OPINION — The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It’s the mantra of the National Rifle Association, and a certainty for those who would brook no incursion into Second Amendment rights and definitely no gun control measures, no matter how small or “sensible,” as they are often described by those who propose them.
When children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and federal legislation that would strengthen background checks went nowhere, gun control advocates despaired. If the murder of children failed to crack the gun lobby, what would?
But real-life events and political surprises indicate that the landscape might be changing. And the work of groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and other large and small organizations has made a difference.
Where once politicians were loath to cross the NRA because of the organization’s hefty purse and powerful get-out-the-vote success, candidates in unlikely places are showing that a nuanced position is not a deal breaker. Earlier this month, Democrat Lucy McBath, a onetime spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, won a House seat in Georgia that Newt Gingrich once held, no doubt surprising some leaders in her own party. Though the district has been trending away from its once deep-red hue for a while, a well-financed race by Democrat Jon Ossoff last year that engendered enthusiasm could not achieve what McBath did with far less attention.
McBath, an African-American woman whose activism was motivated by the murder of her son, Jordan Davis, in 2012 by a white man angered by the volume of his music, expressed support for the Second Amendment as well as changes in gun laws, including closing background check loopholes. Her platform did not stop there, also featuring a variety of other issues of concern, including affordable health care and middle-class tax cuts. And McBath was not the only new member of Congress elected on a similar platform.
That good guy with a gun narrative seems more and more a fairy tale, at least when the legal gun owner happens to be black. They rarely get the benefit of the doubt or the support of the NRA. Recent evidence includes the cases of Emantic Bradford Jr., a 21-year-old shot and killed by police at a Hoover, Alabama, mall, and 26-year-old Jemel Roberson, a security guard shot and killed by police in a bar in the Chicago suburbs.
Police immediately proclaimed Bradford the perpetrator in a mall shooting before they were forced to admit that a quick-acting law enforcement officer might have acted too quickly. The officer killed the young man, who witnesses say was leading frightened shoppers away from the violence, and his reputation, while leaving the shooter at large and the community in danger. There are still more questions than answers.
Witnesses in the Chicago-area bar have said they tried to tell police that Roberson, wearing “security” clothing, was detaining a suspect when he was killed.
Having a gun to protect yourself and others does not work when you have to be wary of police as well as criminals, when it’s not as much the gun as the person carrying it. When NRA leadership remains unsurprisingly silent, it shows its support is conditional and renders its manifesto shallow for many gun-owning Americans.
Dumping the NRA
Increasingly, the gun control debate has become a true debate, with those silenced speaking up. Doctors, long admonished with NRA advice “to stay in their lane,” have added their voices, informed by having to deal with the shattered bodies that represent the aftermath of gun violence. Many doctors have sought a middle ground, allowing gun ownership as well as the training and the research on gun violence that has been barred by NRA-backed laws.
My gun-owning family — admittedly more my husband than me — falls into that middle ground. He chose to drop his NRA affiliation and his favored gun range when its mandatory NRA membership tipped from practical tips into political advocacy.
Apparently, he is not alone.
The National Rifle Association of America reported $98 million in contributions in 2017, down from nearly $125 million in 2016, according to The Daily Beast, even though it has in President Donald Trump a champion it helped elect. The NRA’s more than $128 million in dues last year was a drop from the $163 million it took in the year before, the report said.
On their own, states, such as Connecticut, where Sandy Hook shook residents, have enacted some form of stricter gun regulations since then, more than 200 gun-safety laws across the country.
When churches and synagogues now have to worry about security as well as saving souls, politicians and a weary public confronted with weekly instances of gun violence that flash into the headlines before making way for the next tragedy might be more willing to find a different solution, in which the NRA plays a part but is not in charge.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.
Watch: GOP Puts Border Security First in Lame Duck Agenda