The political war between the gun-lobby and the gun-control lobby has longed relied upon emotion to enflame America’s struggle to balance civil liberties with national security interests. These tactics were certainly on display at the May, 2016 National Rifle Association’s Leadership Forum. As expected, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump issued dire warnings against electing Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton and the looming threat to gun rights she represents.
In turn, Trump- and NRA detractors unleashed a barrage of criticism that was quickly dismissed by NRA proponents. They should, however, carefully consider criticism that focuses on the NRA’s declining membership and political influence. By endorsing Donald Trump so early in the 2016 Election cycle, the NRA is doubling down on its traditional lobbying strategy, which involves supporting candidates who serve the agenda of the powerful lobbying firm. In doing so, the NRA also demonstrates how it prioritizes its political influence over its policy agenda.
For Second Amendment advocates, images of helpless Americans unable to defend themselves against armed intruders and government oppression helps feed groups like the NRA. For proponents of gun-control, victims of gun violence and their stories stir emotions that could support the very repeal of the Second Amendment. Despite toying with the conflicting emotions of the American People, however, neither side has done much to empower the American People by balancing the right to own and bear arms with the need for public safety. Simply put, the NRA is losing money, members, and influence, because it no longer offers its customers what they need.
The NRA has long been a cornerstone in the political industry. The NRA is a business, which happens to sell representation to the gun industry and gun enthusiasts, that needs to make money in order to sustain its business. Like all lobbying firms, the NRA only earns money when it convinces supporters that there is a compelling need in Washington for the NRA. By endorsing Donald Trump, the NRA expects to capitalize on his popularity among gun enthusiasts. Like Bernie Sanders, the NRA is also hoping to force Hillary to protect herself by adopting NRA endorsed stances.
The truth is that Hillary Clinton is in the pockets of the NRA herself while Donald Trump has not always been a staunch gun advocate, until more recently. With LaPierre’s speech in mind, the message from the NRA is that gun rights are under constant threat, the Republican Party is pro-gun Party, and more guns would make America safer, so the NRA needs supported. LaPierre even managed to paint a picture of patriotic gun-wielding Americans defending themselves against Islamist terrorists. Given the Middle East is lush with automatic weapons, more guns will not work. This also shows the NRA offers nothing new in terms of a public policy agenda.
Looking back on the emotional display of the usually stoic President Obama during the unveiling of his Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions in early 2016 added nothing new to the debate. The President’s policy prescriptions did, however, attempt to balance the interests of the American People instead of simply undermining the Second Amendment. Even though the President’s overuse of Executive Actions is problematic and a sad commentary on the dysfunctional state of the Legislative Branch, his practical approach managed to reframe the debate in favor of gun-control advocates.
Obama has tried to regulate the shadows were criminals obtain their weapons, instead of placing added burdens on law-abiding citizens. Expanding background requirements to include virtually all sales and requiring shippers to notify the ATF of lost guns has moved the debate away from gun control tactics that seek to limit gun access and raise the cost of guns. Frankly, local, State, and federal law enforcement agencies should be sharing information on known criminals. In short, Obama has embraced policies that avoid legitimate Second Amendment concerns in order to earn the support of the American majority who want to be safe from gun violence.
Where spiteful political figures might want to discourage this kind of sharing to retaliate against the Obama Administration, such sharing is a long overdue necessity, so all sides need to support increased information sharing. The gun-lobby would be wise to follow the President’s example. If the gun-lobby’s agenda is to truly preserve the Second Amendment, the US Constitution, and the civil liberties afforded to all American citizens under the US Constitution, their agenda must do more than simply undermine existing regulation of the gun industry and say “no” to any new regulations.
Frankly, the NRA must do more than just perpetuate the status quo. It must have a policy agenda. Where the 2010 Supreme Court Case McDonald V. Chicago reaffirmed the Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment protects the right of all US citizens to own and bear arms, one must still be 21 or older to purchase a handgun. The freedoms of minors are truncated due to the need for parental oversight; however, there is no compelling reason to limit the Constitutional rights of a legal adult based on age. This is an area where groups like the NRA continually demonstrate their failure to actually support the Second Amendment.
Whether someone purchases a handgun at 18 or 21 has no impact on their intended use for that gun. Under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, however, there is a compelling interest to restrict the gun rights of criminals who have been convicted of violent crimes. Consequently, the gun-lobby can protect the Second Amendment and support policies that restrict the ability of violent criminals to access guns.
A balanced an agenda for the gun lobby should include:
Unless the gun lobby tackles the need to balance Second Amendment Rights with safety and security concerns, they will lose their ability to shape gun laws and failure to a meaningful purpose. For the NRA, this could put the massive lobbying firm out of business.
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