The National Rifle Association and its primary spokesman Wayne LaPierre, owe the president an apology. I don't much care what LaPierre thinks of William J. Clinton as a man, but his remarks about the president of the country are simply out of bounds.
In case you missed it, LaPierre more or less said the president accepts and condones a certain level of gun violence in the U.S. because it provides a vivid background against which the president can wage his war for further controls on hand guns. I guess the NRA must feel President Clinton considers tragic accidental and intentional gunshot deaths necessary ``collateral damage:'' casualties that must be incurred if the gun control battle is to be won. Think about it. Do you really believe that any president, even this president, would coldly accept the deaths of children to further a political goal?
I have no high regard for the current occupant of the White House and I disagree with the Clinton/Gore approach to gun control. I also believe it's time for the rank-and-file membership of the NRA to take hold of the trunk of that organization and shake some of the ripe nuts from the top of the tree.
I grew up with guns and hunting. I own guns, including handguns and I hunt waterfowl and game birds. I also shoot trap, skeet and sporting clays and occasionally poke holes in paper targets. As a young man I grew up with the NRA and believed then, as I do now, that American's have a right to own firearms for sporting purposes. I guess the NRA and I parted ways when the organization began espousing the private, unfettered ownership of mortars, heavy machine guns, armored personnel carriers and support equipment for private armies.
My disappointment at the NRA's increasingly frantic ravings is due in part to the fact I have so many friends who are lifelong members of the NRA and who I know do not support some of the more extreme positions the organization has taken. I know others who, like me, simply dropped out. You should know that we are considered traitors by the hard core. I understand that and don't resent it I consider many of these folks to still be my friends and I still feel they are decent, law abiding citizens and members of the community.
``I don't need the right to own a Browning machine gun,'' I will argue to any of dozens of shooting pals.
``But, if we let them take away our right to own machine guns and mortars, the next thing they'll take will be our rifles and pistols,'' they counter.
And of course my NRA friends will hit me with the provisions of the U.S. Constitution which, depending on how you interpret the document, either give every citizen the right to own a firearm or give only those citizens constituting a militia the right to own ``and maintain'' a firearm. Despite my firm belief American's should have the right to own firearms for sporting purposes I tend to agree with those who maintain the Founding Fathers were referring only to a ``well regulated militia'' when they included that language in the Constitution.
My NRA friends insist the organization cannot give an inch or all is lost. I wonder if a more reasonable approach might lead some former NRA members back to the fold and improve the nation's image of the organization. After all, there was a time when NRA membership was high, members were proud of their affiliation with the nation's largest shooting organization and the average citizen more than likely saw the NRA in a positive light. What has happened?
I saw a poll several months back that indicated most Americans continue to support recreational hunting, fishing and target shooting. If we accept those results then it would appear Americans don't disapprove firearms for hunting. Other polls - the ones the NRA distrust the most - indicate American's feel something must be done about the easy availability of handguns. I believe the reason the NRA suspects some poll results is because they feel politicians, most recently led by President Clinton and Vice President Gore are hyping and pushing poll results to get the answers they want and to create an issue where none exists.
The NRA might want to take a stab at finding some kind of middle ground here because it is clear the Clinton administration intends to demonize the organization, and by reference all gun owners, throughout the coming campaign. The NRA's current argument, that the administration is not enforcing laws already on the books, is no doubt accurate. Unfortunately it appears popular only within the walls of the NRA castle - no one else is paying much attention.
I oppose most aspects of gun control for the simple reason they will not solve the perceived problem. Common sense tells me the fact I have a card on file indicating I own a certain handgun, is not going to stop tomorrow night's robbery at the convenience store. Keeping my name on file as owner of a handgun will not prevent a child from getting that gun and doing harm with it. Only I can do that. Would a trigger lock help? Sure, but only if I use it.
In situations where it is clearly proven a glut of handguns is going in to high crime areas - and it has happened - then steps should be taken to stop it. Rational gun owners should favor close monitoring of the manufacture and sale of the cheap ``assault style'' weapons favored by gangs. C'mon now NRA, those aren't for sporting purposes and you know it. We all know what they are made for.
I don't have the answer. But unless gun owners and those who support shooting sports want to see themselves as evil villains in the news every night somebody had better convince the NRA to attempt a fresh dialogue. It could begin with Wayne LaPierre apologizing to the president of the United States.
Warren W. Wiley, a former Juneau resident, political observer and radio personality, now lives in Montana. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.