The NRA Has Lost Its Right to a Voice on Gun Laws

The aftermath of Newtown and the long awaited response from the NRA gave me the chance to reflect on the ideas of a natural “moral sense” about which philosophers have long argued.  Thinkers like Hutcheson, Hume, and Hobbes all debated whether man was born with a sixth “sense” that allowed him to detect the “moral” decision when faced with a choice.  Some even looked at the human body to see if any organ acted as the equivalent of a “moral nose.” Failing to find such an organ discredited the idea of a moral sense in the eyes of some who argued such things as God must have established morals and man was simply to figure them out or that morals were all relative and were established only to serve the needs of the community.

It’s not my intent here to weigh in on the nature of a “moral sense.”  In the end, whatever an individual or society settles on as what role morality has in personal decision making is never subject to empirical analysis anyway.  As much as we’d like an answer that would serve to guide us, that answer will always ring true to us only once we’ve stopped trying to challenge it.  But I believe it is true that whether consciously or not, we have each established a moral code by which to live.  We “know” when we make decisions that violate that code.  Mostly we chose “good” because those choices fit within our “moral sense.” When we chose “evil” we do so because it is expedient at the moment.  The short term violation of our moral code seems worth what we pay in order to gain something more valuable.  Repeated violations of our code either put us in a position to pay a heavy price within society or, if we avoid prosecution, a reordering of our moral code to allow a shift in the definition of what is good and what is evil.

While the rest of the world was rightly outraged at the deaths of 20 children and 6 dedicated teachers, the NRA spent a week trying to find a way to cling to its “principles.”  The NRA has long held to the idea that any attempt to limit gun ownership is going to be met with a barrage of resistance.  Millions of dollars in spending on political campaigns and lobbying has even convinced a large portion of our society that the Second Amendment allows citizens to own guns for any purpose they deem acceptable.  It’s not often that half of a constitutional amendment is ignored by the Supreme Court, but the same Roberts Court that decided, that despite all the evidence to the contrary, George W. Bush should be President, also decided that the “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” should be ignored when considering the validity of any proposed gun laws.

There are many, many people who feel gun ownership for hunting, personal protection, mass murder, or target shooting is a Constitutional right.  The NRA spends millions each year to make sure no one asks about that pesky “militia” clause.  It’s hard to find a news story that doesn’t describe the NRA as “the powerful gun lobby” to the point where those words might even be on the NRA crest. As average citizens, and more shamefully as politicians, we’ve come to believe that opposing the NRA is pointless because, well, they’re just too darn “powerful.”  Politicians who have dared stand up to the NRA find a well-financed opponent to deal with in the next election.  As a result, the Second Amendment is blatantly misused, cop-killer bullets are still on the street, semi-automatic weapons are still for sale, and 12,000 people a year die in gun related violence.

And yet, as our tears began to dry after Newtown, we were left wondering “What will the NRA say?” People lauded the NRA decision to shut down Twitter and Facebook accounts as a demonstration of their respect for the victims.  But as always, we were duped.  The one week lull in NRA support for Adam Lanza’s actions was just that…a lull.  As the NRA was preparing its response, its members were buying gun stores out of semi-automatic weapons and high capacity cartridges.  They must have been thinking “What if society comes to its senses and stops the madness? “  So instead of hanging their heads in shame over the massacre made possible by their misguided lobbying, NRA members scooped up more guns and ammo in open defiance to society’s moral sense.

So it should not be any surprise that when Wayne LaPierre finally came forward, he led with his laughable plan to arm teachers or put an armed guard in every school, and all the other shameful responses to Newtown.  He blamed the schools.  He blamed the press. He blamed video games.  He blamed everyone he could think of besides his own misguided organization that repeatedly puts guns into the hands of those who too readily are willing to end the lives of others.

There’s no need for me to analyze the ridiculous basis of the NRA suggestions.  And I wish the rest of you would stop analyzing them too.  While it’s interesting that the idea of putting an armed guard in every school would cost $100 billion dollars a year, and that Columbine and Ft. Hood had armed guards who didn’t exactly prevent mass murder, blah, blah blah, the more we analyze their proposals the more credibility we give this morally corrupt organization.

LaPierre actually had the audacity to say something like “There will be no changes to gun laws.”  Really?  He gets to decide?  What we have witnessed in the last week are the hysterical and pathetic rantings of a man whose organization has lost its “moral sense.”  It can no longer determine the difference between good and evil and so consequently it cannot offer us much in the way of useful information.  I realize that it may be hyperbole, but it reminds a great deal of the strategy used by Adolf Hitler to convince most Germans that the Holocaust served some greater good.  Once you have lost your “moral sense” you can and will say anything to further your selfish goals.  Far too few people are willing to point out that Mr. LaPierre is the Emperor With No Camo.

The foundations of his arguments no longer are in line with the moral sense of our society.  He and his advisors actually spent an entire week working on ways to convince us that Newtown is just the cost we’ll have to pay in order to stay a “free society.”  I say that it is not.  I say that we stand up to the NRA and vote for candidates who oppose them regardless of the amount of money they spend.  I say we reduce their status from the “powerful gun lobby” to the “emasculated gun lobby.”  In short, Mr. LaPierre, make all the proclamations you’d like about the laws we can and can’t change.  We’ll follow our moral sense and ignore you like we should have been for the last 40 years.

