NRA Undermines Our Birthright
Posted: February 18, 2013
The NRA has worked for years to inflame its followers with the fear that any limit on gun rights is an intolerable assault on their freedom. (Photo by Associated Press)
Theologians say the most dangerous heresies are those that take a sacred text and distort it by making it absolute. Such absolutes are dangerous because achieving the good always requires balancing competing values.
Americans hold “freedom of speech” as essential, but it does not include a right to falsely shout “fire!” in a crowded theater. Likewise, “freedom of religion” does not cover human sacrifice. No right is absolute when the security of a society and its people are at stake.
The National Rifle Association refuses to weigh other values. It has worked for years to inflame its followers with the fear that any limit on gun rights is an intolerable assault on their freedom.
With a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, we could turn the gun issue toward political sanity by drawing a line between weapons that serve legitimate civilian purposes, like hunting or personal protection, and weapons that enable a shooter to kill many people quickly.
These are weapons of war, and war is what the gun lobby has worked to get its followers to envision. But war against whom? Against their own government if and when that government threatens them with tyranny.
Civilian weapons would hardly slow down such a tyranny. The Iraqi army — with a command structure, sophisticated weapons and several hundred thousand soldiers — withstood the American military for only a few weeks. A dispersed assortment of armed civilians would not be much of an obstacle for our armed forces.
Although guns in the hands of civilians are neither necessary nor sufficient to keep us free, the NRA frightens people into defending gun rights as an absolute — ensuring that Americans will fight over this issue rather than balance competing legitimate values. The NRA turns politics into warfare. Congressmen cower before the NRA because it treats anyone who disagrees with its agenda as an enemy to be vanquished.
As a candidate for Congress, I met citizens who only needed to know a candidate’s stand on gun rights to decide how to vote. By making gun-rights a single issue, the NRA extracts political power from its supporters, power that is then used against them.
Much has been made lately about the NRA’s feeding the coffers of gun manufacturers, but that’s just a piece of a larger picture. The NRA is part of a team on the right deceiving Americans about their real interests.
The threat to our liberties in America is not from restrictions on assault rifles, but from the increasing concentration of power in the hands of a few. History shows how gross inequalities of power can lead to tyranny, and the NRA is part of the political force working to widen still further the gap between the exploitable many and the powerful few. The NRA works with other members of the right-wing team to distract people by pointing to peripheral issues with the left hand, while the right hand picks their pockets and threatens their American birthright.
That deception, as well as the lives that can be saved with a balanced approach to gun rights, is why this battle is so important.
Andy Schmookler, recently the Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s Sixth District, is an author whose books include Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds That Drive Us to War.