Monday, May 07, 2007

National Rifle Association Has Become a National Disgrace

The Nation's Largest Gun Lobby Reveals Itself as an Organization of Second-Amendment Extremists Putting 'Right to Bear Arms' Ahead of Laws Protecting Americans From Gun-Wielding Terrorists


Philadelphia police officers examine handguns following a news conference Thursday about the city's "Groceries for Guns" exchange program, which invites residents to obtain groceries in exchange for turning in their weapons. The city reported that over 1,000 firearms have been collected so far. (Photo: George Widman/AP)

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By Skeeter Sanders

When it was founded in 1871, the mission of the National Rifle Association was the promotion of marksmanship, firearm safety and the protection of hunting and personal-protection firearm rights in the United States, in accordance with the Second Amendment of the U.S Constitution.

But in the last 30 years, the NRA has been transformed into a monster its founders would not recognize. Today's NRA is an organization whose leadership has turned the Second Amendment on its head, more concerned about preserving the right to bear arms than in preserving the safety of the American people.

The NRA leadership's absolutist position on the Second Amendment has driven the nation's oldest civil-liberties organization over the edge into outright extremism, insisting that Americans' right to bear arms includes the right to acquire military-grade weapons of war that were never designed for civilians to use in peacetime.

By taking such an extremist position on the Second Amendment, the NRA poses as great a threat to the nation's security as al-Qaida and other terrorists.

At the same time, NRA has alienated so many law-abiding gun owners with its opposition to restrictions on military-grade weapons that a rival organization was founded in 2005 as an advocacy group that presents itself as "a force of moderation and common sense" in the gun-control debate.

NRA's Successful Repeal of Assault Weapons Ban Boomerangs With Virginia Tech Massacre

In 2004, the NRA successfully lobbied a Republican-controlled Congress to let a 1994 federal law banning certain types of military-grade assault weapons and ammunition expire. That lobbying effort has now come back to haunt the NRA with the massacre last month at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech gunman who killed 32 people and wounded 24 others before killing himself, used a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol with a 15-round ammunition clip. Both the gun and the clip -- which were designed specifically for use by the military and law-enforcement agencies -- were banned for civilian use under the now-defunct 1994 law.

Had that law remained in place -- combined with an existing statute that bans gun sales to persons deemed a danger to themselves and to others -- Cho might not have been able to pull off his rampage.

The fact that Cho used guns and ammunition that were previously banned under the 1994 law -- and that the massacre took place in the NRA's home state of Virginia (NRA headquarters are in the Washington suburb of Fairfax) -- has left the nation's most powerful gun lobbying group uncharacteristically speechless. To date, it has refused to comment on the massacre beyond extending its condolences to the friends and relatives of Cho's victims.

The NRA Wasn't Always the Way It Is Now

The NRA was founded in New York City in 1871 by two U.S. Army officers, Colonel William Church and General George Wingate, who were upset with the poor marksmanship of their troops. In a magazine editorial written by Church, he stated their primary goal was "providing firearms training and encouraging interest in the shooting sports."

From 1873 to 1892, the NRA operated a rifle range at what is now the Creedmoor State Psychiatric Hospital in nearby Queens Village, New York, where members of the National Guard were trained and international competitions were held.

Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, a former governor of Rhode Island who also represented the state in the U.S. Senate, became the NRA's founding president. Other Union generals, including Phillip Sheridan, Winfield Hancock and Ulysses S. Grant (who would later win the White House) also served as NRA president at various times.

In 1934, the NRA formed its "Legislative Affairs Division." While it did not directly lobby Congress until 1975, the NRA did mail out legislative analyses and facts to its members, so that they could lobby Congress themselves individually.

During World War II, the NRA reloaded ammunition used for guarding factories involved in wartime production and sought to help arm Britain against potential invasion with the collection of over 7,000 firearms for that country's defense.

