It’s time to shut down the NRA and regulate guns. Go ahead and scream and whine and complain and call me names. Go ahead and clap and whoop and agree with me. But first hear me out.
Nearly everything you can imagine in the U.S. is regulated by the federal government. On top of that, State and local governments have their own regulations. Just one example of how many regulations exist in this country, the Federal Register (the main source of regulations for U.S. government agencies) has gone from about 2,600 pages in 1936 to over 80,000 pages today. If the NRA wasn’t paying off government officials and spreading propaganda, we wouldn’t even be having this debate.
It wasn’t even until 2008 that the first U.S. Supreme Court case decided that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to bear arms. Before that time – before ten years ago – the intention of the Second Amendment was the right to bear arms for militia service. For over 200 years, Americans lived in a nation where there was debate, but little rancor, over the purpose of the Second Amendment. What changed all of that?
“A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” That’s all the Second Amendment states. Fearing a national army, the Founders believed each state should provide armed men for the common defense. Those armed men were part of their State and local militias. And in the two hundred years since, “we had gun laws in towns and states, governing everything from where gunpowder could be stored to who could carry a weapon—and courts overwhelmingly upheld these restrictions. Gun rights and gun control were seen as going hand in hand.” The Supreme Court declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership four times between 1876 and 1939. There were 46 justices who sat on the Court during that time, including six different Chief Justices.
The NRA was founded in 1871. Its purpose was to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis” – officers who had served in the Union Army were not happy with the poor marksmanship of their soldiers. Into the early 1930s, the NRA believed in gun control measures, sponsoring or endorsing a number of Congressional acts. The president of the NRA, Karl T. Frederick, testified before Congress in 1934. During his testimony, Frederick stated, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons….I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” The National Firearms Act of 1934, which had severe restrictions and taxes on machine guns and sawed-off shotguns (with fewer on handguns), and the Gun Control Act of 1938, where “Gun sellers and owners were required to register with the federal government and felons were banned from owning weapons,” were endorsed by the NRA. Both laws were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939.
Into the 1960s, the focus of the NRA was on education and training, especially among the hunting and law enforcement communities. Throughout the ‘60s and into the ‘70s, the NRA continued to work with the government. During that time, they successfully opposed a national registration of guns, but also endorsed the Gun Control Act of 1968.
The 1968 law was the first significant gun legislation since the 1930s and hardliners in the NRA were not happy with the NRA’s endorsement of the law, or of the NRA’s retreat from political lobbying in favor of refocusing on recreational activities in the mid-1970s. At the annual meeting of the membership in 1977, the old leaders were thrown out. The new leadership then committed the NRA to political advocacy and a hard-line view of the individual right to bear arms in Second Amendment. The political advocacy worked almost immediately. In a matter of eight years, the GOP platform went from support of gun control (1972) to “we oppose federal registration of firearms” (1980). Then a revisionist history, including taking the words of the Founders out of context to make it seem like they were against gun control, took hold, along with other NRA propaganda.
In 1981, the same year that President Ronald Reagan took a bullet to the lung, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) commissioned a study on “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms,” in which he said was found “proof that the second amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.” The only “proof” Hatch found may have been GOP control of the Senate, but that was enough to run with.
A decade later, gun control measures were still possible in the U.S., although opposition was considerable. The Brady Bill, enacted in 1993, required individuals to undergo a background check before they could purchase a firearm from a federally licensed dealer or manufacturer (with many exceptions). Originally proposed in 1987, the law was vigorously opposed by the NRA. In 1997, however, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Brady Bill.
Then in 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was enacted, of which the main provision was “to make unlawful the transfer or possession of assault weapons.” An assault weapon was defined by the law and specific models were listed. All challenges to the ban were rejected by the courts, but following its sunset provision, the bill was not renewed in 2004, or since.
Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Warren Burger (1969-1986), spoke on the Second Amendment and in favor of gun control in a 1990 interview. Burger said,
In the 1789 debate in Congress…Elbridge Gerry argued that a state militia was necessary: “to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty…Whenever governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia in order to raise an army upon their ruins.” We see that the need for a state militia was the predicate of the “right” guaranteed; in short, it was declared “necessary” in order to have a state military force to protect the security of the state….A huge national defense establishment has taken over the role of the militia of 200 years ago.
Burger’s review of history makes perfect sense, but few opponents of gun control measures will agree with his statements. Burger, in the interview, also said,
Americans should ask themselves a few questions. The Constitution does not mention automobiles or motorboats, but the right to keep and own an automobile is beyond question; equally beyond question is the power of the state to regulate the purchase or the transfer of such a vehicle and the right to license the vehicle and the driver with reasonable standards. In some places, even a bicycle must be registered, as must some household dogs.
But then in 2008, 30 years after the NRA began their political lobbying push, the case of District of Columbia v. Heller was heard in the same Court where Burger once sat. The Court’s decision, overturning over 200 years of history, ruled that “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” However, what the NRA will have us ignore is that the Court also ruled, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
So here we are: assault weapons are not banned, and a variety of modifications and accessories make “recreational” firearms as deadly as military weaponry. Almost anyone can legally buy one. Why are guns an exception to regulation? Why is it that “the domestic tranquility is not being preserved, nor are the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness mentioned in the Declaration of Independence,” as Burger asked. Why is this tyranny of guns allowed?
I place the blame completely on the NRA. Their switch from a focus on gun safety and recreational use to political lobbying and a policy of multiple guns for all has brought us to this place. Their money and propaganda continues to destroy our society for their own financial benefit. The NRA has brought us here. It has brought terror to our schools, movie theaters, and other social and public places. It has brought death and destruction to small towns and large cities alike. There’s no reason to continue to hold fruitless discussions. The NRA is a terrorist organization – the definition fits – and the U.S. government should label it as one, and shut it down. And guns, like nearly everything else in the U.S., should be strictly regulated.