The NRA would call me an "extremist," and maybe I am. I would have thought I had a ways to go to get to that point, but nobody feels like an extremist themselves, I imagine.
I would have thought an anti-gun extremist would support repealing the Second Amendment, which I never have. I would have thought an extremist would want all firearms banned, which I do not. Still, I concede I'm no middle-of-the-roader when it comes to gun safety, and that restrictions I may be fine with might be pushing it a little too far for others.
I stipulate as well that I just don't like guns -- I've never owned one, have fired one only a handful of times in my life -- and that may make my views too easy to dismiss for people who do like them, but I also understand that if everything I didn't personally like were illegal then line dancing, Bikram Yoga and flavored whiskey would all be punishable offenses.
There is a Second Amendment, and while we can argue about its breadth and language we must begin my acknowledging that it is there and that it does explicitly guarantee specific freedoms.
What we must also acknowledge, however, is that the scope of freedoms the NRA wants us to believe it guarantees has changed and grown dramatically, not only through our nation's history but over the course of the last few decades as well. I'm sure you're sick of hearing that the Bill of Rights was written when firearms meant muskets (me, too) but that doesn't mean there isn't some truth to it, and while I certainly don't suggest the Second Amendment should be restricted to 18th Century technology, I also think it's just common sense that we have to draw the line somewhere. Nuclear bombs are "arms" too, after all, and none of us want people in our neighborhoods permitted to bear and stockpile those.
Assault rifles are not used for hunting or sport. They are not used for home protection. They are offensive (meaning made for offense rather than defense, as made clear by the name "assault rifle") by their nature. Service members are trained on them and use them on our behalf to attack threats to our national security, and we rightfully honor them for it. Stateside, the best we can ever hope for is that they are never used, because when they are it's always tragic.
From 1994 to 2004 the sale of assault rifles was illegal, and neither tyranny nor the repeal of the 2nd Amendment followed. No one's guns were taken from them, as assault weapons purchased before the ban went into effect were grandfathered in. Since 2004, however, when (mostly Republican) legislators (under pressure from the NRA) let the assault weapons ban expire, we've seen them used to threaten and intimidate government officials, slaughter innocent people at night clubs and movie theaters, and murder 26 children and educators in a single school on a single day. Their only purpose is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible, and so resurrecting the assault weapons ban which we employed for a decade with some success and no infringement on the legitimate rights of Americans does not seem like an extreme position to me. Rather, arguing against it does.
But the NRA doesn't stop there. It also put political and financial pressure on legislators to block attempts to keep people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns -- a common-sense precaution which would have prevented the Orlando nightclub shooter from acquiring his weapons so easily less than a week before he used them. The NRA wants us selling guns to people we won't let on our airplanes.
But the NRA doesn't stop there, either.
It uses its power to ban our public health institutions from studying gun violence to see if there are any other solutions beyond restricting weapons that we might be able to discover.
It blocks research and development into smart gun technology, which would prevent toddlers from picking up and accidentally firing weapons -- a tragic occurrence we are now seeing almost every other day in America.
It pushed through legislation in Florida (and is trying to push similar laws in other states) that makes it illegal for a pediatrician to ask families if there are guns in their homes so that they might try to educate parents who want to keep weapons about the importance of proper storage and safety.
And so I have to ask: who really is the extremist here?
Maybe I'm still an extremist, but it's painfully, tragically clear that the NRA is, too. That they are funded by the gun manufacturers is well known, but what that means in practice is that they are not fighting for constitutional rights but simply for a bigger market. They aren't trying to defend the Second Amendment but rather encourage existing gun owners to buy more (and more expensive) guns and frighten more Americans into feeling that arming themselves in their only option.
They want proliferation, and proliferation is something that gun rights and gun safety advocates should be able to agree poses a clear and present threat to our national security.
This is why I'm writing to reasonable gun-owning Americans. Stopping the national slide that threatens to turn all of our communities into self-inflicted war zones is, I'm sorry to say, up to you.
The good news is that none of us extremists can make you do anything. Leftists like me can't take away your guns or force policies on you that will erode the fundamental rights the Second Amendment guarantees if you don't want us to, and the NRA can't use the Second Amendment as an excuse to erode our fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just to make a bit more money if you stand up and refuse to let them.
Please don't let them.
Joining the NRA may have seemed like a good idea if you thought crazy liberals like me really were plotting ways to confiscate your pistols, rifles and shotguns--and they certainly pitched that idea hard--but the reality is that they are using your money and support to push the extreme, profit-driven motives listed above. At every turn they are using their members' money and political capital to fight the background checks that three quarters of their members support.
And don't take my word that we crazy liberals won't come after your guns, either. I have no interest in it but that is not to say others don't. The truth is there are a lot of organizations dedicated to defending the Second Amendment but also committed to common sense and public safety, perhaps because they understand that, while proliferation might benefit some people financially in the short term, it ultimately threatens the Second Amendment by making it unsustainable. The American Hunters and Shooters Association folded, but you can still join Americans for Responsible Solutions, which is spearheaded by proud gun owners who have also faced the tragedy of senseless gun violence. ARS also recently launched the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense.
There are other steps we, as a country, need to take, of course. We need better mental health care. We need to fight ISIS and stand up to hate-based perversions of religion at home and abroad. We need to stem the fracturing of our society which results in a pervasive lack of empathy. No combination of these will do much without a return to common sense in our gun laws, however, and the most important thing you can do to that end is to stand up and make it clear that the NRA does not speak for you.
And that ball is in your court. Everyone knows the NRA doesn't speak for an "extremist" like me, but if gun owners, if NRA members stand up and leave--like President George H. W. Bush and so many principled conservatives already have--they could change the whole country for the better.
The rest of us can only ask. And we're begging.