How The NRA Lost Its Way -- And Became a Political and Ideological Monster

In May 1977, the NRA began a rightward shift after controversy erupted within the organization over the possibility of banning cheap, .22-caliber handguns known as "Saturday night specials." These pistols were the weapons of choice used by criminals in what was then the nation's worst wave of violent street crime since the prohibition era of the 1920s that saw the rise of organized crime.

At their annual convention in Cincinnati that year, more than 2,000 NRA members revolted against the organization's leadership after Harlon Carter, a member of the NRA's executive council, was fired by the council from his post as political action director for his fiercely hard-line opposition to the handgun ban.

In what came to be known as the "Cincinnati Revolt," the rebellious delegates retaliated against the council and elected Carter NRA president. In his acceptance speech, Carter told the delegates, "Beginning in this place and at this hour, this period in NRA history [internal division over gun-control laws] is finished. There will be no more civil war in the National Rifle Association!"

Since its 1977 takeover by anti-gun control hard-liners, the NRA has consistently opposed any proposed legislation that purports to limit access to guns by law-abiding citizens, although it does support some laws restricting access to guns by criminals.

Yet its lobbying has included opposition to common-sense legislation aimed at keeping weapons of war out of the hands of civilians. What, for example, does a hunter need with a Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle that was originally designed as a combat weapon for the Soviet Red Army? What does a sport shooter need with an M-16 rifle that was designed as a combat weapon for the U.S. Army?

The hard-liners' takeover also shifted the NRA away from its roots as an organization for hunters and sport shooters, resulting in the ouster of at least one executive council member who said he was told that "this is a single-purpose organization" after the ousted council member expressed support for strong wilderness preservation.

An Obscene Misinterpretation of the Second Amendment

In its lobbying for the rights of gun owners, the NRA asserts that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to own and use guns. While the Second Amendment does state that "the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," the NRA insists that the Second Amendment's reference to "a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" means that the American people at large comprise the "militia."

It is true that this country did not have a permanent, standing army at the time of its founding in 1776 (It took the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 to authorize Congress to raise one), but it is an obscenity to this blogger that the NRA would interpret the Second Amendment to count the general public as being part of that "well-regulated militia."

Quite the contrary, the intent of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Second Amendment is quite clear: In the absence of "a well-regulated militia," it was necessary for the citizens of the newly-created United States to be armed in order to maintain the security of the new country.

We certainly have a "well-regulated militia" now -- from local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies to the U.S. military. Indeed, we have the most highly organized and well-regulated law-enforcement agencies in the world. We have most highly organized, well-regulated -- and powerful -- military in the world.

That the NRA continues to view the American public at large as part of a "well-regulated militia" is an obscenely extremist interpretation of the Second Amendment. It is an interpretation rooted in a "Wild West" mentality that has no place in 21st-century America.

And it is an interpretation that poses a clear and present danger to the safety of the American people. The idea of civilians today possessing military weapons designed to wage war and wreak maximum death and destruction is absolutely mind-boggling. Yet this is what today's NRA lobbies for. It is beyond an obscenity; it is out-and-out insanity.

The NRA's Latest Outrage: Lobbying Against Ban on Gun Sales to Suspected Terrorists

Now, less than a month after the Virginia Tech shootings, the NRA has gone off the deep end yet again. It's urging the Bush administration to withdraw its support of a bill that would prohibit suspected terrorists from buying firearms.

Strongly backed by the Justice Department, the measure, introduced last week by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), would authorize the attorney general to use his discretion to block gun sales, licenses or permits to terror suspects.

NRA executive director Chris Cox, in a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, wrote last week that the Lautenberg bill "would allow arbitrary denial of Second Amendment rights based on mere 'suspicions' of a terrorist threat."

Given the many abuses of power committed by Gonzales since he became attorney general -- particularly his glaring violations of the Fourth Amendment in spying on Americans without constitutionally-required court warrants -- Cox's beef, at first glance, appears to be quite legitimate.

But on closer examination, Lautenberg's bill makes sense -- and the senator obviously had future attorneys general in mind when he wrote it. A 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office found that 35 of 44 firearm purchase attempts over a five-month period made by known or suspected terrorists were approved by the federal law-enforcement officials.

