering sells weapons and ammunition.
This, I suspect, is how we came to a situation where three percent of Americans own half the guns in the United States, with some individuals owning 40 or more guns.
Even though I am a lifetime member of the NRA, I nevertheless have my doubts about the radicalization of the NRA, as it has moved away from what I believe to be its primary mission: teaching Americans how to shoot.
In my opinion, there is no such thing as, nor can there ever be, effective gun control in America. Someone estimated there are about 310 million guns in the hands of the American public. When looked at from a broader perspective, America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost 50% of the civilian-owned guns in the world. Interestingly, 3% of adults own half of America’s total number of guns.
To think that any law will result in these guns being turned in or to think that the government would attempt to confiscate them is absolute nonsense. Therefore, effective gun control is a total misnomer; it simply cannot be done.
Well, can we at least end the killings by handguns? Right now, according to the CDC, we have about 14,000 yearly murders by guns in the United States, primarily through interpersonal conflict caused by greed, revenge, jealousy, fear, etc. Surprisingly, more than 25% of America’s gun homicides in 2015 happened across census blocks that contain just 1.5% of the country’s total population with more than half of America’s gun homicides clustered in just 127 cities and towns, which together have less than a quarter of the nation’s population. For example, in Chicago, analysts working with police department data found that over a six-year period 46% of gun homicides and 70% of non-fatal shootings occurred within a sprawling social network that included just 6% of Chicago’s total population.
Do you know what law enforcement officers fear most? Responding to a domestic dispute. Those disturbances are nothing but a bubbling cauldron of emotion that, seemingly at random, will explode into violence, killing not only the participants but also the responding police officers.
Combine these interpersonal emotional conflicts, the presence of guns, our culture of violence, and we have a deadly combination that inevitably leads to violent confrontation.
J.T. Oney, of Mayking, served more than 40 years with the Department of Defense in various military, intelligence, and security organizations. and taught for 11 years at a small college in Virginia. Now retired, he is an Adjunct Professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.