By Bruce A.
To the right? Since when is defending the Bill of Rights, the way it is
written, a question of one's position in the political spectrum? When the
ACLU defends the First Amendment, is that
right or left? The increased activity of the NRA
in the political arena was a response to the activity of other groups in
society to undermine one of the fundamental liberties of this country.
Such political activity hadn't happened before because it
wasn't necessary before. The NRA is not a conservative organization,
despite the fact that many members identify themselves that way.
In fact, it is getting politically broader as time goes by.
Living Downstream From the NRA
The man who led the NRA to the right,
If studying, researching and reading the Second Amendment the way it was
intended to be read by the people who wrote it is "absolutist", then I
guess the NRA is guilty as charged. But is it any more absolutist than
the civil rights organizations who insist on equal opportunity for people
of all races? More absolutist than the ACLU for insisting that the First
Amendment should not be subject to endless exceptions, like flag burning,
religious displays on public property, and prohibitions of all kinds of
things that various people want to call "obscenity"? I don't think so.
And one more question, Mr. Wallace. When you were using the nom-de-plume
"Blumen", your e-mail signature contained the phrase "Free speech absolutist
-- and proud to be." Is the NRA more absolutist than you are?
to its absolutist positions on the Second Amendment and gun rights,
If you look around a little, you will find other organizations in the
movement to protect the Second Amendment, such as the Gun Owners of
America and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. They
consider the NRA to be excessively conciliatory. And they might be right.
I'll go with Carter here. Numerous obviously guilty people are turned
loose because the authorities violated their rights. This is not done to
protect the guilty, but to safeguard the rights that protect all of us
from abuse of power. Setting some criminals free is a price we pay to
protect our rights. Allowing one person to seriously offend another by
burning a flag or calling him a "nigger" or a "kike" or a "chink" or a
"spick" is a price we pay to protect the right of people to protest
injustice, without being silenced by those who benefit from injustice.
was Harlon Carter, a former
head of the U.S. Border Patrol. In 1975, testifying before Congress,
Carter was asked, which was better? To have a national means of
checking the backgrounds of all gun buyers, or to permit felons,
drug addicts, and the mentally ill to acquire guns? Carter replied
that the latter -- the possession and use of weapons by the unbalanced
and dangerous -- was "the price we pay for freedom." (Thanks to Erik
Larson, Lethal Passage (Vintage, 1994) for the quote.)
It's the same with the Second Amendment. Maintaining centralized lists of
gun owners is not that different from maintaining lists of communists or
war protesters or homosexuals. These registration lists are prohibited
because they are considered serious steps that interfere with the exercise
of some fundamental right, things that can be used to harass or ban or
arrest or embarrass when someone in power feels the need. Asking a
law-abiding person to submit to a check of his or her criminal record at
the time of a firearm purchase, when the person has done nothing wrong and
intends to do nothing wrong, is intrusive enough. If we box people in
with enough laws to completely protect everyone from all possible dangers,
we will all be in prison, and there will be no freedom left. So, yes, it
is "the price we pay for freedom."
What does his race have to do with anything? I hope you don't find
out who is really paying the price by having some
thugs kick in your door in the middle of the night and finding that you
have nothing with which to defend yourself.
Mr. Carter: what is this "we", white man? The more I read and
understand about guns, crime and liberty, the more I think that you
are exercising the freedom, and I am paying the price.
I know nothing of this incident, but despite all of the stories we hear
about police abuse, most police agencies are pretty careful about not
letting criminals and murderers into them, never mind lead them. It would
seem that the Border Patrol had some confidence that Mr. Carter wasn't
just a criminal who cheated the law. And it sounds like you are indicting
Mr. Carter only because the person killed was Hispanic, disregarding
whether or not Carter was actually threatened.
Mr. Carter, you knew what it was like to squeeze a trigger and take
another man's life: as a teenager, you were convicted of murder for
killing another youth, a Mexican-American, whom you claimed had
threatened you. The verdict was over-turned on a technicality
(similar to the types of technicality Congress is attacking these
days ) and the charges were never refiled.
Suppose some weak, powerless victim has a weapon and threatens me or
someone I care about. Since I am strong, powerful and not a victim, I
will only have to say "You are weak and powerless. Be Gone!!" and he will
leave, despite his weapon, correct? I doubt that you, yourself, believe
But nothing I have read
indicates that you knew what it really means to be weak, powerless
and a victim in this country -- a state which you can't get out of by
buying a gun.
