NRA blew an opportunity to lead on guns

Published 9:29 am Friday, December 28, 2012

Column: Notes from Home, by David Behling

Two weeks ago today something terrible happened at an elementary school in Connecticut. Grading final exams at home, I didn’t find out until that afternoon, when I logged on to Facebook. I quickly logged off, overwhelmed by my own emotional response. But unless they’ve been hiding under a rock, people already know what happened, so I’m not going to go over those gory details again.

What’s more relevant and important is what we as a society do next, in memory of those 20 children. Will we say no to citizens who want to buy guns designed to kill huge numbers of people in a few minutes? Will we wail and gnash our teeth for a few weeks, and then continue arming ourselves for Armageddon?

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While I support the Constitution, I don’t believe the gun rights identified in that document come without any limits. There’s nothing in the Second Amendment that says we have to step aside as others turn their homes into arsenals. I also think that the NRA has blown an opportunity to be involved in serious discussions about what we do next.

Ultimately, it’s a question for us as a people — as a society — to answer, not a question to be solved via legislatures and courtrooms. What happens over the next few months will give us a sense, as we look in the collective mirror, of what kind of human beings we are.

First, though, there is a truth that has been overlooked: The NRA has achieved everything it could have ever hoped for. They are in control of gun policy in the United States; consequently, the United States is awash in guns, hundreds of millions of legally purchased guns. The Supreme Court has shifted the interpretation of the Second Amendment from communal rights to individual rights.

At its official response to the shootings one week ago today, the NRA, as the organization in control of the national dialogue about guns, needed to demonstrate it accepts responsibility for its control of that dialogue on behalf of all the members of society, regardless of whether they own guns or not.

It failed to do that. When Americans looked for responsible leadership from the people in charge, they brought out the same old noise and fury about criminals and guns, about “liberal” media on the warpath, and about guns not killing people.

Their proposal? Armed guards in every school, paid for by taxpayers. Where’s the money going to come from? Canceling more music and art programs? Increasing class sizes? With logic like that, how long before firearms training would be added to the list of “standards” required for licensure for teachers in America?

The NRA even advocated gun control in the virtual world of gaming, a truly surreal idea. Are they saying it’s OK to limit access to virtual guns but not real ones?

It was especially difficult to take the NRA’s posture of victimhood seriously. Who has a chance standing against them? Which journalists and politicians have challenged them and not been punished? The president himself stays away from anything related to guns; it took the deaths of 20 children to get him to finally talk about gun control.

The NRA’s response to the massacre in Connecticut ignores the number of people killed by non-criminals, like the Rochester man who shot his granddaughter as she stood on the patio outside their house or the Memphis boy who shot his brother after finding his father’s gun. The NRA also ignored the truth that madmen don’t care about armed guards.

No, the NRA only wants to talk about criminals and tyrannical governments, apparently insisting that every American live in a perpetual state of fear. Clearly the leaders of the NRA believe that owning guns is more important than any other part of American identity.

As a society we can bend to the will of an organization that is vested in maintaining fear and suppressing debate about guns or we can take courage and ignore their minions, their money and their incestuous mating with gun manufacturers. We can do something about gun violence, but until we do this first difficult thing, nothing will change except an increasing level of fear and violence in our country.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.