Some of you may not believe me, but I used to think the National Rifle Association occasionally -- just occasionally -- exhibited a tinge -- just a tinge -- of extremism and stridency.
Don't get me wrong. I've always been a staunch proponent of the 2nd Amendment, but I just didn't understand why the NRA seemed to resist even the most minor restrictions on gun ownership. Who was this bogeyman they feared?
Confession: I now have seen that bogeyman, and he is real. My opinion -- which changed many years ago, but I'm just now getting around to writing about it -- is that it is not the NRA that is extreme, but the anti-gun bogeyman. While we're at it, let me say that I intend to say "anti-gun," rather than gun control because I think it better defines the bogeyman.
Oh, sure, sometimes NRA spokesmen such as Wayne LaPierre may engage in inflammatory rhetoric. Even the venerable gun-advocate Charlton Heston admitted that. Moses was quick to add, though, that aside from his tone, LaPierre was correct in his assertion that President Clinton has been lax in the enforcement of existing gun laws.
The NRA has been ahead of the curve in gauging the bogeyman's true intent. They have known that his ultimate aim is complete private gun confiscation. They have realized that the bogeyman would not be satisfied with reasonable restrictions and would use every incremental conquest against gun rights as fuel to fight for more.
The bogeyman's extremism is demonstrated on a variety of fronts. He demonizes gun supporters as backwater, paramilitary zealots who are a hair-trigger away from armed revolt. He characterizes as evil even the most innocuous and uncontroversial gun-safety programs such as Eddie Eagle, simply because they are sponsored by the NRA. He shamelessly exploits gun tragedies, using each as an opportunity to emasculate gun rights further.
The bogeyman advocates ill-considered policies such as gun buy-backs that make for great photo-ops, but are ludicrous on their face. He chooses to ignore repeated studies showing that these buy-back programs have had no detectable effect on violent crime or on firearm deaths. When Congress fails to enact legislation to suit him, he prevails upon his Constitution-circumventing president to initiate lawsuits against gun manufacturers to bully them into making "voluntary" changes.
He often distorts statistics, such as the number of children who die each day from gunshot wounds, because the facts stubbornly undermine his cause. In his monomania against the weapons themselves, he apparently overlooks the number of lives saved each year because of private gun ownership.
He is a selective advocate of the Bill of Rights, treating the 2nd Amendment as a meaningless aberration. He has convinced himself that the framers intended to confer the right to bear arms only on the militia and not the citizens proper. He must have missed Phyllis Schlafly's column citing framers such as Samuel Adams: "The Constitution shall never be construed ... to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms."
The New York Times reports that the bogeyman (OK, the Times didn't use that term, but chose "the gun control movement") has begun the most ambitious campaign in its history to raise money, recruit soldiers and build public support for stronger gun laws in preparation for this fall's national elections. Lo and behold, whom might you imagine he is looking to for inspiration in this effort? The NRA, of course. According to the Times, the bogeyman is actually copying the NRA's grass-roots model.
If you ever thought that it was the NRA that was single-issue oriented, be advised that the bogeyman is every bit as focused. In a recent Handgun Control Inc. fund-raising letter, Sarah Brady wrote, "My friend, if you and I truly want a safer America, we cannot allow George W. Bush to be elected president." May I ask, "Safer for whom, Mrs. Brady?"
When judging the NRA, don't confuse their vigilance for paranoia. We should all be so vigilant. The NRA and the bogeyman may be employing similar strategies but they are quite different in substance. The difference is that the NRA wants to protect your rights. The bogeyman wants your weapons.