I assure you that if I am ever faced with someone threatening me or
someone I love, I will not consider that person "weak, powerless and a
victim", no matter what the person's ethnic origin. The only thing which
will matter will be abating the threat. No one has the license to threaten
others while claiming to be "weak, powerless and a victim" because of
his or her race, religion, age, gender or sexual preference. A thug is a
The NRA leaders are elected representatives of the three and a quarter
million law-abiding members that you mention. (Although, it's curious to
note that the Harris and Gallup organizations, often noted for their
survey results, the Times Mirror Company and the Tarrance
Group did an exit poll on Election Day, 1994. They found that between
twenty-three and twenty-seven million American voters consider that they
are represented by the NRA.) Lobbying is one of the things the members
want the organization and its leaders to do, to help prevent bad laws from
being enacted, and to repeal them when they are passed. Political
involvement is one of the privileges, some would say one of the duties,
of citizenship. The lobbying methods that the NRA's Institute for
Legislative Action practices are also used by gun control organizations,
but if you are against citizen lobbying of legislators, why aren't you
criticizing those other organizations, too? Or are you simply criticizing
the NRA's success?
I concede that most NRA members are law-abiding, ...
I know that the feds and the BATF are
overzealous and even crazed at times, trying to enforce laws that
aren't quite there, and that, like the ACLU, you worry about a
slippery slope . But the reason that the laws aren't quite there is
because you influenced things that way, with your lobbying and
campaign dollars and your political threats.
Legislators listen to voters and potential voters, and that is who the NRA
represents. All candidate contributions made by NRA-affiliated
organizations come from member donations. This is not like the tobacco
lobby, where industry contributes. We're talking about grass-roots
involvement, without contributions from the firearms industry. (The
industry has its own organization, one which does not always see
eye-to-eye with the NRA.) If you oppose this, you oppose basic democracy.
I strongly doubt this. In 1975, after a tv news report that South
Carolina was the principal source of handguns used by criminals in NYC, a
one-gun-a-month law was passed there. Since then, the NYC violent crime
rate rose 25% and that in S. Carolina rose 126%. It appears that the law
didn't do a lot of good in either place.
The real eye-opener was reading that more than 55% of the guns
recovered from crime scenes in New York City, where I live, were
legally purchased in the South , then trucked up here to be sold to
teenagers, street gangs, and drug dealers.
The idea resurfaced in Virginia three years ago, saying that Virginia was
the main source of NYC guns. However, 1992 statistics didn't seem to back
that up. Despite NYC's restrictive gun owner licensing and gun
registration laws, its violent crime and homicide rates were,
respectively, 11 and 8 times higher than those in Northern Virginia, where
"easy access" to guns was supposedly a leading cause of crime.
Despite this, Virginia's Governor Wilder pushed his gun rationing scheme,
using as evidence a Batman comic book portraying Virginia as a source of
NYC guns (and calling for a total gun ban) and statistics drawn from
Project Lead, a BATF gun tracing operation (probably the source of the 55%
figure you mentioned). However, Wilder and other gun control advocates
totally ignored the fact that
BATF gun traces (supposedly following the
paper trail of handgun purchases) cannot be used to gather such data,
because they are not designed to be used that way. The Congressional
Research Service noted that the "ATF does not always know if a firearm
being traced has been used in a crime. For instance, sometimes a firearm
is traced simply to determine the rightful owner after it is found by a
law enforcement agency." But this was ignored by the media. Other CRS
statements about these traces, ignored as well, are:
Moreover, during the Virginia rationing debate, it was discovered that
Project Lead had received trace information on only 6% of firearms
recovered by New York City police in 1991 and 1992. Of firearms found at
the scenes of violent crimes in New York City, only 32 had been originally
sold retail in Virginia; only three of the guns "traced to Virginia" had
been "found" at homicide scenes. Project Lead was unable to determine
whether traced firearms had been stolen from the original buyer. According
to BATF, "it is difficult to trace firearms after the first retail
- "A law enforcement officer may initiate a trace request for any
reason. No crime need be involved."
- "Trace requests are not accurate indicators of specified crimes. ...
[T]races may be requested for a variety of reasons not necessarily related
to criminal incidents."
- "Firearms selected for tracing do not constitute a random sample
and cannot be considered representative of the larger universe of
all firearms used by criminals."
- "The absence of a screening policy to ensure that trace requests
are related to crimes, the omission of any reference to crimes on
some requests, the omission or inclusion of certain firearms from
the system, and -- most significantly -- ATF's recent statement
that it does not 'always know' if a traced firearm has been used
in a crime, provide foundation for questions as to whether the
data from the tracing system provide representative information on
firearms used in crimes."
At the time of the Virginia debate, South Carolina, with gun rationing in
place for nearly twenty years, ranked worst among the 50 states in
aggravated assault rates, fifth in total violent crime, and higher than
national rates for murder, rape, and robbery. Virginia, without gun
rationing, ranked well below national rates in all violent crime
categories, and 37th in violent crime overall. But the Virginia gun
rationing bill was passed, anyway, and has had no apparent effect on
crime rates, anywhere.
And to top it off, although gun-running is quite illegal, during the
Virginia debate, there were no prosecutions under Virginia law of an
out-of-state gun-runner. If it were such a big problem, and the government
had all of these proofs of sale in Virginia of guns used in NYC crimes,
why weren't the perpetrators prosecuted? Mr. Wallace, I think you have
been lied to.
(Much of the above discussion is derived from the more complete document
Purchasing Rights", which was produced by the NRA/ILA
Research & Information Division.)