Topeka Capital-Journal – 2001
The National Rifle Association whooped it up at its national convention in Kansas City over the weekend. Members all but danced in the aisles as President Charlton Heston told them they saved the American way of life by helping elect George W. Bush, and executive director Wayne LaPierre, who really runs the NRA, declared threats to the nation’s freedom still exist.
The hootin’ and hollerin’ gun owners have reason to party right now, because everything is going their way. Membership may be at an all-time high, even without counting the dead members. There is only one major anti-gun bill in Congress, and it isn’t expected to pass.
Heston was elected to a fourth one-year term as president. He was presented a mint-condition colonial musket by the gunmen’s group, and he spoke for all of them when he held it aloft and said he would give it up only when it is taken “from my cold, dead hands.”
LaPierre and other speakers ripped the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that would limit political ads by the NRA and similar groups two months before an election, calling it an effort to destroy First Amendment rights to free speech, thus endangering the Second Amendment’s imagined rights to own guns.
All this is so much baloney. It is pure hokum skillfully designed to make members believe their liberty is at stake, and that the government wants to take away their weapons.
The mystery is why any of them would believe it. The marvel is that some 4 million of them pay dues of $35 annually to the NRA, and respond generously to special pleas for more money to meet the latest threats from what LaPierre calls “jack-booted government thugs.”
The fact is there aren’t any threats from any level of government to confiscate guns, and there haven’t been any since colonial days.
The NRA says the right to bear arms always has been an individual right. Wrong. From the beginning, states retained the right to disarm law-abiding citizens when it was deemed best for the community. Historians, such as Saul Cornell, author of “The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America,” says the Second Amendment never was meant to ban any effort to regulate firearms.
The Founding Fathers viewed such regulation as not only legal, but necessary, and “colonial America enacted all sorts of regulatory legislation governing the storage of arms and gunpowder.”
At one point, as much as 40 percent of the adult, white male population of Pennsylvania was deemed to be unqualified to own guns.
Heston told the conventioneers, “You are of the same lineage as the farmers who stood at Concord Bridge” at the start of the Revolutionary War. The NRA line is that an armed citizen militia was essential to the fight for independence then, and still is.
Sorry, but it’s not true. There never were enough guns in private hands to stand up to a well-equipped and orderly military unit. There never was a militia force that included “all able-bodied men.” Verifying this are the surviving lists of groups that were specifically excluded from the militia.
The plain and simple fact is that the Continental Army, and not the militia, won the War for Independence.
The militia never was intended to defend law-abiding citizens from the government that, the NRA claims, is plotting night and day to knock down the doors of the homes of honest, God-fearing gun owners, arrest the occupants and take their guns.
A step in that direction, says the NRA, is the pending bill co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., calling for background checks on buyers of weapons at gun shows. There is such a law covering sales at gun shops, but at the shows, where hundreds are on display, anyone can buy and say goodbye.
LaPierre said McCain is “taking the point in an anti-freedom offensive.”
Osha Gray Davidson, a Washington Post reporter who covers the NRA, wrote after last year’s convention in North Carolina: “The NRA’s power comes in large part from convincing its memberships of this axiomatic deception: that any gun bill, no matter how reasonable, is the first step down a slippery slope that ends in total gun confiscation and the establishment of a police state.”
It was in 1977 that the NRA’s hard-line extremists voted moderate hunters and sports shooters from leadership posts. That brought on the era of LaPierre, former advertising man and lobbyist. The only thing he ever hunted was the perfect job, and now he’s got it, and his NRA has passed the AARP as the nation’s most powerful lobby.