“Universal” background checks will never be “universal” because criminals won’t submit to them, and magazine bans will only put the law-abiding at a disadvantage against multiple attackers.
— David Keene, Past President, National Rifle Association

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In the news lately: a woman adjusting her bra holster shot herself in the head, a guy open-carrying the handgun he’d owned for one day had the gun stolen by an armed robber, Texas encourages guns on college campuses, and Ronald Reagan allegedly carried concealed well into his 80s after the attempt on his presidential life.

And there was a massacre in a South Carolina church.

As a gun owner, I’d like to think that four of those five headlines could have been avoided.

Let’s say there could be a national organization committed to gun safety and common sense. Such an organization could fight hard for intensive safety training for gun buyers, educate the gun-owning populace about the dangers of open carry, participate in a feasibility study about arming drunken frat boys, and help establish a timeline for gently disarming octogenarians suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The organization could be led by people with a formidable collective expertise about firearms, making it a trusted and respected go-to source on the subject. It could have a PR department skilled in reaching out to both sides of the trigger, but not afraid to take a clear stand on a particular side when the common welfare of everyone called for it. It could take these stands because it would be a gun owners’ association, an advocate for the sport and the hobby, and a responsible organizational citizen.

As such, it would never dream of acting as a lobbyist for the manufacturers. If anything, it would lobby the manufacturers to become members and adopt the organization’s platforms on safety, integrity, social responsibility, and civic sanity.

Such potential the NRA has pissed away.

But I don’t want to come across as being completely down on the National Rifle Association. I’m not the type to send donations every time the group has yelped for funds, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been a paying member.

As an idealist, I could cling to the memory of an organization that was once a proud model of personal integrity and civic responsibility. As a gun owner, I could look to the group’s non-political activities and see some really valuable resources still being offered to young people, hunters, trainers, range owners, safety officers, and a dozen other groups connected with shooting sports.

And besides, when I joined the NRA I got $2,500 worth of insurance for my guns, for free.

But as an average American, the organization makes me ill. It knows about the inadequate training and clueless buying and haphazard range regulation that goes on, but just try advocating changing any of that through legal requirements. Any lawmaker who does is slapped with an NRA-sanctioned TYRANT label, and the group’s full arsenal of political influence is brought to bear against the “gun-grabbing traitor.” (Go to the NRA-ILA web site, but have plenty of antacids on hand.)

In an ideal world where things make sense, a respected and respectable NRA could intervene in the name of safety and responsibility when, say, a reckless state lawmaker goes the other way and tries to remove any requirements for gun ownership, except maybe needing to solemnly recite the Second Amendment from memory. And it would intervene when that lawmaker ignores the advice of law enforcers who know, from decades of experience that a rookie-level legislator doesn’t have, what the fallout can be from gun laws conceived by dipshits.

But the NRA doesn’t intervene on behalf of anything that benefits or advances a civil society. Instead, it just rants and bellows and lies and threatens and makes fools of members like me. Which is why I’m not a member anymore.

Okay, wait. There was that one time, just a year or so ago, when the NRA actually spoke against certain gun owners and condemned a weekend flurry of open-carry wackos who carried their military-style rifles into Texas restaurants. Wisely, carefully, the NRA author of that online statement pointed out that scaring the living hell out of unarmed families is not an effective way to convert new souls to the gun cause.

The exact term that the NRA statement used for this activity was “downright weird.”

I had to agree that carrying ARs into Waffle Houses and causing customers to shit themselves was a bizarre way to try and make gun friends. But the extremists on the other side pushed back hard, and just 24 hours later the NRA erased its statement and blamed it on an “unauthorized” scribe who presumably would be executed immediately by an in-house firing squad.

It could have been the NRA’s finest hour. The organization could have used its powerful voice to project continued calm analysis of a stupid situation. A sudden turn toward rational leadership in a mini-crisis where leaders were needed could have brought swarms of new pro-gun converts into the nest. Hell, I would have re-upped my membership immediately and proudly. Go, NRA!

By rediscovering its long-lost main focus on safety and responsibility, the NRA could have refereed a conflict that will only become more dangerous. Unarmed bystanders will keep hurling insults and angry protests at ignorant armed madmen—and women—who threaten the unarmed and their families. And armed advocates will keep wanting to “educate” the ignorant unarmed about the safety and normality of military rifles in social settings.

Eventually one of the parties will find the continued conflict intolerable. Hint: it won’t be the unarmed that cause the resulting tragedy.

This is why the NRA tried to defuse the tension by telling the extremists to keep their rifles at home because the “education” campaign wasn’t working as intended, and never could. It was alienating the undecided and pushing fence-sitters over to the I Will Never Own a Gun Because Those Fuckers Are Crazy side of the divide.

For an all-too-brief moment in history, the NRA shined brightly as a voice of reason and guidance about a “rifles in your face” campaign that was misguided and self-defeating. But then, once again and literally overnight, the NRA ran away and resumed its usual mantra: People can perish. Profits are cherished.

As a gun owning NRA member, I didn’t want to fight against gun safety. I refused to swear allegiance to high-capacity ammo magazines. I wasn’t an automatic advocate for any firearms or munitions manufacturer just because it existed. And because I have a heart, I couldn’t go into a defensive posture every time a mass shooting happens, deflecting attention away from the pain others are experiencing and onto my own Second Amendment rights instead.

Which brings up the fifth headline. The one the NRA couldn’t prevent, and shouldn’t be blamed for. Yeah, a demonic member of its board suggested that the church pastor who was killed with eight parishioners shared responsibility for his own death, because he opposed guns in church. But listen to what an NRA spokesman said about that: “Board members do not speak for the NRA.”

Hear that? The NRA does not think the pastor shares responsibility. Those are the words, faint but visible, beneath the words. And some day, maybe, the NRA might actually say words like those again, publicly, and not retract them a day later.

The National Rifle Association can’t solve the lingering racism infecting the United States. It can’t stop a son of Satan from executing people he doesn’t know, but still hates.
But maybe it could reconsider calling itself “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization.” You know, out of respect for the actual Civil Rights movement that accomplished massive political change without any guns.

And here’s what else the organization could do: Instead of pretending to be a grass-roots group of hunters and farmers and “sportsmen” and shoving its paranoid screeds down members’ throats, the NRA should create a spinoff of itself like TV shows do. Maybe a Gunmakers Alliance Group (GAG) that runs as an independent subsidiary. The new organization could advocate for any extreme position that puts a few more dollars in manufacturers’ bottom lines, and it can feed paranoia about “multiple attackers” coming to get everyone in the night or, as Fox News is madly spinning, in their churches.

Imagine the advertising!

“Stop the gun-grabbers’ campaign to keep nursing mothers from owning the new Bushmaster ‘Breastfeeding Blaster.’ GAG.”

“Tell your representative you want a machine gun turret on your new Jeep. GAG.”

“Home invaders, meet the latest AR and AK families. GAG.”

“Today’s sermons will be given by Rev. Ruger and Pastor Glock. GAG.”

And the National Rifle Association, proud and true to its origins, could go back to focusing on saving lives and preventing accidental shootings and educating gun owners and advising lawmakers and collaborating with law enforcement. You know, things that made sense back when logic still existed.

Meanwhile, my nine guns will have to go without that nifty free insurance, because I’m out.

Exercising my rights that way feels like freedom.