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As a wise-ass intellectual from the big city, there are a slew of rural phenomena that I'll never truly be able to understand. Country music, chewing tobacco and the gun lobby are first and foremost among them.
The gun lobby, in my mind, is the most incomprehensible political movement in America today. I may disagree with right-to-lifers, socialist workers and environmental extremists, but at least I can understand to some extent where they're coming from. Why any rational citizen would insist on the unfettered right to own large-caliber assault weapons is beyond me. They may look pretty over the fireplace, but other than that, I don't see much practical use for them, unless you happen to be a drug dealer defending your turf or a psychotic, disgruntled employee who's decided that the moment of purification is at hand. The entire rationale behind the movement seems to be, "We need guns so we can defend ourselves when the federal government comes to take away our guns."
Leading the charge of the light-arms brigade is the National Rifle Association.
Before I go any further, I must admit to a secret shame in my past--I almost joined the NRA when I was an impressionable youngster. I happened to be the Camp Mah-Kee-Nac riflery champion, and at the tender age of 12 all I knew about the NRA was that they supplied the cool patches that read "Marksman" and "Marksman First Class." I also knew that the riflery counselor, an ex-Marine named Leigh and a genuinely cool guy, was a member of the NRA. (Though even in my naivete I was a bit disturbed by his tendency to wear a T-shirt adorned with a picture of an Uzi and the phrase, "Peace through superior firepower.")
As I racked up the awards, it began to occur to me that it might be cool to actually belong to the organization that supplied all those patches. Fortunately, my parents talked me out of it. I'm older and wiser now, and I know that the NRA is effectively a massive special interest group that lobbies to keep access to guns free and easy. I know that one of their officials referred to government agents last year as "jack-booted thugs." I know that they have millions of members and strong influence in Congress. But I still don't understand.
So, being a student in the information age, I decided to learn about the world in the most modern way possible; over the World Wide Web. The NRA homepage (www.nra.org) is very unassuming. It shows simply the organization's logo and a list of links, some with very progressive-sounding names such as "Women's Issues and Personal Safety," and "Refuse to be a Victim." At the top of the page is a slightly ominous link; larger than the rest and prominently displayed, it reads "1996 Preferred Candidates."
As you read through the various topics, it becomes clear that the NRA is stressing two main themes; good citizenship and the importance of our second-amendment rights. On the surface, this is hardly a disturbing agenda. But when one asks oneself why these people are so single-mindedly dedicated to the right to bear arms that they'll select their representatives based solely on their stance on this issue, something slightly darker emerges.
The second amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." This legislation was written in 1791, when our fledgling republic still had no regular army or stable government and was desperately afraid of losing its newly-found freedom to a foreign power. Today, we have a well-regulated militia--the U.S. armed forces--a stable government and hundreds of kids dying from gunshot wounds. Yet the gun lobby is desperate to carry the second amendment to the absurdity of letting any schmoe with a driver's license walk into a Wal-Mart and emerge with an assault rifle or handgun.
Perhaps the Web is not a better teacher than experience; after skimming the NRA's web site I know more about the organization, but ironically I understand less. This is the way of the world, I guess. There are some things we can never comprehend, no matter how hard we try. I wonder if the Michigan Militia has a home page.
David H. Goldbrenner's column appears on alternate Fridays.
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