Reply to -- Living Downstream From the NRA

By Bruce A. Clark (Written 5/4/96)

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. 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?

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.

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. 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. 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 such nonsense.

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 thug.

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 biased, anti-gun 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?

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 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 purchase."

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 "Rationing Handgun Purchasing Rights", which was produced by the NRA/ILA Research & Information Division.)