Today’s New York Times, which consistently maintains an embattled institutional posture on private gun ownership, today includes a highly unusual editorial astonished at the fact — well-known to anyone who knows the gun world — that people who own firearms aren’t all mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers.
People who own guns are as heterogenous as people who own cars or frying pans or hair dryers. Some are deeply passionate about the Second Amendment and its putative sanctity, the sort, like ex-NRA president Charlton Heston once famously said, would only see their firearms pried from their cold, dead hands.
Others, many others, are as deeply horrified by gun violence, even while they own firearms, as anyone who’s never even touched a Glock. I learned this firsthand after spending a few years focused on Americans and their guns, for my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books, 2004). I spoke to 104 men, women and teens from 29 states, ages 13 to 70.
I’ve never owned a gun nor felt the desire to do so, but, after those many long thoughtful conversations — with everyone from legislators like Carolyn McCarthy to Olympic shooters to victims of gun violence — I understand why it’s appealing to the many Americans who feel that way — 30 percent of American homes contain a gun.
Writes the Times:
Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz’s curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.
Mr. Luntz queried 832 gun owners, including 401 card-carrying N.R.A. members, in a survey commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the alliance of hundreds of executives seeking stronger gun laws. In flat rebuttal of N.R.A. propaganda, the findings showed that 69 percent of N.R.A. members supported closing the notorious gun-show loophole that invites laissez-faire arms dealing outside registration requirements.
Even more members, 82 percent, favored banning gun purchases to suspects on terrorist watch lists who are now free to arm. And 69 percent disagreed with Congressionally imposed rules against sharing federal gun-trace information with state and local police agencies.
These findings strike at some of the N.R.A.’s most sacred shibboleths. The survey questionnaire, devoid of boilerplate alarums about threatened gun rights, found some plain reason at work. It is clear that most members still oppose policies like a national gun registry. But 86 percent of gun owners also agreed that more could be done to “stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.” And 78 percent of N.R.A. members said they should be required to report stolen guns to the police — to combat another source of underground arms dealing.
Not everyone who owns a firearm, contrary to the Times’ position, is a “gun nut.” But moderates remain, sadly and problematically, invisible, which is why the editorial is worth doing and reading. There are few issues more politically divisive. But both sides’ leaders told me privately — off the record — they feel there’s much to discuss and many concerns they share. Budging from their stances publicly, though, would alienate their constituencies. Many gun-owners feel passionately they are losing their rights and fear future legislation, while those who represent the concerns of those affected by gun violence, whether survivors of a loved one’s suicide or death in a crime, know their membership looks to them with equal fervor to do the right thing.
Legislators are caught in the middle. One of the challenges of anyone opposing the NRA is the complexity of nuance. There are many anti-violence groups, each of which have slightly different views and stances. As a result, their voices are often lost in the shouting match whenever legislators try to enact new, powerful laws.
Moderation wins no votes, doesn’t make for tidy bumper stickers, rarely prompts people to whip out their checkbooks and write four or five-figure donations to the organization of their choice — whether the National Rifle Association or the Brady Campaign.
Subtlety doesn’t sell.