Closing Thoughts

By Bruce A. Clark (Written 8/9/96)

A Call for Rational Discourse

It is unfortunate that many people venture into realm of politics on the basis of rage (of which outrage is but one variety) instead of on a reasoned approach. Because they personally fear being shot by a criminal or because they are angered that some innocent person was killed by a stray bullet let loose in the warfare between criminal gangs, then they believe all guns should be restricted or banned. It has the same degree of rationality as saying that since the Unabomber mailed his bombs to his victims, therefore the mail should be banned. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of users of the post office do not use it for sending letter bombs. If even one letter bomb is sent, it is reason to outlaw the mail! Outrage can give someone energy that may be useful for a person fighting for something he or she believes in, but if not well controlled, it interferes with the careful thinking necessary to weigh data and come to the right conclusion.

Of course, someone favoring gun control would deny this and say "guns were only invented to kill people, and killing is bad, so we should ban guns." However, this is false. The handgun is a miniaturization of the rifle, which is a miniaturization of the cannon, which is an enhancement of the catapult, which is an expansion of the bow and arrow, which is an enhancement of the throwing stick, which is an enhancement of the spear. The origins go back to the beginnings of human tool use, and these tools were used to put food on the table, to protect against predators (beast and human), and to defend against war made by one's enemies or to make war upon them. All of those weapons of a size that can be carried by individuals have always been used for a multitude of purposes intricately intertwined with the survival of people, not just the malicious killing of others. Simplifying the issue to the latter is to be dishonest to the facts of the matter.

The same people who promote a multicultural society, saying that we should celebrate our differences, who revel in the ability of people to freely express themselves in a variety of ways, do not hesitate to urge laws restricting what other people can choose to own, how many guns, what kind, which sporting uses are "valid" (shooting is an Olympic sport, remember). It appears that all differences should not be celebrated, only those differences of which they themselves approve. They don't shoot at targets with nasty, dangerous guns, so why would any "normal" person want to? So people should not be allowed to!

The way the argument for gun control has proceeded, it has left the realm of normal, rational discourse, and has entered Wonderland: "When I use a word, ... it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." The whole history of the ancient right of self-defense and its collateral right to bear arms, recognized in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is blithely denied and ignored by those arguing for gun control. They say, at times, that it means that the National Guard has a right to be armed (we need a Bill of Rights to tell us this?), and at other times they say that it means "sporting use", as in the 1968 gun control act. Whether these misinterpretations are made out of true ignorance of the history involved, or out of dishonesty, doesn't really matter. If people are going to enter a debate where so much is at stake, and they have the personal character to want to do it honestly, they have the responsibility to do a little research and find out what the words used in the Second Amendment really mean.

The politics of rage and outrage, where the next move, the next legal restriction is dictated by what some nut has just done with a gun, rather than by what all of the rest of the population of gun owners do with guns, has rationality stood on its head. The fact that every year 99.8% of all guns (and 99.4% of handguns) are not involved in crimes has no significance; the fact that guns are used over two million times a year to prevent crimes has no significance; when some lunatic or criminal kills one or more people, that has the significance of requiring that the firearms of all of the rest of the population be restricted. Never mind that this is punishing the innocent in a vain attempt to get at the guilty. Never mind that this will put guns only in the hands of the few, giving them the means to oppress the many (whether the "few" means criminals or the representatives of people in power doesn't make much difference; the resulting oppression will be just as bad). Never mind that this will take away the only protection that people have against violence.

This climate led a former head of NBC News to say, when asked if he thought his network's coverage of the gun control issue was objective, that the issue was too important for objectivity. He has left the scene, but his philosophy lingers on.

Is everyone involved on the side of gun control this bad? Certainly not. There are some who are trying to see things clearly, and are attempting to be fair. In the Ethical Spectacle, Mr. Wallace demonstrated this solidly in his article "Defending NRA Rhetoric", and in other places. However, this is not the predominant ethic of the proponents of gun control, not the methodology of the members of Congress and the executive branch trying to foist gun control on the population, and not the modus operandi of the media, which is almost uniformly weighing in on one side of the debate, instead of fairly reporting the issues as a whole, as it is supposed to. And under this barrage of non-facts, demonization, misinterpretations and propaganda, it is no wonder that the most well-meaning and honest people stray into the thicket. Their own outrage over certain terrible acts lets them get carried away on the river of misinformation into the same errors made deliberately by those less scrupulous.

One more point on the topic of the stereotyping of people who shoot guns. In the elsewhere-mentioned autobiography of Charlton Heston, he notes that Steven Spielberg owns one of the largest gun collections in California. Heston also says that Spielberg never discusses it pubicly, and neither does he shoot publicly. Such is the climate created by the demonization campaign of the gun-control-supporting media and other prominent, "politically correct" figures, that even someone of the stature of Spielberg seems to fear talking about his hobbies in public. It's a little reminiscent of McCarthyism and the blacklist period, wouldn't you say? And if a gun owner like Spielberg can make movies like E.T., what does that say about the stereotypes of gun owners broadcast far and wide these days?

Side Effects of the Gun Control Issue

The issue of gun control introduces some unfortunate distortions into the political system. Because of the serious threat posed to a truly fundamental liberty, it has forced people to vote for candidates who hold positions with which they disagree on other, less fundamental issues. It is certainly not universally true, but unfortunately very likely, that the candidate for any office who opposes gun control is likely to be a Republican. Since most Democratic candidates have abandoned the Constitutional high ground on this issue, people who seriously want to protect fundamental liberties frequently have to vote for Republicans.

