Now, as the National Rifle Association prepares begins its 142nd annual meeting in Houston this weekend, the Houston Chronicle has published Kelley's op-ed. Kelley chastises the organization's leadership and praises the good sense of its members who polls say support expanded background checks:
The NRA's two best fundraising months of the past year came immediately following the shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. Guns fly off the shelves after tragedies because [NRA executive vice president Wayne] LaPierre and the gun manufacturers he represents exploit people's fears. In return, gun manufacturers gave LaPierre and the NRA tens of millions of dollars last year alone—and he spent almost $1 million of it on his own salary. Everyone in the gun lobby gets rich when the gun manufacturers sell the most guns.New leadership at the NRA taking the organization back to its roots would certainly benefit the nation and the NRA's rank and file. But, as Hunter sadly recounts the new leader the NRA has just picked is far loonier than who has replaced.
And that's why LaPierre and the rest of the leadership of the NRA and other gun organizations are spending so much of their time wild-eyed, preaching possible government confiscations. It's because they don't want the membership to notice they've turned their backs on the very safety measures, like background checks, that the organization used to stand for—in exchange for cold hard cash. [...]
It seems to me that the time is right for a new generation of leaders within the NRA. Maybe some of you are here this weekend in Houston. We can't wait to work with you to protect our Second Amendment rights and keep our kids safer.
As anyone who has visited a shooting range or a gun store or an online chat forum over the past few months knows, the NRA's decades of fear-mongering about gun grabbers has had a huge impact on the views of many gun owners. Even so, the majority of them, like an even larger majority of Americans overall, supports changes in the law that would make it more difficult for convicted criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to obtain firearms. The highest support goes to imposing a universal background check for all, or almost all, gun purchases.
Although the NRA explicitly states that its battle to crush new gun regulations isn't over, its leaders, new and old, will no doubt be doing a few victory dances this weekend. But while having enemies like the moderate Kelley and Gifford taking them on may not worry them yet, poll after poll after poll after poll after poll show voters are not happy with senators who opposed background checks. Not just mild objections. For instance, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is being pummeled in public forums for her vote.
What's needed now is not an even more watered down background check than Manchin-Toomey was. A simpler, straightforward expansion of checks to private gun transactions based on the existing system on commercial sales makes more sense. It would avoid concerns about record-keeping that helped sandbag the Manchin-Toomey compromise bill and would not limit checks just to gun shows and internet sales. It would also have the advantage of being fair by making all gun sales subject to the same rules.
If the Senate (and the House) can't see their way to expanding background checks, then Mark Kelley's line about the need for new leadership at the NRA ought to be made to apply to stubborn opponents in Congress as well, making reality out of Giffords's promise of "consequences."