I am sadly reserving judgment about whether to continue membership in the National Rifle Association. I own about 20 guns, and have taken elk, antelope, whitetail mule deer and many game birds. If all the gophers gunned down by me were placed end to end they would probably extend from Whitefish to somewhere east of Billings. As a state legislator I was proud to receive a commendation from the NRA for my support of gun rights. I am a firm believer in our Second Amendment right, as individuals, to bear arms.
The trouble is that the modern NRA, like other time-honored institutions, has become hijacked and radicalized. While its membership is overwhelmingly law-abiding and freedom-loving Americans, it has become the protector of armed extremists and a front for gun and ammunition manufacturers.
The screams of the Sandy Hook Elementary School six-year-olds with as many as 11 bullet wounds in their tiny bodies speaks far more persuasively to me than the lifeless arguments of the NRA to do as little as possible in response to this tragedy. We Americans have more freedoms than citizens in most countries, but we also have more abuse of those freedoms. We own an estimated 300 million firearms, but also lead the world in gun violence. Modern assault style weapons are capable of firing 10 rounds per second and are commonly equipped with thirty-round magazines. We can obtain them about as easily as ordering a Big Mac.
Neither armed resistance to a potentially tyrannical government, nor self-defense from a criminal assailant, provides rational justification for such a weapon. The same goes for any semiautomatic firearm with more than a 10-shot capacity. Is their any legitimate need for sound suppressors? Armor-piercing bullets? Apparently the NRA thinks so.
How about background checks to identify those who have criminal records or a history of mental instability? Well maybe, says the NRA, but lack of enforcement of the checks at gun shows amounts to a loophole big enough to drive a self-propelled howitzer through.
It’s not sufficient to simply recognize that the world contains evil, and we are powerless to do anything about it but shed tears and offer prayers. With 31 school-related shootings since Columbine, it is time for both preventative and protective action.
In addition to the restrictions cited above, we need to examine the violence of the world of video games and the macabre “realism” of movies. Do they trigger homicidal impulses in deranged minds? Are they entitled to constitutional protection? Neither the First nor Second amendment is without limitation.
Many of the mass murder perpetrators fit a troubled, tormented, reclusive profile. Can we do a better job of identifying them when they are young and take rehabilitative action? Perhaps we should start seriously trying.
On the protective side, locked doors, metal detectors and concealed cameras, while they detract from the nurturing environment necessary for an effective school, have become the “new normal.” If the presence of “sky marshals” and armed pilots has apparently stifled skyjackings, one wonders whether designated administrators and teachers armed with and trained in the use of tasers, might serve the same purpose in schools. The brave principal at Sandy Hook died rushing the gunman. Might the sad story have turned out differently if she had possessed the means to actually stop him?
I expect the American people would immediately take bold actions for the safety of their children if they could do so themselves. Let’s hope our elected leaders won’t simply grandstand in extensive hearings, and fearful of the NRA, end up doing what is politically safe for themselves.
(Bob Brown, a Republcian, is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President.)