- - Monday, September 5, 2011

By Adam Winkler
Norton, $27.95, 361 pages

Anti-gun-rights books are common enough. But they never quite resonate with the public because they avoid the well-documented history. To rewrite history in this way, they fail to acknowledge that “militia,” as defined in early dictionaries, included all able-bodied males; they also ignore the fact that the phrase “the people,” as it is used in other parts of the U.S. Constitution, is always used in the context of “we the people.” Then they dramatize the victims of armed criminals but don’t make the slightest mention of the many Americans who defend themselves, or even prevent crimes, by using their individual right to bear arms.

I hoped Adam Winkler’s book “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” would be different. Sure, I know Mr. Winkler teaches at the UCLA School of Law and writes for the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast. I realize his politics are left. But he wrote in the Huffington Post, in an article headlined “MLK and His Guns” that “in 1956, after [Martin Luther] King’s house was bombed, King applied for a concealed carry permit in Alabama.” And in an article headlined “Obama’s Growing Gun Problem,” also in the Huffington Post, Mr. Winkler wrote, “Obama took office promising unparalleled transparency, yet top officials have been anything but [transparent] with regard to Fast and Furious.”

Mr. Winkler could have avoided these topics, as most liberals have, but he didn’t; as a result, I respected him - until I read “Gun Fight.”

Before I call him out, I should point out that as executive field editor of American Hunter magazine, I’m an employee of the National Rifle Association. I’m also the author of “Saving the Bill of Rights: Exposing the Left’s Campaign to Destroy American Exceptionalism.” So my views are public, as is my research.

Now I’ll do what the liberal media won’t: I’ll hold Mr. Winkler accountable to the facts. In the preface to his book, he writes, “For much of its history, the NRA, which was founded in 1871 by a former reporter for a newspaper not known for its sympathy for gun rights, the New York Times, supported rather extensive gun control laws. When a wave of laws requiring a license to carry a concealed weapon swept the nation in the 1920s and 1930s, leaders of the NRA were closely involved in drafting the bills, which they then lobbied state governments to adopt. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the NRA became the political powerhouse to a more extreme view of gun rights we know today.”

The truth is the NRA was founded by two men: Lt. Col. William C. Church, editor of the Army and Navy Journal, and Capt. George W. Wingate, after the American Civil War because they were appalled by the lack of shooting ability exhibited by some Americans, notably men from Northern factory towns. Mr. Winkler’s insinuation that the founders of the NRA were critical of civilian gun ownership has no basis in fact. Also, the New York Times in 1871 didn’t have the same views it does today. Indeed, the NRA wasn’t involved in political advocacy in the 1870s because the individual right to bear arms wasn’t then disputed.

Now here’s the biggest falsity in Mr. Winkler’s narrative: Sure, during the Prohibition era, the NRA backed what it saw as reasonable restrictions on the individual right to bear arms; even the First Amendment right to free speech is subject to reasonable restrictions. But the thing is that the NRA’s position hasn’t changed. Today the NRA supports gun laws, including federal and state laws that prohibit the possession of firearms by felons who have been convicted of violent crimes and laws requiring that instant criminal-background checks be done before someone can purchase a gun.

Also, like any lobbying group, the NRA has lent its expertise in writing laws, such as the 1986 federal law prohibiting “armor-piercing ammunition.” The NRA, joined by the U.S. Justice Department, opposed earlier legislation because it would have banned most hunting and defensive ammunition. The sponsor of the earlier bill, Rep. Mario Biaggi, New York Democrat, even said on the floor of the House, “Our final legislative product was not some watered-down version of what we set out to do.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Winkler says, “Opposition to gun control was what stirred one radical, Timothy McVeigh.” He adds that though gun rights groups “bore no responsibility for [McVeigh’s] treason,” they “are linked by an unreasonable view of the Second Amendment that casts nearly any gun safety measure as an infringement of the sacred rights of individuals.”

By misrepresenting the facts and tossing in McVeigh, Mr. Winkler has shown himself to be a true partisan attempting to drape himself in a cloak of reasonableness.

This is a shame, because if Mr. Winkler were honest, he might not have gotten as many pats on the back from liberals in the media, but he could have helped sober the debate on gun rights.

Frank Miniter, executive field editor of the National Rifle Association’s American Hunter magazine, is the author of “Saving the Bill of Rights: Exposing the Left’s Campaign to Destroy American Exceptionalism” (Regnery, 2011).

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