Mike Littwin: The NRA quietly gives us something to talk about
October 7, 2017
Now that the White House, Congress and NRA are talking about guns and the Las Vegas massacre, I guess that means it's officially no longer too soon for the rest of us to talk about them.
So, let's talk bump stocks.
Before Stephen Paddock took 12 bump stocks to his Las Vegas hotel room, along with his legally purchased 23 guns, I had never heard of them. I'm guessing you hadn't either. Most descriptions I see of bump stocks include the word "obscure." They're sold at places like the website stackingbodies.com (h/t Grand Junction Daily Sentinel).
They're used in order to make semiautomatic rifles work more like automatic rifles. Paddock used them, of course, to make it easier to kill more people more quickly. Sadly, it seems they worked. As you know, he killed 58 and wounded nearly 500 before the police got to his room and he killed himself.
In the wake of the massacre, Republican politicians are lining up in possible support of a ban — Cory Gardner is open to the idea, but, of course, first needs more information. Even the NRA, which never wants to ban anything related to guns, has said it might be time for closer regulation — although, as Wayne LaPierre has stressed, not for a ban — for the bump stocks.
So, should we ban them? Of course. It's hard enough to justify them in any case, and the last thing anyone wants is a Las Vegas copycat. But the fact that the NRA is basically willing to dump bump stocks shows just how obscure they are and how minor a role they play in the greater gun-violence debate. But it shows something else, too — the NRA wants to ban bump stocks without, you know, making a big deal of it.
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Here's my guess. Donald Trump will follow the NRA's advice and regulate the bump stocks out of commission — after all, machine guns are already illegal — and Republicans will move on, saying they have taken care of the problem.
But there's at least one problem with that scenario as the NRA and its congressional allies know. Once you concede that you can pass a law, or change a regulation, to make the nation safer from gun violence, you have conceded that, yes, you can pass a law or change a regulation that will make the nation safer from gun violence. It's the NRA's long-feared slippery slope. It's the reason the group never agrees to even the most sensible gun restrictions.
That's why the NRA is ready to give bump stocks up without a fight, just so long as Congress doesn't get in the way and start, well, debating the issue. Because, as the polls repeatedly tell us, people overwhelmingly support what gun-control people like to call commonsense gun laws. The fewer the facts, the fewer the questions, the better. That's why there's such a thing as the "Dickey Amendment," which has prevented the Centers for Disease Control from even studying gun violence for fear of losing funding.
I mean, the dumbest thing you hear people say about guns — other than that we need them to prevent government tyranny, as if reducing magazine size reduces your chances in a brush-up with the U.S. Army — is that laws don't work. Look at Chicago, they say. If gun laws worked, Chicago wouldn't have such horrific gun violence. You could just as easily say the same about laws against murder. Look at Chicago, if laws against murder worked, it wouldn't have such a horrific murder rate.
Of course laws work. That's the NRA fear. If it's shown that laws could reduce gun violence and gun deaths — according to the Gun Violence Archive, it takes 28 days in Chicago to match those 58 gun deaths; those victims, by the way, are overwhelmingly poor, black and male — people might insist that politicians try to do something about the issue.
If we start talking about guns, we then have to address the 11,815 gun deaths (not including suicides) so far this year. The New York Times has compiled a list of potential gun laws, their usefulness as seen by experts and their support in the general public. For example, 89 percent support universal background checks and the experts give it a 6.5 effectiveness rate on a 10-point scale. Seventy-three percent support checks for ammo buyers. Experts give that a 6.5 rating, too. The list is long and worth reading.
The NRA knows every one of these numbers. The Pew Research Center has polled gun owners, of whom, gulp, 54 percent support creating a federal database for tracking gun sales. Nearly half of gun owners want to ban assault rifles. The NRA knows these numbers, too.
I'm not naive. I wrote the other day that nothing would change after the Las Vegas massacre. Getting rid of bump stocks is a good idea, should it happen, but it's hardly fundamental.
But the talking, that's something different. If the NRA is now worried simply by having the conversation, that gives anyone concerned by the issue a way to contribute. Just by opening your mouth.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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