Current law requires gun dealers to conduct a criminal background check and deny sales if a gun purchaser falls under a specified prohibition, including a felony conviction, domestic abuse conviction or illegal immigration. But there is no legal basis to deny a sale if a purchaser is on a terrorism watch list.

Admittedly, the terrorism watch list being maintained by the Bush administration is top secret -- and undoubtedly contains many glaring errors of fact. "As many of our friends in law enforcement have rightly pointed out, the word 'suspect' has no legal meaning, particularly when it comes to denying constitutional liberties," Cox wrote.

But for people on the terror watch list to be allowed to purchase firearms -- even if they're on the watch list erroneously -- places too high a risk to our nation's security. There's simply no way to know with absolute certainty if such a purchaser has plans to pull off another 9/11-style terrorist attack, or worse.

And what about psychos like Cho Seung-Hui or the Columbine High School killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold?

At Last, A 'Common-Sense' Alternative to the NRA

The NRA's Second Amendment extremism has alienated so many law-abiding gun owners that there is now a rival organization -- the American Hunters and Shooters Association -- that aims to serve as the advocacy group for the hunters and sport shooters that the NRA used to be, but isn't anymore.

Founded in 2005, the AHSA's mission is to "restore pride in America's hunting and shooting heritage," according to the AHSA's Web site. "The AHSA vigorously defends the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, promotes safe and responsible gun use, and supports reasonable public policies, so that all Americans can enjoy the benefits of this crucial and historic liberty."

In a slap at the NRA, the AHSA argues that, "No constitutional right to bear arms exists for criminals, terrorists, or others who seek to abuse the very freedoms our Constitution guarantees. The law is crystal clear on this point: reasonable laws designed to keep guns out of the wrong hands are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment."

While the AHSA says that its legislative policy "will always promote the common sense interests of hunters and shooters, AHSA also will always give top priority to the basic safety and security interests of our communities."

Striking a Balance Between Firearms Rights and Public Safety

The AHSA "supports rational, deliberative firearms policy crafted to protect our sport and our communities." the group's mission statement says. "Moreover, the AHSA strongly opposes legislative proposals that violate Second Amendment rights by impeding access to firearms by law-abiding citizens.

"By faithful adherence to basic Second Amendment principles, while balancing the needs of our sport and the needs of our community, the AHSA will promote rational and practical firearms policies that serve to bring Americans together," the statement says.

Ray Schoenke, a former Washington Redskins football star, is the AHSA's founding president. Bob Ricker, a former NRA lobbyist, is the AHSA's executive director. Jody Powell, former White House press secretary under President Jimmy Carter, is a co-chairman of the group's advisory board.

With Its Membership Declining, the NRA 'Freaks Out' Over the AHSA

Not surprisingly, the NRA has gone ballistic with a vitriolic attack against the AHSA, pointing out that John Rosenthal, president of the AHSA's charitible arm, the AHSA Foundation, "is one of the founders of the Massachusetts-based group Stop Handgun Violence, a group that has been a major force in passing some of the most Draconian state gun laws in the nation."

The NRA considers Ricker a traitor, blasting him as "a former NRA employee who switched sides and has actively worked for gun control groups for many years now."

"With leadership like that, there is no doubt about the true goals of AHSA," the NRA asserts. "They are trying to fool hunters and gun owners with a soft sell ... while working behind the scenes to end the sport that we all love."

Such vitriol by the NRA only serves to show just how paranoid it has become -- and how out of touch with law-abiding gun owners it is today. Indeed, NRA membership has fallen from a peak of 8.2 million members in 1993 to 4.3 million members today.

Among the millions of NRA members who quit include former President George H.W. Bush, who resigned his lifetime membership in 1994 in protest of NRA President Wayne LaPierre's attack on agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as "jack-booted thugs" following the violent incidents involving BATF agents at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

The NRA has even seen internal dissent from its membership, including a prolonged series of verbal attacks and campaigns initiated by Neal Knox, a former NRA vice president, who unsuccessfully attempted to depose both LaPierre and Tanya Metaska, the former executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, in leadership elections during the late 1990s.

