- - Tuesday, March 27, 2018


The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment are not the same thing, though the people who are terrified of guns, and who mostly have never held one in their hands, try to make villains of both.

The NRA is a fierce guardian of the right to bear arms, but you don’t have to love the NRA to cherish the Second Amendment, which belongs to everyone. The Second Amendment is under attack and the National Rifle Association, which reflects public opinion but does not create it, is the most effective defender of the right to bear arms.

Nobody knows this more than members of Congress, who are intimidated not of the NRA but of the voters for whom the NRA speaks. According to data collected by the Federal Election Commission and cited by OpenSecrets.org, the NRA ranks 472nd on the list of those donating to political candidates in the current cycle. The organization has considerable lobbying prowess, but it ranks only 72nd in money spent on lobbying lawmakers. Only in spending on public advocacy does the NRA break into the top 20 groups, but then only in 14th place, behind advocates for lawyers, industry and retirees. It’s not even in the top 20 for all-time giving.

This is particularly frustrating for those trying, with such limited success, to challenge the right to own a gun. John Paul Stevens, a former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, argued Tuesday in an op-ed commentary in The New York Times that the Second Amendment is “a relic of the 18th century” and should be repealed.

He suggests that repeal would show respect for the children who marched last week in Washington against violence in the schools. But merely prohibiting private ownership of semi-automatic weapons, raising the minimum age to own guns from 18 to 21 and stiffening background checks, he argues, is not enough. The marchers “should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”

Mr. Stevens admires the remarks years ago of the late chief justice, Warren Burger, characterizing the NRA’s championing the right of an individual person to own a gun as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have seen in my lifetime.” He prefers the Supreme Court’s 1939 opinion that Congress could prohibit the private ownership of a shotgun because a “well regulated militia” has no need of a shotgun.

Mr. Stevens knows better than most that a Supreme Court decision is not engraved in stone. If it were, the doctrine of “separate but equal,” prevailing from Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 to repeal by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, might still enable racial segregation in the public schools. The Supreme Court is free to change its mind, and sometimes does, as in the 2008 Heller decision that there is an individual right under the Constitution to bear arms. Mr. Stevens was one of the four dissenters to that decision.

He says getting rid of the Second Amendment “would be simple and would do more to weaken the NRA’s ability to stymie debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.”

Repealing the Second Amendment would be anything but simple. Only 14 states are required to block the constitutional amendment required for repeal, and Mr. Stevens errs in confusing the lobbying power of the NRA with the greater power of the will of the people.

The Second Amendment is cherished among some, perhaps many, of the high school crowd that rallied in Washington last week. Several of these students complained that their voices were squelched by the organizers of the march. But even David Hogg, the 17-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a survivor of the massacre of 17 of his classmates, and whose angry, passionate and profane excoriation of the violence made him a hero in the media, has no truck with blaming guns.

“Honestly,” he told the Saturday throng, “it’s all right that people are buying more guns. I just care that they are being [with] safe individuals. They can practice their Second Amendment rights all they want I just want to make sure that a crazy individual doesn’t get an AR-15 or any weapon at all.”

The NRA couldn’t agree more. “Let me be clear on this,” says Chris Cox, the director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action and the chief lobbyist of the NRA, “the NRA believes that anyone who is a danger to themselves or others should not be allowed to have a firearm — any firearm. Period.”

To that end, the NRA supports legislation by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican, “to make the background system stronger by making sure it has all the records of violent criminals and those who are found by a court to have a dangerous mental illness.”

No system is perfect. Evil will always be with us, but fear and insensate emotion have nothing to contribute to the debate. Calm and reason is the only recipe that works.

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