Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By JOHN FRARY
FARMINGTON — It's "time to talk about gun control," according to the editors of The Washington Post on Dec. 14. They explain that "... the country would be safer with fewer guns ... it is not the Second Amendment but political cowardice that precludes sensible regulation ... we are not supposed to exploit tragedy to talk about this issue, but in the absence of tragedy it never gets talked about at all."
There's some truth to this. The Maine Democratic Party's 2012 platform says nothing about gun control while the 2012 Republican platform simply affirms the Second Amendment.
Calls for a national debate or a national "conversation" on gun control have become commonplace, although the National Rifle Association prefers to converse about gun-controllers control, Hollywood control, and lunatic control.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has no patience for conversation. He demands "immediate action." He wants the president to send a control bill to Congress at once. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino agrees that "the time has come for action."
And there's a rapidly expanding national petition created on Dec. 14 calling on the White House to "take the lead on enacting strict controls on all firearms in the U.S."
President Obama has responded by setting up a task force. Augusta talks of doing the same.
"Task force" and "immediate action" don't belong in the same political universe, but immediate action actually is being taken in Maine and across the country. Thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of people are buying guns. The "assault guns" or "assault-style" rifles which are the special target for gun control have disappeared from the gun stores. In the absence of statistical analysis, it sounds as if there are more people laying down money for guns than laying down signatures for the petition.
Never mind the irony; this phenomenon requires some thought by our national conversationalists. Those buying up guns are not being mobilized by the NRA. We have no data on how many gun buyers are even members of that organization. If we are to have a national conversation, as opposed to a national lecture, we have to recognize that caricaturing the NRA as the omnipotent "gun lobby" is a common misdirection.
John Cassidy of The New Yorker magazine, a reliable megaphone for "elite" opinion, writes: "Nobody should underestimate the hatred, ignorance, baloney, mendacity and borderline lunacy that would confront him if he were to ... take on the gun lobby." Hollywood super-producer Harvey Weinstein tells us, "To have the National Rifle Association rule the United States is pathetic." A New York Times editorial speaks of "... gun makers who bankroll Mr. (Wayne) LaPierre (the NRA's CEO) so he can help them peddle ever-more-lethal, ever-more-efficient products ..."
I've read this caricature of the NRA as a front for gun-makers reflected in political science textbooks.
The pitfall this misdirection leads to is the belief that a lobby rooted in the gun manufacturing industry is the sole barrier to the desired legislation. On the contrary, the NRA may be the largest "grass-roots" organization with a political agenda in the United States. It claims 4.3 million members who pay annual dues of $35. If we take these figures at face value, then its dues yield $150.5 million out of the organization's reported annual revenue total of $205 million.
Those totals certainly imply formidable political power, but the Senate Office of Public Records' data for the most recent year shows total lobbying expenditures by the NRA and its dependent organizations of $2,205,000. According to OpenSecrets.org, the NRA also spent $18,896,442 on candidates in 2012. This makes the NRA 17th out of the 275 top contributors. The ranking is impressive, but its expenditures are a tiny fraction of the total of all political expenditures. In 2012, for example, Maine's Rep. Mike Michaud received $3,000 out of the $1,208,466 raised from the NRA Victory Fund in 2012.
In sum, it's not as much its money as its membership that makes the NRA powerful. A serious discussion of gun control legislation must take account of that fact. If we take the characterization of its members as "borderline lunatics" seriously, then a successful drive for gun control legislation can only represent a limited success in itself. It will remain to compel their obedience. Borderline-lunatic control is never easy, and borderline lunatics will exist even if the NRA is forbidden to lobby and candidates refuse its donations.
Ideally, all proposed legislation should include consideration of the costs of enforcement, the number of arrests envisaged, and the number of gunfights expected preliminary to prying firearms from "cold dead hands."
John Frary of Farmington is a former U.S. Congress candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com.
-- Special to the Press Herald