Don’t Yell at the NRA, Ignore Them
In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last week, outrage toward the National Rifle Association has served as a rallying cry for pro-gun control advocates. This criticism is not completely justified in its current form. To be perfectly fair, a lobbying organization is only as powerful as its donors, members, and supporters. No one elected the NRA to best solve the country’s’ problems; their purpose is only to protect the rights of gun owners and the profits of gun manufacturers. Like many other lobbying organizations, the NRA has become instrumental in writing new state and federal laws and helping deregulate those that already exist. While there is national outrage over NRA Executive Vice President Wayne Lapierre’s remarks last week regarding school shootings, outrage should not be directed directly at Wayne Lapierre, but at a politics that centers public discourse influenced by legislation written by a lobbying organization. The NRA’s aggressive tactics and their unwillingness to engage in open problem solving prevent them from being respected as a major player in a conversation about preventing homicide.
Two aspects of the NRA’s approach are most objectionable. Amazingly, the NRA has the audacity to propose limiting first amendment freedoms while basing the crux of their pro-gun arguments on the second amendment. Lapierre explains:
“1,000 music videos…portray murder as a way of life. And then they all have the nerve to call it entertainment. But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography? In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior, and criminal cruelty right into our homes. Every minute, every day, every hour of every single year.”
Within Lapierre’s comments there is a serious societal question that should be addressed. Does the violent culture of mass media lead to increased violence in society? The American Psychological Association seems to say so here (see link), and American society has overwhelmingly agreed, placing restrictive ratings on movies, music, and video games that are deemed too violent for children. The courts have decided that governments have the right to limit first amendment freedoms in order to forward important societal interests. This legislative process should only be respected though, if it can apply to other amendments as well (not to mention the fact that there is no constitutional right to all kinds of arms). If state governments ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines does that really fully infringe on a citizen’s right to protect him or herself by other means? Organizations like the NRA are important in advocating for constitutional protections in their purest form, but if society and elected officials begin to adopt their talking points as policy solutions, we will never be able to secure the greater societal interests that we demand in the spirit of the Constitution as a whole.
Second, the NRA claims to be an organization that can work with government to provide school safety nationally, but it looses credibility by continuing to wage a campaign that puts a choke hold on gun research. Garry Gutting writes in the New York Times:
“It’s not that scientists are uninterested in gun research or don’t know how to study guns’ connection to violence. It’s rather that the N.R.A. has blocked most efforts at serious gun research, going so far as to restrict access to the highly informative data available from Justice Department traces of guns used in crimes. As The Times reported, “Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work.”
Knowledge will never infringe on citizen rights. The more we know, the better we can save lives and create sound policy. Any research that is released should be scrutinized in a most serious matter to ensure its objectivity and accuracy, but limiting funding for research prevents governments from making the the most informed choices. By limiting research the NRA says, we want you to support our position regardless of its basis in truth. This is a tactic of a ruthless advocate, not of a compassionate problem solver.
On gun control, the wrong discussion is being had. Gun control should not only be about taking away guns, which in most cases have not been responsible for the school shooting tragedies cited. The debate should be a comprehensive conversation that uses all possible information available to create a cocktail of public policies that best prevents homicide everywhere. Lobbying organizations that want to have a say in the crafting of these policies can’t put a stranglehold on the information necessary to begin the problem solving. Those who do peruse these tactics can have their national spotlight during a press conference, but should find themselves on the other side of the door when serious; life saving legislation is being crafted.
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