Sunday, June 18, 2006

Changing landscapes

The NRA has been remarkably successful at forcing the debate over guns in society along their preferred lines of thinking. Gun ownership is a right, and any restrictions on how fast you can take possession of a firearm, how powerful that firearm can be, how much ammo it carries, and how easy it is for terrorists or gangs to get ahold of that gun are considered irrelevant in the modern political debate. Democrats, by pushing moderate federal limits on powerful firearms, managed to lose a lot of political juice at key moments in the '90s. It's notable that Democratic presidential candidates since then have all taken time to demonstrate their love for guns.

The resurgent Democratic Party in the Western states is pro-gun, Chairman Dean is pro-gun, and frankly, you'd think that the NRA had basically won the day.

But it turns out that abandoning what was seen as an absolutist position against guns entirely has opened the field for a moderate opponent to the NRA:
The NRA has between 3 and 4 million members. But there are between 77 and 90 million total gun-owners in the United States, according to varying industry estimates.

Of that total, 30 percent of gun-owners said they would support an alternative organization -- if there was a viable group that would advocate gun rights and do more to support conservation and improved relations with law enforcement, according to a detailed poll of gun owners conducted in 2005 by KRC Research.

Now stepping into that space is the American Hunters and Shooters Association. The new group is "pro-gun, pro-conservation, pro-safety," as executive director Robert Ricker explains.
In the end, I think this is good. Gun control in some form is necessary to keep terrorists and gang members from being able to outgun the police or military. And that control has to respect our national tradition of liberalism. The NRA skillfully portrayed the Brady Bill as illiberal, and played on people's fears of the government. A more nuanced, more cautious approach that doesn't sacrifice everything, including national security and our natural heritage, on the altar of one constitutional amendment is a welcome sign. There's a serious conversation to be had about guns, and the NRA's political power has largely squashed that.

So if you care about gun rights and the environment, check out American Hunters and Shooters.