In America, we are supposed to like constitutional rights.
One would think that an organization that vigilantly — and effectively — safeguards a constitutional right would be honored as a kind of national jewel.
Yet the National Rifle Association gets only obloquy. It’s practically branded an accessory to murder whenever a lunatic shoots people. It’s labeled a nefarious special interest that lobbies Congress into submission. It’s all that is wrong with our system.
No one can doubt the NRA’s enormous clout. But the group comes about it the right way. It represents millions of members, including lots of union members and rural Democrats. Its supreme act of influence is defeating officeholders in free-and-fair elections. And its signature victory has been a sea change in public opinion on gun control.
Its influence is a function of its success in the art of democratic persuasion. In short, the NRA won the argument.
In 1959, Gallup found that 60 percent of people supported banning handguns. Now, Gallup doesn’t even show majority support for banning assault weapons. The case for gun control collapsed on the lack of evidence for its central contention that tighter gun regulations reduce crime.
Federal gun laws are unrestrictive. Forty-one states have right-to-carry laws, up from ten in 1987. Some 80 million people own guns, and about 8 million have conceal-and-carry permits. Nonetheless, violent crime is at 40-year lows. If the proliferation of guns caused violence, the country would look like Mogadishu.
The nation’s highest-profile champion of gun control is a mayor who presides over a metropolis where guns are basically prohibited and yet hundreds of people are killed by them each year. If that hasn’t made New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg stop and think, nothing will.
After Aurora, Bloomberg and his allies rushed to plug their favorite gun-control ideas, evidently caring little whether the measures would have stopped James Holmes.
With no criminal record, the movie-theater shooter passed a background check. He used an AR-15, among other weapons. The assault-weapons ban that lapsed in 2004 prohibited that gun. But he would have had access to a similar gun regardless. Assault weapons are semiautomatic rifles that may look more threatening but are indistinguishable in their operation from common hunting rifles.
Holmes used a high-capacity magazine for his ammunition. The assault-weapons ban prohibited the new sale of such magazines. If the ban had been in place, Holmes could have still reloaded with smaller magazines or bought a used version of a larger magazine.
Highly intelligent, methodical, and determined to kill, Holmes the person constituted the elemental danger. Guns, even frightening-looking guns formerly banned by Congress, do not go on killing sprees on their own.
A relative of mine owns an AR-15. Every few months, he removes it from the gun safe and takes it to the shooting range. He’s a careful — nay, a meticulous — gun owner. I live in the serene confidence that he will never harm anyone with it any more than he will with his cheese-paring knife or his chain saw.
He belongs to the NRA, by the way. By the standards usually set for our politics, the NRA is a model organization. We say we want people more involved in the process. The NRA’s more than 4 million members are highly engaged.
We say there’s too much partisanship. Single-mindedly committed to its cause, the NRA endorsed about 60 House Democrats in 2010.
And we say that we value the Constitution. Gun-control advocates, though, treat the Second Amendment like an “inkblot” (to borrow Robert Bork’s famous phrase for the Ninth Amendment). They consider it an unfortunate lapse by James Madison, a forlorn leftover from the 18th century. They were all duly shocked when the Supreme Court ruled, in its 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.
No one, during fair political weather or foul, has been as unstinting in its protection of that right as the NRA. For that, we should be grateful.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: [email protected] © 2012 King Features Syndicate