Thursday, December 27, 2012

The NRA's Greatest Marketing Coup

You've got to hand it to the marketing brain trust at the NRA.  They turned Constitutional law into a marketing channel; they use the single greatest foundation of government into an endorser as if it were Peyton Manning. 

How they used the completely irrelevant Second Amendment to frame the gun debate demands study.  Moreover,  citizens serious about enacting meaningful gun legislation need to understand how to make the discussion more relevant. 

But first,  let's talk about SUVs.

For the two decades since SUVs became a mainstream family vehicle choice,  we have seen countless commercials featuring SUVs as action heroes.   We've seen them plow through snow drifts the size of garden sheds, ford rivers and tame mountains.  Needless to say,  few SUV drivers take on conditions nearly as menacing as those.   At worst, most contend with plowed roads a few times per year. 

However,  SUV manufacturers have done a great job of framing the debate--in this case,  the vehicle choice debate--around extreme capability at the expense of everyday utility.   While more modern crossover (CUV) vehicles have made improvements in fuel economy and rollover safety, they still tail the good old station wagon as, you know, cars. 

Similarly,  the NRA has made the gun debate about something that doesn't really matter,  the Second Amendment.

As news-watchers know, the Second Amendment establishes the right of citizens to own guns for the purposes of a “well-regulated militia.”  However, pundits disagree on the meaning of the militia bit.

Liberals, by and large, read “militia” as an outdated term referring to a time when able-bodied white men served their towns and villages by volunteering for part-time military service.  Now, of course, non-white men and non-men of all colors can join the National Guard, the logical descendant of the milita.  For that matter, the Second Amendment predates the establishment of a standing United States Army, so this country needed militia companies to defend itself.  No longer.

Meanwhile, gun proponents often interpret the Second Amendment as a warning to the Federal government.  In short, “don’t tread on us, we have guns.”  They see guns as a protector of personal liberty in the face of a potentially autocratic (and violent) government.  See thugs, jack-booted.

Lefties say po-TAY-to, righties say po-TAH-to, I say The National Firearms Act.

The National Firearms Act explains why we debate semi-automatic assault rifles (weapons that resemble Army service rifles but fire one bullet per trigger pull) and not machine guns (weapons that fire multiple bullets per trigger pull).  No sane person calls for greater distribution of machine guns.  Even the NRA has enough sense not to equate a “well-regulated militia” with personal ownership of machine guns.

And with good reason.  Congress enacted the National Firearms Act in 1934 after waves of gangster violence shook the country.  We, as a country, banned these guns from most private hands, save those who could jump through some very small licensing hoops.  More to the point, we did so without violating the Second Amendment.  It stands to reason that if Congress can limit ownership of dangerous weapons once, it can do so again with a similar act or an amendment of the previous act.  

Speaking personally, I believe we can make a good argument for, at least, banning assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, which have no value as hunting or personal defense weapons.  “Just because it’s fun” does not constitute, in my mind, a sufficient reason to allow them.  I think it would be fun to see how fast I can drive on the New Jersey Turnpike, but the law doesn’t allow that, either.

Eight decades later, the NRA has prevented discussion of banning assault weapons based on the Second Amendment.  They have successfully clouded the discussion by not bringing up the National Firearms Act because they know that amending an act of Congress requires less legislative fortitude than amending the Constitution of the United States.  Acts of Congress require only simple majorities in the House and Senate while amendments to the Constitution require two-thirds majorities.

In effect, the NRA has chosen to illustrate the gun argument with images of SUVs crossing the Mojave, not swallowing pallets of toilet paper from Costco.  It remains to the rest of the citizenry to put this discussion to right by bringing relevancy back.

Let us call, then, to discuss acts of Congress to limit ownership of assault weapons.  We have the tools, let’s do the work.  And let’s put the SUVs of the firearm world back on the shelf.

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