Like a bad dream, like the monster in a horror movie with a never-ending set of sequels, the National Rifle Association just keeps coming back. Unrepentant despite Columbine and countless other cases of carnage in America, the NRA met in convention last weekend to trumpet its alleged comeback, to bluster and to issue political threats. NRA President and former actor Charlton Heston held a musket aloft and challenged anyone to take it away. But he made it clear that his real target is Al Gore and that the NRA will do anything in its power to hand the election to George W. Bush and defeat the vice president.
Bush likes to portray himself as a moderate and a reformer on every issue, including guns, but he isn't fooling the NRA on this one. Politically savvy to a fault, the NRA knows very well who will do its bidding -- Bush -- and who will stand in its way -- Gore. The gun lobby can see through Bush's gesture of handing out free trigger locks to a few thousand Texans as the kind of empty political ploy that interferes with the status quo and the NRA agenda not at all. The Doonesbury comic strip that depicts the NRA answering calls from the White House after Bush has been elected is an exercise in artistic license. But it's not far from the truth judging from the savage way the NRA has been attacking Gore while raising big bucks for Bush.
Like no other issue, the gun issue and the NRA's enthusiasm for Bush expose the contradictions in the GOP candidate's carefully constructed image as a moderate and a reformer. The NRA is an extremist, fundamentalist organization when it comes to guns laws, and it frequently issues inflammatory statements that rival the pronouncements of this country's worst racial demagogues.
The gun lobby's successful use of political money and muscle to block modest gun-control measures in the face of common sense and American's overwhelming support, is Exhibit A in the case for campaign reform. The NRA's warm, fuzzy feelings for Bush betray what it really thinks of the candidate's reformist, moderate posturing and who it thinks is the best candidate for gun fundamentalists. Will voters see that as well?
Meanwhile, the man on the moon or any European or Japanese who is watching the current U.S. debate on gun control must be amused. The fierceness of the NRA attack on Gore and the Million Mom March must seem entirely disproportionate given the mildness of the measures that gun-control advocates favor, especially compared with the toll that guns take in terms of human lives. If cars are registered and drivers are licensed, what can be wrong about doing the same with guns and gun owners?
18th CENTURY NEEDS
Certainly, the availability of guns is not the only factor accounting for America's wide lead in homicide rates compared with other industrialized countries. But the belief that a substantial minority of Americans seem to want to hold on to that guns are not an important factor in the carnage strikes outsiders to the American lore of the frontier and self-reliance as anachronistic and deluded as the long-discarded belief that blacks really were happy on those plantations.
Why is there is no debate at all on the source of the problem: the Second Amendment? The Constitution is a magnificent and venerable document, but it's not perfect or static. The Founders themselves recognized and used the amendment process.
The right to bear arms made sense in the 18th Century to provide for the common defense and afford citizens a guarantee against the encroachment of absolute monarchs. But today we don't rely on a militia to defend the country, and tyranny would involve a monopoly of media, not muskets. Born as a bulwark of democracy, the Second Amendment is the last refuge of gun fundamentalists and their well-financed lobbyists indifferent to the tragedies their liberal gun laws produce. Who will be the first politician to stand up and shout: ``Repeal!''
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald