Time for the NRA to Step Up

Another mass shooting happens in Orlando and all the predictable responses emerge like 17 year cicadas. “Ban assault weapons.” “If someone had been armed, they could have stopped it.”

Some of these responses are worthwhile and some are nonsense. I’m not going to rehash them. There will be plenty of people doing that over the next few days or weeks, with the usual results: not much.

Let’s try something new. Let’s ask the NRA to step up.

I don’t mean the leadership. That won’t happen. Take executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre: in office for 25 years, earning around $970,000 per year as of the 2010 IRS filing. He just might have a vested interest in appealing to the crowd that pays his salary, rather than approaching this situation with compassion and common sense. Fear-mongering is very good business.

So when I say “the NRA,” I mean the millions of regular members. Lots of them sport the bumper sticker that says “I am the NRA.” That’s right, you are. You’re the ones we need the most right now, not LaPierre or board members such as Motor City Madman Ted Nugent.

I have a suggestion for you, the members of the NRA.

But first, let me establish some credibility here. I am a gun owner, somewhere between the person who owns one gun for personal protection and a real collector. I’d rather not publicly advertise how many I own, but it’s more than a few. Handguns, rifles, shotguns. I handload ammo for about ten different calibers. I’ve worked part-time as a range safety officer and salesperson at my local range. I like to hunt. It’s nothing for me to put 1,000 rounds down-range in an average month (I keep stats.) I have a concealed carry license. I’ve shot an elephant gun (not at an elephant, I was helping a custom builder sight it in at the range.) My favorite pistol is the Browning Hi-Power. My favorite revolver is the .44 Special. My favorite shotgun is a 16 gauge L.C. Smith side-by-side (belonged to my great-grandfather.) And I own an AR-15, because it’s very accurate, ammunition is readily and inexpensively available, and I never tire of the recoil as I do with some larger calibers.

I’ve been a member of the NRA for many, many years.

So here are my suggestions for you, the NRA rank and file:

1. Stop listening to that blowhard, LaPierre. We should have gotten rid of him after the “jackbooted thugs” comment back in 1995. He’s making huge money, preying on your fears. Who knows if he even believes half of that nonsense, so long as it keeps the money – your money – rolling in.
(Maybe the good, kind, level-headed members of the NRA board, and there are many, could find someone else for the job. This is the only suggestion I have for the leadership.)

2. We already have background checks for all sales through an FFL (federally licensed firearms dealer, for the non-gunnies in the crowd.) Why not background checks for all sales? Go to an FFL, pay a small fee, he or she runs a check, it’s done. I sure don’t want to risk selling a firearm to a criminal or someone with a disqualifying mental condition, do you? Here in NC, and I believe we’re not the only ones, if you have a concealed carry license, you don’t have to have a background check because you’ve already jumped through all the hoops. Good enough.

3. We have to take training to get a concealed carry license. It’s a great idea. I learned a lot. Why not have training for any firearms owner? It would make that argument about the meaning of “well-regulated militia” carry a lot more weight, wouldn’t it?

4. If, as we know, guns can be the only means for the small, the frail, or the sickly to protect themselves, that very capacity is what makes them so deadly in the hands of these murderers. It’s not enough to point out how many millions of us don’t use them for crime. It doesn’t erase the slaughter caused by those who do. We have to accept this ghastly truth. While we know that the Clinton-era assault weapons ban had no measurable impact, we could re-visit the idea. Maybe handle it like silencers: pay a one-time fee, get a letter from your local sheriff. Again, it’s not that different from what we did to get a concealed carry license, so why make a fuss about it?

5. Something needs to be done about the mental health part of this issue. Gun owners always like to pint out how often these mass shootings are due to mental health issues, and often they are. It’s way not enough to just point it out. In fact, it’s rank hypocrisy to say it’s a mental health problem and do nothing about the problem. I am a licensed mental health professional. I diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. I know for a fact that our mental health system is so broken that it’s not a system at all. Very few of our states have anything that comes close to meeting the need. The much-ballyhooed lobbying power of the NRA (that’s you and me, remember, not the leadership) could make a powerful difference in ensuring that mental illness doesn’t go untreated.

6. Speaking of mental health, something needs to be done about the place on the form we fill out when purchasing a weapon (the 4473) that asks whether we have a disqualifying mental condition. How easy would it be to lie? Nothing easier. So we need a national registry. There are some requirements for that: it needs to be as complete as possible, it needs to protect confidential health information, and it needs safeguards to prevent unwarranted inclusion on the list. Those are all achievable, and I have ideas about how it could be done. This isn’t the place to go into details. My point in all of this is to say that if the genuinely good people of the NRA want to be taken seriously by our neighbors, we need to be asking for these things as strongly as we resist encroachment on our Second Amendment rights.

7. Finally, stop with all the rumor-mongering already. For instance, so many of you started stockpiling everything even remotely firearms-related when Barack Obama was elected President, prices skyrocketed on guns, most ammunition became scarce or unavailable (including the lowly .22LR), and even primers were almost impossible to find. And yet over 7 years have gone by, and Obama hadn’t taken a single gun from any of us. If you don’t feel foolish by now, you must be living in fantasy land.

None of these suggestions involve registration, confiscation, or banning a specific class of arms. They take what we’re already doing to the next step, that’s all.

I know, from years of being around fellow “gun nuts,” that the overwhelming majority of us are good, decent people. Educated. Hard-working. Reliable neighbors. Community-minded. Fun-loving. Kind to children, animals, and the down-and-out. The average scared-of-guns sort of person doesn’t know that we live right next door because they feel perfectly safe around us.

Words can no longer convey the desolation I feel over the innocent people being lost to this violence. I’d like to say more, but I just don’t know how.

If we don’t come up with ways to try to reduce these heart-wrenching tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the Pulse shooting, eventually people who don’t know the first thing about us or our guns will do it for us. It’s not enough to express our grief over the senseless loss and chant “More guns, less crime.” I’ve said that myself. Now, I’ve had to stop and look for better solutions, because it rings more and more hollow with every drop of blood. Sooner or later, sooner rather than later, that blood will be on our hands if we keep on selfishly doing nothing.

Gringo Liberation Theology: A Course Correction

A slight but important course correction to the series formerly called North American Liberation Theology:

It struck me the other day that, although I’ve addressed the issue of diversity a couple of times in these posts, the title was misleading. “North Americans” are a broad mixture of race and ethnicity. North Americans can be Afro-American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic, Creole, Middle Eastern, etc.

I wanted to create a dialog specifically for members of the dominant culture in North America. I want us to realize that, despite our privilege, we have a very real stake in being part of a movement for justice and freedom across lines such as race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or creed. I wanted those of us who are people of faith to have our participation in this movement firmly grounded in that faith.

Using the term “North American” may have made sense in some way. That way would be looking outwards, from within the dominant culture. To do this well, I have to recognize when I’m doing that and try to change. I want to be one with my brothers and sisters across all those lines. I want out of these barriers. That’s one of the reasons we in the dominant culture need to adopt a liberation mentality, to free ourselves from those gilded cages while allying with others who are liberating themselves from the chains the dominant culture has imposed.

So as a step in this direction, and with tongue in cheek, I’ve renamed North American Liberation Theology “Gringo Liberation Theology.” Makes it a little more clear who I’m trying to reach. I went back and changed parts of the earlier essays. Tell me what you think.