While the story of the nine-year-old girl who accidentally shot and killed a gun range instructor has faded from the headlines, the horror for the lives shattered by this avoidable incident will never end. Is this what the framers of the Constitution meant? Is it really our 2nd Amendment right to have our nine-year-old children shooting Uzis? That’s not a position I can endorse.
James Madison, one of those framers, would, I believe, agree with me. In 1789, when Madison was pushing for changes to the newly ratified Constitution, he proposed 17 amendments, including the 2nd, which addressed a “well regulated militia” and the “right to bear arms.” Not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation, however, can be found in Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention.
In the last decade alone, it is estimated that the NRA has received between $20 million and $52 million from the gun industry and its corporate allies through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program.
The common interpretation for the first 200-plus years of the 2nd Amendment’s existence was that the phrase “bear arms” referred to military activities; it’s only recently that organized groups have opposed that interpretation. From the time law review articles were first indexed in 1888 to 1959, every single one that referenced the 2nd Amendment concluded that it did not guarantee an individual’s right to a gun.
In 1934, the National Firearms Act became the first federal gun law passed. It was drafted in response to some of the issues of organized crime that arose during Prohibition. With this act, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped to regulate and tax the ownership of all firearms, with the exception of pistols and revolvers. All buyers, taxed a prohibitive sum, were required to fill out paperwork that was subject to Treasury Department approval. Four separate times when brought before the Supreme Court, the NFA was upheld and the Court avoided ruling for or against a constitutional right to own a gun. In fact, the Supreme Court didn’t rule that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun—to be used for lawful purposes, such as self-defense—until 2008, with the case of District of Columbia v. Heller.
Today, everyone associates the National Rifle Association with its fight for the right of individuals to own guns at any cost. But for nearly a century after its founding in 1871, I would place the NRA among America’s foremost pro-gun control organizations. Its primary mission was to teach gun safety and better marksmanship. The group did not oppose the Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibited interstate commerce in guns, and only started actively lobbying for or against legislation in the 1970s. Given how rabidly the organization now fights even the slightest regulation, this is a truly startling shift.
My dad was a card-carrying NRA member and remained so until he died in 2009. We had guns in the house when my siblings and I were growing up. But my dad believed that his children needed to know how dangerous guns were, so he had us all take gun/rifle safety courses. I was also in the military for 20 years and qualified as a marksman M16, which is why it’s even more disturbing to me that a child was allowed to handle a machine gun; I know just how powerful they are.
Unlike my dad, I do not have or want guns in my house. That doesn’t mean I am against gun ownership; I’m not. I see the value in people wanting a pistol or revolver for home protection, and I support those who choose to hunt and can understand the value of a rifle in that capacity. But why would anyone need an assault weapon?
I stopped supporting the NRA as a dues-paying member when it became clear to me that the organization’s platform is no longer about gun safety but about fighting to allow individuals to have the biggest gun/s he or she can afford (or obtain by whatever means). Of course, they won’t miss my membership money, so I feel compelled to make this public statement: In the last decade alone, it is estimated that the NRA has received between $20 million and $52 million from the gun industry and its corporate allies through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program.
According to the organization’s IRS 990, a form required for all non-profit organizations, the NRA also made $21 million in 2010 from selling advertisements to gun companies in its publications. Additionally, Crimson Trace, a company that makes laser sights, donates 10 percent of each sale to the NRA and the manufacturer Taurus buys an NRA membership for everyone who buys their products. Sturm Rugar gives $1 to the NRA for each gun sold, which amounts to millions. I feel that, while the NRA portrays itself as protecting the “freedom” of individual gun owners, it’s actually working to protect the freedom of the gun industry to manufacture and sell virtually any weapon or accessory to further enrich their coffers.
Does the majority of the U.S. population really own guns or want them? In March 2013, data from the General Social Survey revealed that the number of households that owned guns had fallen from 50 percent in 1970s to 34 percent by 2012. However, we see gun ammo sales increasing every year. Fewer people own guns than in the past, yet, those people own more and more guns—and are powering them with more and more ammunition.
Did the framers of the 2nd Amendment mean that the organizations that profit the most from gun sales should run rampant, or that there should be little to no regulation even though most Americans do not own guns and support some regulation? It seems unlikely. But that is where we are.