After a bewildering silence, the National Rifle Association finally issued a statement saying that it is prepared to help make sure that this never happens again, referring to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Surprising words from an organization not exactly known for its sympathy for gun violence victims and certainly not for efforts to help curb the spread of guns in America.
At first blush, the NRA's statement seems like crocodile tears, but at a sensitive and critical juncture like this, I believe it is better to put cynicism on hold and give the organization the benefit of the doubt in the interests of the country. The most important thing right now is not blame but fixing the problem of gun violence. In this spirit, I have compiled some steps that the NRA could take if it sincerely wants to help this cause.
Tone Down The Rhetoric Rhetoric, even more than money, is a powerful weapon that the NRA has routinely used to whip up pro-gun frenzy in this nation. That should stop, and the NRA should restrain itself from attacking gun control advocates, stop creating paranoia about the government "taking people's guns away," and avoid drawing lines in the sand over gun ownership or the Second Amendment. It would be much more responsible, and the organization would be taken a lot more seriously, if it adopted a more moderate approach to debate and actually considered opposing viewpoints from their detractors. The NRA and gun rights supporters are not wrong on everything, but they are so combative that it is impossible to engage in meaningful conversation with them about gun control.
Stop Glamorizing Guns I understand that the NRA represents gun owners but that does not mean that it needs to glamorize the product. Firearms are dangerous weapons, first and foremost, and their carriage or use is not a matter of glory or fashion. Some citizens might like to hunt or even shoot for recreation, and that may well be part of their lifestyle, but the NRA does not have to promote that. The NRA is a political organization, not a gun company, and as such its stance on guns should be matter-of-fact, not gung-ho. The celebration of guns is not a badge of honor or even patriotic (the Second Amendment did not come with a picture of Rambo next to it); it is simply irresponsible and possibly a contributing factor to our trigger-happy culture. Encourage Gun Manufacturers to Stop Their Cowboy Marketing The NRA exerts tremendous influence over gun manufacturers due to its political connections, which means that it has the opportunity to use that influence for the common good. The marketing of guns as part of a cowboy lifestyle is highly destructive for our society since it ties guns to "coolness" and machismo -- much as the tobacco industry did for cigarettes with the Marlboro Man. Such marketing practices spur gun sales for all the wrong reasons -- especially to younger Americans and, much more disturbingly, to those who feel disenfranchised and are looking for something to give them a sense of control.
Contribute Money to Mental Health Treatment and Research This is so obviously in the NRA's own interest that it should not even have to be said. After all, if the organization truly believes that people kill people, not guns, then they should put their money where their big mouth is and help to ensure that mentally ill people receive better treatment and preventative care, and do not wind up shooting up malls and schools, which then forces our society to institute tougher gun laws. Stop Equating Guns to Freedom Guns and freedom are miles apart and yet this has been one of the NRA's favorite ploys to argue against gun control. By equating guns to freedom, the organization conveniently shuts down any discussion about firearms, but this tactic is dishonest. I will say it again -- guns have nothing to do with freedom, and if anything, the recent spate of mass killings demonstrates that the proliferation of guns is actually eroding our freedom to feel safe in our own homes and on our own streets. Also, by adopting this philosophy, the NRA dumbs down the debate about the Second Amendment and the complex intentions of our Constitution, which belies their purported patriotism.
Educate Americans on the Dangers of Guns This is a winner for everyone. If, instead of spending most of its energy and resources glorifying guns, the NRA used its vast platform to educate Americans about the very real dangers of guns, including accidental firings, malfunctions, and other safety-related issues, as well as conducted a frank discussion about gun violence, it would earn the trust of the nation. It would be a simple, but crucial, demonstration of the organization's good faith in wanting to protect the safety of Americans.
Push for Higher Safety Standards for Guns The NRA should encourage the gun industry to innovate on safety. These past two weeks alone, two children, one of them three years old, died when a gun discharged accidentally. This state of affairs is atrocious and the NRA should push for higher safety standards on all weapons to reduce accidents. I am not implying that gun manufacturers themselves are not innovating but clearly there is room for improvement. Safety, unfortunately, is not as sexy a selling point for weapons as firepower, fingerprint resistance, and a host of other features that gun enthusiasts respond more favorably to, making it less likely that the industry will force itself to do the right thing without an external influence. That influence could very easily be the NRA.
Cooperate With Political Leaders to Institute Meaningful Gun Reform The NRA may hate doing this but given that the political climate and public opinion have now swung decisively towards gun control, the organization would be much better served working cooperatively with lawmakers rather than trying to sabotage them. The NRA's voluntary participation in the process of lawmaking will enable the organization to bring its knowledge, experience, and ideas to bear on the gun control debate and perhaps help the nation reach solid policies that will serve the interests of both society and gun owners. In any event, if the NRA chooses to fight change, it is more likely to become a victim of it rather than an architect, and that should give it plenty of motivation to take a conciliatory approach on gun control.
These measures, of course, are just some of the things that the NRA can do to validate the sincerity of its words, but they are a good start.
The NRA has given us the tagline, now let's see the fine print.
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks and at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of a thriller titled "Merger", which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit his Facebook page Candid Politics and Business Blogs for more blogs and updates.