This has at least two side effects. The most obvious one is that people are voting for candidates who might oppose choice on the question of abortion or who might favor tax cuts for the rich or who oppose labor unions. This is truly unfortunate, but one must put first things first, and losing fundamental liberties makes it much more difficult to fight on these other issues. (This is an especially serious issue today, where Clinton has chosen to be on the wrong side on a number of Bill of Rights issues.)

The other major side effect is that a person who supports the Second Amendment but is without a strong personal ideology (that is, either someone without much political sophistication or someone who has not synthesized a fairly comprehensive political world view) is likely to assume that since Republican candidates tend to have a much better position on this serious Constitutional question, therefore the Republican Party must generally have more wisdom. Such a person, and there are a very great many in this country, will likely decide for the future that the Republican Party will have the right answers on a lot of other questions. In other words, people who care strongly for the Bill of Rights, especially for the significance of the Second Amendment, will be driven into the Republican Party, regardless of whether that is the natural place for them.

Such things happened in the last Congressional elections. President Clinton recognized that and wasn't pleased. He publicly blamed the NRA for the Republican Congressional victories. In a sense he was right, because the organization was very active in opposing Clinton's gun control policies. But the NRA's political arm did not support Republicans per se; it supported candidates who oppose gun control. By and large, they were Republicans, but there were some Democrats, as well. (The NRA doesn't favor any particular political party, just candidates with a good position on this important issue. In the few cases where both the Democratic and Republican candidates had equally strong positions in favor of the Second Amendment, the NRA stepped back and supported neither.) In reality, what caused the 1994 election results was not the NRA, but Clinton's own actions in office. The NRA's only role was in publicizing the issues and in helping to organize support for the Second Amendment. It's clear that most people do not ideologically support the entire Contract With America, touted by many of the Republicans running for Congress, but they voted for them anyway, for other reasons. One of those reasons, an important one, was the protection of the Second Amendment. Since Clinton's actions have not improved, it could very well happen again, and people could get into the habit.

For another example, back in, I think, 1982, Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles was running for Governor, against conservative George Dukmejian. Unfortunately for Bradley, the gun control movement placed an initiative on the ballot which would have severely restricted people's Second Amendment rights in that state. The election for Governor, which was predicted to be close, but with a good chance for Bradley, was skewed by the gun control initiative. People mobilized against it, and it cost Bradley the Governor's chair. Californians had to put up with Dukmejian's policies on all issues for several years.

The responsibility for all of these things, and everything that results from them, rests completely with those who want to weaken or destroy the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The people striving for gun control could end up taking many things, more than just a basic liberty, away from the people of this country.

Is the NRA Perfect?

People reading my words in these articles might come to the conclusion that I consider the NRA to be a perfect organization, since I have seemingly rejected all criticism. So is it? No, of course not. No organization is. It's just that none of the people to whose writings I have responded has taken a good enough, serious enough look at the NRA to find its true faults. However, I must say that its faults are very small compared to its strengths.

What are the roles of the organization?

So what are the areas where the organization might not be perfect? Well, many people in the shooting community would say that the NRA is too compromising. This is, of course, impossible to say with certainty. The historians will have to decide this one.

Some might criticize that those at the top of the organization are paid too damn much, considering the average income of the dues-paying members. I had thoughts like this, myself. But I started to think of it in another way. I don't know if it's right, but it's worth considering. What does a highly skilled worker with a good union contract make per hour? What does that come to when you add time-and-a-half for working over forty hours a week, double-time on Sundays, double-time-and-a-half on holidays, considering the hours these people must put in? Do the math! It might not be so outrageous.

What about the fact that the NRA has moved into areas not traditionally within its purview, like heavy political involvement, and has become concerned with such questions as victims' rights and keeping criminals in jail, instead of letting them out on parole. As stated before, the political involvement was forced on the organization by those favoring gun control. As for criticising the organization on those other issues, well maybe. But they are certainly concerns of the members and are closely related to issue of self defense. (If crooks remain in jail, they won't be threatening people, so people are less likely to need guns to defend themselves. You should be glad!) Besides, who but the NRA is doing anything about this, on any scale?

What about the jack-booted-thugs incident? Isn't the NRA open to criticism there? Again maybe. It certainly got a lot of publicity and made a lot of people, even a few members, angry. On the other hand, it was a wake-up call to a lot of people, and it really got folks thinking about the abuses of certain federal agencies. Also, it rallied lots of members around the organization when it was under attack. I'm afraid that this is another one for the historians of the future to call.

So what will I criticize the NRA about? The only thing I can think of is that some NRA leaders don't keep their political views on other issues, i.e., issues not directly related to the mission(s) of the NRA, to themselves. Whether they are conservative or liberal or libertarian or anything else, I don't want people stereotyping my overall political views because I'm an NRA member and some leader of the organization is spouting off, making it look like I might agree with him or her. They should stick to the organization's issues when speaking in public and keep their private politics private. This behavior is much improved from the past (it caused me to drop out once, it was so obnoxious), but there is still room for improvement.


We are not talking about passing an ordinance to restrict jay-walking. Dealing with issues surrounding one of the fundamental liberties recognized by the founders of this country is serious business, with possible ramifications all of which we cannot know. Letting our feelings be our guides is not good enough. We need to use our heads, and honestly try to understand the origins, causes and effects of both the legal issues and the daily events effecting us if we are going to reach a satisfactory conclusion. There is no lack of resources. Those who are reading this have access to a tremendous volume of serious, hard, factual information on the subject at their fingertips. Start following links. Many people have gone to a lot of work to make these materials available. And then there are real, printed books (remember books?). Try the library, try the bookstore. It is a sure cure for those who feel that they don't understand guns or the Constitution.

But most importantly, remember that those on the other side of the debate from you are people who want peace and safety as much as you do, and are trying to obtain it without destroying other things precious to them.