My wife asked me at dinner last night: "Why is the NRA so powerful?" It's not just because they have sophisticated quick-response member outreach and a powerful media presence. It's also that they represent extreme people with guns. I recounted to Joanne a conversation I had with a Waterbury legislator whom I lobbied for the assault weapons ban. He sympathized with my issue, he allowed. But then he told me about being accosted in a bar by a constituent who was frothing-at-the-mouth angry at him about something, and emphasized that he had a gun. Although the representative didn't put it quite this way, he was so scared he nearly peed his pants. Some guys will threaten a politician with a ballot; others with a bullet. Who's scarier?
Historians and social scientists argue that one of the principal markers of the advancement of civilization is that the government maintains a monopoly on deadly force. Thanks to the gun lobby, this is no longer so in the United States--explicitly so in the numerous states with "stand-your-ground" laws. In a country where you can legally kill if you feel threatened, government becomes de facto the man with a gun. Effectively, we live in a vigilanarchy: rule by--or rather anarchy by--vigilantes.
Sixteen years ago, Congress passed a ban on the private ownership of semiautomatic weapons; now, there is not even a hint of a debate about restricting high-capacity magazines, which turn every shooter into a potential mass murderer. You cannot simultaneously believe in the supremacy of government and the right of private individuals to own 100-round magazines. And to their credit, most hard-core gun rights activists are fairly up-front about their contempt for government.
Just because they have a contempt for government, however, doesn't mean they don't want to control it. It is highly significant that the NRA made last week's failed Senate vote on disclosure of campaign contributors a litmus test. Why is a vote for transparency in campaign money a vote against the gun lobby?
Work on that.