by Richard Kostelanetz (February 2013)
It's not for the reason commonly heard.
By courting Republicans to support its advocacies the NRA forced knee-jerk liberals to oppose Founding Fathers' protections against tyranny and the empowering of American citizens, thus implicitly exposing an embarrassing failure in the purported sympathies of American liberalism. Why do they fear empowering those disadvantaged? Isn't it odd to see “liberals” believing that, by default, only the police and the military should legally possess guns or, worse, that they should be disarmed as well to allow malicious gunmen free havoc?
Instead of accepting the, yes, liberating permissions advocated by the NRA, certain liberal publicists have sought to demonize it, routinely reciting its three letters to incite an impressionable audience. Senator Diane Feinstein I rank among the worse, as she exploits the Newtown tragedy to revive a bill that failed approval long ago, whose provisions, as I understand them, would have done nothing to prevent the Newtown massacres.
Though she and others repeatedly portray the NRA as a powerful DC lobby, it has much less muscle than, say, the teachers union or lobbies representing the military-industrial complex, So easily intimidated by the American press is the NRA that its wimpy spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, actually advocated government-hired school guards rather than, truer to the NRA principles, armed responsible citizens! I couldn’t believe him, because, given the need and a choice, many of us would prefer the latter. Were I an NRA member, I would have demanded a refund. Even though I’ve never owned any kind of gun, I’m comforted to know that the option is available to me, even if, as in New York State, I must jump over arduous and expensive obstacles merely to get a state license to purchase one and would, of course, incur new risks both moral and financial simply by possessing one.
(Take seriously the argument against gun licensing, which lets the state know who has one, should any future government official ever want to disarm its constituency. I knew a man who refused to license his guns in the 1960s because he feared that Commies taking over the United States would get the lists and disarm the conquered populace. Far-fetched though his fear now seems, it was, in my opinion, politically credible.)
Recalling that a desire for guns is less a left-right than an urban-rural issue, I see that some avowed urban liberals of my acquaintance adopt the essentially Ayn Randian thesis that since guns make them personally uncomfortable, nobody should have them. Superficially charming though their wish might be, it would require a magic formula for making all 300 million guns in America poof disappear. Unless someone is working overtime at fantastic high-tech voodoo, that’s not likely to happen in this country, on their earth, in our lifetimes.
I hear advocacies of “buy-backs” and other miniscule palliatives, some of them ultimately dangerous. Advocates of a disarming law-abiding Americans are implicitly willing to sacrifice the lives of otherwise vulnerable people–folk in the countryside where police are far away, those whose lives are immediately threatened, and, yes, school children, among too many others. Humane such people aren’t to me.
A sometime college professor once spoke to me with pride of making her campus “gun-free” without realizing that this designation, especially if advertised, would attract a murderous loony who would avoid a police station or even a shopping mall. The Randian fallacy, which should be familiar to liberals proud of “social conscience,” holds that whatever benefits one person doesn’t necessarily benefit everyone else.
Another dunce is the suburban New York newspaper publisher who printed the names and addresses of neighbors owning gun. What was probably meant to embarrass them incidentally told potential bad guys not only where to find guns should they need them but, by default, which families’ houses would be more vulnerable for thievery in their presence. Don’t these smug do-gooders consider the possible negative results of their moves?
May I repeat the obvious truth that the Newtown massacre would not have happened—indeed, no shot would have killed an innocent child—if an adult in that space had a concealed weapon that he or she knew how to use, especially against a less experienced shooter. The demonization of clumsy “assault rifles” mystifies me, because in the moments between showing it and using it, the potential mass-murderer, probably nervous, would have been vulnerable to a bystander with a pistol. Isn’t this obvious? By no other credible scenario would damage be minimal. I find it odder that Obama can raise the attractive standard of “not one child” and still not acknowledge how the Second Amendment makes his goal more possible than anything he’s proposing. Where has the head of this purported “Constitutional Lawyer” been? Think. Think?
While the ban against so-called “assault rifles” seemed to be agreeable at first, I began to ask who would be most disadvantaged? Obviously, law-abiding people confronting more than one attacker—say, the owner of an expensive pleasure boat intercepted at sea, anyone confronted by a gang of intruders. On CNN the Englishman Piers Morgan (the insufficient replacement for Larry King) interviewed two attractive young women practicing on a firing range, each claiming to fear sexual attack by more than one person. Consider that all these would probably suffer if they had only a pistol at home.
Consider as well that some “conservative” commentators and magazines embrace the NRA platforms while others scrupulously avoid even mentioning its advocacies, I guess recognizing that letting Americans arm themselves should not be a goal for any class aspiring to rule. To a true conservative, only agents of an accredited authority are entitled to weaponry. I suspect that “neo-cons,” especially, probably hate the NRA for forcing an essentially liberal position upon their political allies because I can think of one neo-con magazine, edited by a native New Yorker, that, in my memory, conspicuously avoids acknowledging the NRA.
Some conservatives as well as liberals imagine that better “mental-health” screening would identify in advance the one person in ten million (or more) capable of a mass shooting. On its face, any assignment faced with such high odds is no more likely than finding a needle in a haystack. Another problem with this attractive advocacy is that there’s no measure of success. How does anyone count no one mass-murdering? (It’s no more feasible than counting those saved from rape or robbery by simply brandishing a gun?). A third problem is that too many innocent people will be unnecessarily stigmatized. Consider as well that this fantasy gives too many government jobs to busybodies who should be elsewhere employed. Fear as well that the price of failure will be yet more mental-health police.
To give the problem of crossed wires a larger context, consider that some Republicans have a comparable problem with, say, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union both of which alienate Republicans by seeking support from liberal Democrats. Non-Catholic conservatives should be sympathetic to the former for favoring choice and personal responsibility apart from government constraint in reproduction and sympathetic to the latter for favoring free speech again apart from government constraints. When knee-jerk Republicans deprecate either of these organizations, they are, in my judgment, not true conservatives.
For the record, may I say that abortion disgusts me, having lost at least three possible children to the barbaric procedure; but neither I nor anyone nor any state have any right to tell a woman what to do with her fetus (especially if she isn’t legally contracted to me—i.e., married). As we famously say in my hometown, itsnoneofmybusiness.
(Perhaps there’s a better example of a conservative knee-jerker than Planned Parenthood. The Sierra Club? I wouldn’t have thought the ACLU objectionable to conservatives had not George H. W. Bush memorably cited it to demonize Michael Dukakis some decades ago.)
Don’t forget that our Bill of Rights was an extraordinary document, granting American citizens responsibilities unavailable in any other Western country at the time. One principal theme was preventing tyranny from both without and within. Given how often and glibly these first ten amendments are still attacked, from different directions, they must still be worth honoring.
Whenever liberal politicians exploit the Newtown tragedy to revive legislature with draconian provisions that would otherwise be unacceptable, I’m reminded of the Patriot Act passed in the wake of 9/11, with many legislators admitting that they hadn’t read it entirely, because it included certain provisions that, if exposed to public scrutiny, would have been judged unacceptable. Post-9/11 hysteria also prompted some chicken hawks to get America into unacceptable wars that can’t be won.
For profound critical exercise, may I ask my reader to consider how much would be different if the NRA had followed the example of Planned Parenthood and courted Democratic legislators?
Richard Kostelanetz is completing another collection of mostly political essays tentatively titled “Deeper, Further, and Behind.”
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