Whither the NRA's Future?

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, the NRA is showing signs that its influence in Washington may be on the decline. Relations between the NRA and the Bush administration already appear to be fraying over the administration's support for the Lautenberg bill on gun sales to terrorists.

The NRA's continued public silence on the massacre itself has raised eyebrows on both sides of the gun-control debate -- and has drawn ire from relatives of the 32 people who lost their lives in the shootings.

And among the broader conservative community, the NRA has recently come under sharp criticism for endorsing and supporting candidates who, while staunch defenders of gun rights, are generally perceived as being liberal on several other hot-button social issues, such as amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Is America at last coming to a consensus that the NRA has lost its way and has become an impediment to the delicate balance between preservation of the Second Amendment and preservation of Americans' peace and security?

This blogger certainly hopes so. Only time will tell.

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Volume II, Number 23
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.

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By: Dimensio

You claimed in your May 7 rant against the NRA that the NRA pushed for a "repeal" of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban , and you also suggest that this "repeal" may have been responsible, in some part, for Cho's Virginia Tech rampage.

You might want to consider more carefully researching your claims in the future. You made glaring errors that call into question your credibility when speaking on the subject.

It is not accurate to say that the Assault Weapons Ban was "repealed". The 1994 law had a built-in expiration date. There was an attempt to extend it that failed, but the expiration of a law with a built-in sunset clause is not a "repeal". That alone suggested to me that you might not be fully knowledgeable on the subject, but then you compounded your error by making statements that were blatantly false.

You claimed that Cho's Glock 19 and 15-round magazines (which you erroneously called 'clips', but that's a semantic issue) were both banned under the 1994 law. Under the AWB, Cho would not have been able to purchase a 15-round magazine manufactured after the law went into effect, but 15-round or even larger magazines manufactured before 1994 would still have been perfectly legal for him to purchase and possess.

The AWB only banned the manufacture for civillian ownership of such magazines, it did not ban the ownership of transfer of magazines that existed prior to the ban.

I honestly do not know where you got the idea that the Glock 19 was banned during the AWB. It was not. Not one Glock handgun was itself banned by the AWB. Glock had to sell some models, such as the 17 and the 19, with reduced capacity magazines, but the pistols themselves did not change, and they had no features posessed by the AWB.

Too many anti-gun activists either don't know what the AWB did, or they do but they feel the need to lie about what it did as a means of scaring unknowing members of the public into supporting it. The "ban" prohibited newly manufactured firearms from posessing any two or more of a specific list of primarily cosmetic features. The most "functional" of these features was a pistol grip on rifles (which the Brady Campaign falsely clams is to "facilitate spray-firing from the hip"). Every other feature is primarily cosmetic in nature, and their abscence had no bearing on the usability of the firearm.

Most manufacturers simply re-released their existing models with all "offending" features apart from the pistol grip omitted and made guns just as effective and still "legal". While anti-gun groups decried this "loophole", that gun manufacturers were able to "get around" the ban likely was less responsible for the ban's failure to cut down on crime as was the fact that the majority of the guns banned were rarely, if ever, used in crimes.

Basically, the AWB didn't ban guns commonly used in crimes. The AWB banned guns that "look scary". That's it. That's why it was a failure, and that's why it wasn't renewed. Your ranting about the NRA lobbying to have it "appealed" is baseless hyperbole, and your claim that it would have prevented Cho's rampage by making the Glock 19 illegal is, quite simply, false. Even Rep Carolyn McCarthy's (D-NY) proposed revival of the AWB, which has been reviled as the most egregious gun grab in US history, would not ban a single Glock model.

The next time that you decide to attack firearms and the groups that lobby for the continued ability to legally own them, you might want to consider doing actual research. As it is, it appears as though you are willing to use falsehoods to promote an agenda.


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