NRA — The Power of Dread on the Threshold of Anarchy

My recent article on gun control brought more visitors to my web site than any I have posted in the past two years. I appreciate the interest and I am grateful to those who took the time either to comment or write. This is my second article on the subject. I did not intend a series, but given the breadth and tone of the responses, another posting seemed to be in order.

John J. Hohn, Author

A contagion rages. Gun sales have been running at all time highs since the Sandy Hook massacre. Apparently, few stop to think about how unlikely it is that they will be caught in a situation where they will need a gun for self defense. Crazed gunmen don’t single out a stranger’s home as a target. No parent could rush to a school or a movie theater in time with a semi-automatic weapon to intervene commando style to save the lives of those under attack. The odds are almost beyond calculating, yet thousands are reacting as if these are likely—almost eminent—scenarios.

People seem to trust that, given the threat, anyone can handle a gun with the efficiency of a psychopathic assassin. They obviously believe that they will react with a murderous calm despite a rush of adrenalin, the awareness of another human threatening them, and the need for urgency. Apparently, they see themselves taking deadly aim with a steady hand and dispatching their adversary with clinical precision. Add a high capacity magazine, and aiming isn’t necessary. Just keep firing until the villain is down, but keep an eye out for grandma’s china.

Giving Even One Child Better Odds of Surviving . . .

My contention all along has been that high-capacity magazines and military style assault weapons should be banned. Further, I believe that background checks must be extended to include sales at gun shows and other fair style markets. If only one child’s life is saved by enacting this legislation, it is worth it. No other argument makes sense. What the NRA is saying is that these massacres cannot be prevented. They oppose any steps to limit the efficiency of the killer. The NRA is effectively saying that they don’t care if a few children and other innocents lose their lives because the freedom to own any kind of gun and to carry it anywhere is more important.

When I first moved to North Carolina in 1978, I was amazed to see people flock to the stores whenever a snow storm was forecast and stock up on milk, bread and other staples for fear of being forced to go without. They acted as if they expected to be isolated by bad weather for days on end. Their rush to fill the fridge and pantry was fueled by dread—that they will be cut off from their food and water supplies for an intolerable length of time and be gravely inconvenienced; perhaps even suffer death because of these deprivations. Something from the DNA of the early pioneers must be firing off the synapses that motivate modern man to react as if hunkered down in a log cabin miles from the nearest neighbor, low on fire wood and butchering the family pet to survive. That is how dread works in a relatively harmless way. When it comes to guns, however, the subject turns quite deadly.

The Power of Dread . . .

Fear, one author wrote, is rational, reality based and quantifiable. An angry dog charging a person gives rise to fear. Dread on the other hand is not reality based. Its power comes from the fact that it cannot be quantified. Thus a person can so dread an encounter with an angry dog that leaving the house at all is unthinkable. Dread doesn’t yield to any analysis or statistical probability. It persists even when reasonable measures are taken to prevent the dreaded threat from occurring. Dread has taken over when it comes to guns today.  Having a loaded gun in the closet may reduce the level of dread by creating a false sense of security for the owner. The odds that an innocent party will fall victim to the gun are, however,  far greater than the probability that it will ever be used against an intruder. The owner’s household, in other words, is less safe than it would be with no gun on the premises.

People are stripping the retailers’ shelves buying more ammunition. The odds fall in the million-to-one range against a gun owner ever being in a life-threatening situation that would require the use of a firearm. Taken further, the odds of succeeding in such an encounter drop off exponentially when the owner is not likely to possess the calm presence of mind to use the weapon effectively. The money paid out buying ammunition is being spent to fend off a dread. The stockpiling leads people to believe that they are taking responsible action when they are not. Putting more guns into the hands of frightened, untrained owners doesn’t lessen the likelihood of violence. It practically assures that more people will be hurt or killed. A household alarm system would make a much better investment.

Reshaping the Debate . . .

Arguments that cannot be supported by logic and reasoning usually rely on inflated rhetoric and sophistry to make their case. Whenever we allow opponents to define the issue of debate, we have dramatically reduced our chances of succeeding in pleading our case. For example, Rand Paul recently could not attack the reasonableness of extending background checks and banning high capacity magazines, so he trumpeted that the Second Amendment was under attack. Nobody wants freedoms abridged. But they are all of the time. Freedom of speech does not protect the right to slander another or incite a panic in a crowd. Rand Paul knows that there are laws already on the books that prohibit the sale of certain firearms. At the time that they were passed they did not represent a threat against the Second Amendment nor do they today. They represent thoughtful legislation enacted in the interest of public safety. Paul is simply trying to redefine the debate to switch the focus. He isn’t interested in protecting the Second Amendment. He is making sure his campaign receives contributions from NRA members and supporters  and an endorsement from the NRA.

The Second Amendment is predicated on an important qualifier, which reads:

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.

This relatively simple statement has been interpreted by others more qualified than this writer, but the NRA finds it convenient to dismiss the phrase: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, . . . while at the same time, emphasizing , the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Yet all of the clauses in the wording of the amendment deserve equal weight. A militia can be presumed to be more than one person. It is the right of the people that is not to be infringed. Neither clause asserts unambiguously that any one person shall have the right to own any weapon and carry it anywhere desired.

In addition, the right to bear arms has been infringed. Laws against automatic weapons, sawed-off shotguns and other more lethal firearms have been passed. They are on the books. They are being enforced. They constitute a precedent for further legislation. Any argument claiming that the Second Amendment is being weakened is disingenuous and obfuscating, and Rand should be rebuked for saying as much. He knows better.  Community safety is the issue, not the sanctity of the Second Amendment. Reasonable people act in a reasonable manner whenever the good of the community is at stake.

When Dishonesty Doesn’t Work, Perhaps Patriotism Will . ..

The NRA protests that laws currently on the books are not being enforced. Passing additional legislation, they claim, does not make sense because it will not be enforced either. Actually, most of the laws on the books are being enforced. Class III weapons require registration and a special license. Some states require gun registration and enforce it. It  would surprise nobody to find that laws are not enforced in those jurisdictions where the NRA has promoted and funded a candidates who—wink, wink, nod, nod—back away from enforcing gun control laws for fear of losing NRA endorsement.

If the NRA is concerned about public safety and they know of areas in which gun regulations are not being enforced, then it is their patriotic duty to report those conditions to the authorities. The NRA wraps itself up in the flag, wears patriotism on their sleeve, but when it comes to acting like a responsible citizen, they slink away. Or are they just blowing smoke. They know that current laws are enforced. They use this false claim in their protests against new legislation. They are shifting the focus of the debate. If they telling the truth, if they know of laws that are not being enforced and are doing nothing about it,  they stand on the threshold of anarchy. Any citizen looking the other way when laws are not being enforced fails the community. Imagine looking away if the laws against burglary are not being enforced. Inaction condones the crime. Gun laws are no different. Any reasonable, responsible organization would insist that laws be enforced.

There are no laws currently on the books requiring background checks for sales at gun shows or banning high capacity magazines. This legislation needs to be passed, signed into law and vigorously enforced. It will not stop gun violence. It will not stop the killing. We have far too many guns circulating in the public domain to make that a realistic wish. But we can take steps to make sure guns do not fall into the wrong hands by extending background checks and limiting the efficiency of an attacker by denying them use of a high capacity magazine. We must do something to improve the odds for our children.

I welcome your comments. Please enter them below. Also, I invite you to check out the other pages of my web site. Thanks for looking in.