Class Warfare Blog

December 18, 2011

How the NRA Reflects the Current State of Our Politics

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
Tags: , , ,

The National Rifle Association’s cause célèbre is defending the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Here it is in all of its glory (although there are two versions of it, essentially differing only in punctuation):

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Now the problem is that most people interpret this amendment upside down. Most people think the constitution gives us our rights as citizens when, in reality, the Constitution limits the powers of government. So, this amendment doesn’t give us the right to bear arms, it prevents the government from infringing upon our right to bear arms.

But most people gloss over the “well regulated militia” aspect of the amendment. Basically, when this was written, people were quite worried about enemies to the new republic, both from within and without. Also, the vast majority of the founders were utterly opposed to standing armies (meaning full-time, permanent armies like we have now). Standing armies were anathema as they were seen as the coercive element of monarchies. And as additional proof, while this amendment was written just after the end of the Revolutionary War, the standing army of the U.S. had already been disbanded.

Even at the beginning of the Civil War, there were only a few thousand troops serving the Union, and most of them were in the West fighting the now infamous “Indian Wars.” So, if there were no standing armies, what were there? There were militias. Groups of citizens who trained under arms part-time, in case there was a need of a military force locally. Some of these were sponsored by states, some by private individuals, and some by organizations. When the Civil War began, President Lincoln asked each of the northern states to provide men at arms for the cause, which is why so many groups were called the “Maryland Volunteer Militia” or some such name. They were groups of men associated with a particular region. All the men were typically friends and/or neighbors in any one militia. (And we still have militia today.)

In order for a militia to be effective, they needed arms. These arms were typically personal as very few of the militia supplied them. So, if the government were to infringe upon individuals right to own or bear arms, the militias could end up poorly trained and poorly armed, which could be disastrous for the country.

One could argue that, now that this country has millions of men and women under arms (provided by the government) permanently, that we no longer believe in or support the idea of militias as a way to defend the country, etc. And since there is no longer a justification for the second amendment, it is moot. (There was only one justification supplied, that of the importance of well regulated militia.)

I don’t know whether this argument will ever be settled but let me get to my main argument. Current law requires that anyone selling guns remotely, e.g. through the Internet, that the seller must refuse a sale if they suspect that the buyer couldn’t pass the typical background check (to see if the buyer is in one of the categories that are not allowed to own arms: former felons, people deemed mental deficient to safely handle guns, etc.). The violation of this law is a felony. The NRA deems that this form of self-policing is fine and that it works very well and no further legislation is needed.

So, New York City hired an agency to purchase guns over the Internet, clearly stating during each transaction that the “buyer” could not pass a background check. What they found was that 62% of the sellers went through with the transaction, one infamously telling the buyer “You shouldn’t tell me that.” when the buyer indicated they couldn’t pass a background check.

Well, that should put the kibosh on the NRA’s resistance to new regulations, no? No. A survey of NRA members showed a majority of the members want better regulations in this area. That didn’t change leaderships position either.

This scorched earth resistance to any restriction on the “right to bear arms” by the NRA is typical of situations that are “no turning back” situations. Another is zoning battles where NIMBY stands are taken. If you don’t want a nuclear waster treatment facility in your community, you fight hard, tooth and nail, to keep it out, because if you lose, you lose big time and forever. There is no going back.

But regulations aren’t cut in stone, they often are changed back and forth over time until settling upon a reasonable set or people get tired of fighting over them. The NRA, though, doesn’t believe that our politics allows back and forth movement any more (or maybe never did). And the NRA isn’t alone.

Don’t you find it interesting that politicians are doing things that are virtually guaranteed to lose them their jobs at the soonest elections? There is a “now or never” push to “move the goal posts” on all kinds of fronts: environment regulations, business regulations, taxes, entitlements, etc. and politicians are being paid richly to do things that are counterproductive to the country and their political careers. These are all signs of “no turning back” behaviors.

As always in politics, if you want to know why “follow the money.”

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