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2 Comments on “The NRA Has Lost Its Right to a Voice on Gun Laws”

  1. Dan December 29, 2012 at 3:08 am #

    Is it really immoral to argue in favor of unrestricted gun ownership, as LaPierre does? The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman regularly takes positions that are anathema freedom of expression–an unquestioned moral good. The ACLU’s position on the Constitution is as absolute as LaPierre’s–and like LaPierre’s, often requires the ACLU to defend behavior that is categorically immoral.

    You could respond that the ACLU performs a moral good by defending morally valuable freedoms against encroachment, while the NRA is defending a far less valuable freedom against morally significant restriction. But that can’t be true in every case. The ADL and ACLU simply don’t perform that kind of balancing before taking on an issue. In some (and perhaps many) cases, these groups take a position that sacrifices something arguably more morally significant: property rights, freedom of contract, discouraging hate and bigotry, unencumbered free speech, etc.

    Acknowledging this makes it more difficult to argue that the NRA has, as an institution, lost its moral sense. The NRA is simply doing what it’s always done: acting as a speed bump (or barrier, depending on the moment) to all forms of gun control legislation. There’s a moral value to this type of absolutist advocacy, not least of all because it aggregates opinions (a valuable function in a democracy) and makes it difficult to encroach on any freedom (also valuable, particularly in a constitutional democracy). (I say “most” here, because there are obviously groups that are immoral, because the very mission of the group itself is categorically immoral–e.g., NAMBLA, the KKK, etc. I don’t think that the NRA falls into that category; gun ownership is not per se immoral.)

    Obviously, I agree with you that we need to revisit the gun control issue, and that citizens have no business having an armory of military-grade assault rifles in their homes. And I disagree with the Americans who believe that they have a right to own such weapons. But my disagreement with them is political and empirical–not moral. And I think framing the issue as a moral one puts you on more difficult analytical ground.

  2. Mark Pontoni December 29, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    Dan,

    Thanks for commenting. You raise some interesting points, but I’m not sure they amount to a pardon for the NRA. Let’s take a look at the examples you present.

    1) You mention the KKK. Most of us can NOW agree that their motives are/were immoral. But there certainly are people who still argue that racial purity is somehow “American” despite all the evidence to the contrary. More importantly, the KKK was not always this underground organization riding in the night and committing acts of terror. In the “revived” KKK of the 1920’s, the KKK was practically mainstream in the north. I have newspapers from Owosso announcing the KKK picnic at the park. Parades were done in the open and for a large segment of the population of Shiawassee County, the KKK represented not only a reasonable response to Jews, Catholics, immigrants, and blacks, but also a mandatory response to the changes in our country that they felt threatened them. So, I don’t think we can safely say that our repulsion at the KKK was always absolute. Morality changes over time and the “moral sense” I referred to in my original post is used to tell when it’s time to change. The KKK didn’t/couldn’t and they remain a dark cloud over American history and extremely marginalized today…as they should be.

    2) You also talk about the ACLU which I find to be an example which strengthens my argument. Is the ACLU a single-minded organization? I suppose you can argue that they are, but what is that single mind? I’m pretty sure most Americans have a love/hate relationship with the Bill of Rights. We all crow about our freedoms, but we are generally loathe to defend them when attacked and we’re all too willing to deny them to others when our own rights are seemingly infringed upon. If we believe in our Bill of Rights, then protecting it against our apathy and indignation falls to someone. That someone is the ACLU. I don’t have a problem when the ACLU advocates on behalf of a guilty party when the larger crime of government malfeasance is being challenged. Do I want murderers wandering among us? Nope. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay to make sure that the government is doing its job properly.

    As an attorney, you studied countless cases of shameful government activities against citizens in what the government felt was an expedient solution to a problem. The list is long, but if you’re ever in doubt about the importance of having an ACLU, read again the Mapp vs. Ohio case. It’s a cautionary tale of what we all have to fear from a government run amok in pursuit of some political agenda.

    In contrast to the KKK example, the ACLU’s single-mindedness serves what we all do/should agree is a greater good. If you take the politics out of it, and you take away the decisions which fail to make sense to our selfish selves, then protection of the Bill of Rights is what we all should want. By definition we cannot count on the government to protect those rights. If we could, we wouldn’t need the Bill of Rights at all! So, like the KKK, we may not always like the tactics; yet unlike the KKK, the ACLU is serving the greater good.

    3) And now on to the NRA. I think if I believed in any fashion that the 2nd Amendment guaranteed gun ownership without restriction, I could better find a place at the table for the NRA during gun discussions. But the fact that the 2nd Amendment is NOT being upheld by the NRA means their place at the table comes with our agreement that they possess “moral sense.” If their moral sense led them to the comments they made after Newtown (and after just about every other mass murder) then to me they’ve lost their moral sense and no longer are part of the conversation.

    I said in my discussion about the ACLU that having a few murderers wandering among us is a price I’m willing to pay to keep the government in check. The NRA is willing to have more children slaughtered to defend something the Bill of Rights doesn’t establish. And that willingness is ample evidence that they pursue immoral ends…either due to their lack of moral sense, or their propensity to ignore that sense when it comes time to pursue policy.

    Mark

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