From the perspective of gun manufacturers, “we have a right to bear arms in case we have to shoot the agents of our government” is a rather inconvenient truth on which to capitalize given our current pro-state political and social environment, and so the gun lobby is tempted to satisfy itself by focusing solely on the tangential aspects of the right to bear arms. The danger here is twofold. First, it removes the primary and philosophical underpinning of the Second Amendment entirely out of the discussion, which allows for consequentialist arguments about practicality and compromise to dominate the landscape. Second, because of the immense power wielded by the NRA, its steadfast refusal to focus on the real purpose of the Second Amendment relegates the philosophy of the Constitution to “fringe” status in the political discourse. Gun rights advocates are duped into following the NRA’s lead, and anti-gun advocates are given a false impression about what the debate is about in the first place.
The NRA has repeatedly chosen to resolve this tension in favor of the financial incentives of the gun lobby, and that decision has had a corrosive effect on the gun rights debate in America.
That’s why authoritarians like Piers Morgan get to grandstand against guns unmolested by the fact that the true reason we are entitled to keep and bear arms is so that, unlike Her Majesty’s subject Mr. Morgan, Americans have the chance to live by no man’s leave.
That’s why so few even blink an eye at a supposed “advocate” of the Second Amendment like Mr. LaPierre recommending the drastic expansion of the police state. The debate has completely run off its philosophical rails, and the NRA is largely responsible for that (much more responsible than video games, music videos, and hurricanes, at least).
This is not to say that the NRA is worthless, or that its threat to gun liberty is even intentional. I do, however, exhort people on both sides of the gun rights debate to stop using the NRA as the authoritative voice for Second Amendment advocacy. Insofar as the financial interests of the gun lobby overlap the mandates of the Second Amendment, the NRA is and has long been a force for good. But when the interests of the industry and the philosophy of the Second Amendment conflict, the NRA has long chosen its pocketbook over its principles.
The Second Amendment, like all of our rights, deserves a better spokesman than that.
Adam Bates received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Miami (FL) in 2007, and a J.D. and M.A. in Middle Eastern & North African Studies from the University of Michigan in 2011.