Gun control discussions, myths

Published 12:00 pm Monday, June 20, 2016

By Charlie Mitchell

Today’s National Rifle Association is a trade association — protecting manufacturers — yet masquerades as a grassroots citizen rights movement.

Today’s NRA has convinced legions of people that the Second Amendment is absolute or near-absolute when in fact the making and selling of firearms is one of the most regulated industries in the world.

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And guess what. Many of the controls were requested or passed with the endorsement of the NRA back, as the young folks say, in the day.

Remember how Lee Harvey Oswald obtained the rifle used to assassinate President Kennedy in 1963?

Through the mail. (The ad was actually in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine.)

Guess who testified before Congress in support of a total ban on mail-order sales? Why, a fellow named Franklin Orth, executive vice president of the NRA.

The ban on mail-order rifles didn’t pass until 1968, and when it did there were other changes. For the first time, guns were required to have serial numbers. There was a minimum age to buy, felons and the mentally ill were not allowed to own firearms and only federally licensed dealers could ship across state lines.

That 1968 law was the single largest regulatory move in 50 years, but it was not the first. The National Firearms Act passed in 1934 and the National Gun Control Act (yes, that’s its name) passed in 1938.

It was the era of Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and the birth of the Thompson Automatic Rifle.

Before the 1938 law was passed, the president of the National Rifle Association was invited to testify, to advise Congress. What did Karl T. Frederick say? “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

Much has changed.

About 40 years ago, the NRA, which had been founded in 1871 by two former Union Army generals, was co-opted and starting concocting the absolutist narrative that prevails today. In sum, the NRA has sold us on the idea that even discussing a reform is an incremental step toward what government really wants — an unarmed and vulnerable citizenry.

No lobby has more power in the Mississippi Legislature than the NRA. It gets what it wants. Records of boating accidents are open to the public. Reports are made when a hunter falls from a tree stand. But if there’s a firearms accident, the record is sealed. Why? To lessen the likelihood that people will come to believe guns are … dangerous.

In Mississippi, anybody can sue anybody for anything, right? No. A weapons manufacturer has absolute, statutory immunity from any lawsuit — except if a weapon fails to function. Why does the state have such a law? Because the NRA wanted it.

So many myths. If government comes after us, we’ll need to resist. Guess what? If the darkest day comes and America declares war on its people, a guy sitting at a computer console in Colorado can send a rocket down the stovepipe of Bubba’s bunker in Decatur and wipe out Bubba, regardless of the size of his gun collection and his stockpile of ammo, in half a blink.

Of course, it’s just as nutty that some people let themselves believe guns cause violence. And it’s even nuttier that people bicker like banshees over whether an AR-15 is automatic or semi-automatic, whether it is an assault rifle or an assault-styled rifle or invoke, with authority, that a Sig Sauer (not an AR-15) was used in the Orlando massacre.

The truth — the relevant truth — is that the nation already has a bevy of restrictions on nearly every aspect of private ownership of weapons, and a discussion of whether it would be smart to make additional changes is well past due. In fact, it’s what a responsible society would already be doing if the gun-sellers’ association wasn’t sharing so much of its profit with lawmakers and had not convinced so many that government’s end game is to enslave us all.

Owning a gun is a right, an important right — a constitutional right. It must be respected. But for people who enjoy rapid-fire weapons, why not ban ownership but license target ranges to provide them for on-premises sport?

At one time, the National Rifle Association backed calm, fact-based measures and stood foursquare for responsibility.

That doesn’t happen today because Job 1 is to protect the industry.

That allows sales records to be broken at gun shops.

And cemeteries, too.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at