Letter To The Editor

The writer on November 12 finds fault with the opinions stated on October 8th, that the N.R.A. has sponsored too many American guns. The N.R.A., she believes, protects us from criminals and from the “bureaucracies” like Germany and Russia.

I beg to differ. Constitutional Democracies, I submit, have proven themselves to have one thing in common. Someone will test the limits of every constitutional right. Like the deep water natural divers who go down without equipment to prove how deep they can dive and still come back alive, the only way they can prove the limit is to go beyond it. We only know he went beyond the limit when a body floats to the surface. And if he’s serious, sooner or later, it does.

Who would argue that every constitutional right doesn’t have a logical, legal limit? If that’s true, don’t we simply disagree about where the limit is? Why ascribe personal weakness to the motives of those who put those limits in a different place?

A hundred years ago Americans thought labor had an absolute right to organize. In exercising that right, labor proved that it could bring management to its knees. We learned that no one benefitted from stopping industry. We started, through politics, to limit the rights of labor to organize. We also limit, by law, the right of management to control labor. We hope we found a balance.

Isn’t it true that the forward edge of any legal right is the place where it begins to be destructive to others?

Too many years ago I ran for office in this county. Marion Hammer, now the national president of the N.R.A., asked me whether I would support any limitation on the right to bear arms. I told her that I had served in the army artillery, that I had many guns myself, but that I would support some limits on the right to bear arms. Coincidentally the example I used to her was that a civilian shouldn’t ride down out streets with a 50-caliber machine gun. That weapon will penetrate a brick wall. I don’t want my neighbor having that gun sticking out his bedroom window, or his car.

Within days I began to get calls from my N.R.A. friends asking why I didn’t support the second amendment. The N.R.A found me unacceptable for its support, gave its endorsement to my opponent, and I lost the election.

This week, on Eglin Parkway, a civilian jeep passed me with a 50-caliber weapon mounted on a gun rack pointed forward of the vehicle. I presume, not loaded. I presume, without any evidence, driven by a reasonably sane person who simply wanted to test the limit of his second amendment rights. Like the deep water diver, the only way to test my presumption is by being wrong.

It is not a weakness of a constitutional system that every right must be limited by reason. No society can work with an unfettered exercise of any right.

Do not mistake who the N.R.A. is. It is not a charitable organization whose purpose is to debate second amendment rights. Its purpose is to create a new norm in which it is common for the public to expect multi-round clips in large caliber, automatic weapons and silencers available to anyone who wants one. That’s not to condemn as radical every member of the N.R.A. I suspect the weapons industry dictates the N.R.A.’s goals, not each member. But the deranged guy on the 32nd floor in Las Vegas was shooting with a weapon that would have been illegal when I spoke with the N.R.A. President 30 years ago. The success of the “new norm” urged by the N.R.A. is that it hides behind the argument that the second amendment has no bounds. Then it gathers contributions from its members by insisting that anyone who disagrees wants to take all guns away.

After Las Vegas, Texas, and so many others, past and future, elected officials scared to death by the money and strength of the N.R.A. will parrot statements like “guns don’t kill people, people do,” and when things go wrong, “we must keep those families in our thoughts and prayers.” I submit that’s like coastal cities and counties granting building permits in flood zone areas, then praying it doesn’t rain. When the floods come we have again, elected officials’ thoughts and prayers. I say thoughts and prayers work for something unavoidable, not for predictable outcomes from failure to set boundaries.

The N.R.A, like the deep-water diver, and like labor and management, will temper their aims only when forced to do so by people willing to impose reasonable boundaries.