NRA is out of step with gun owners, voters

Wayne’s at it again.

In a string of recent speeches and TV appearances, the National Rifle Association’s chief spokesman has continued to demonstrate that the Washington gun lobby is wildly out of step with the millions of American gun owners it claims to represent.

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From CPAC to “Meet the Press,” Wayne LaPierre — who once argued for expanding the gun background check system — has been asserting that comprehensive checks for all gun sales would lead to a national firearms registry. “And when another tragic opportunity presents itself,” he says, “that registry will be used to confiscate your guns.”

Back home on planet Earth, federal law explicitly forbids creating a registry of gun owners. Our Constitution guarantees the right to keep a gun at home for self-defense. And federal law enforcement officers who lack the resources to inspect gun dealerships more than once every 10 years are not well-positioned to confiscate 300 million firearms, should the mood one day strike.

LaPierre knows all this. But saying so wouldn’t serve his goals: raising money and selling guns.

For a generation, the NRA’s Washington lobbyists have drifted further and further from their own rank and file. The latest example: As the Washington office flip-flops on background checks, three-quarters of NRA members favor expanding the system to include all private sales.

The reality is that there is a broad and durable consensus among American gun owners that with rights come responsibilities. I learned this early from my father, a licensed firearms dealer in Colorado, who worked hard not to sell guns to bad guys. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, gun owners believe that support for the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with keeping guns away from dangerous people. 

That’s why in the immediate aftermath of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., some of the most vocal advocates for common-sense reforms came from gun owners themselves — from Joe Manchin to Mark Kelly.

Chief among these reforms is finally requiring an instant criminal background check for every gun sale. Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, the seriously mentally ill, domestic abusers and other dangerous people from obtaining firearms. And they do nothing to infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun buyers.

States that require background checks for all handgun sales have 48 percent less gun trafficking, 49 percent fewer gun suicides and 38 percent fewer domestic violence homicides.

More than 98 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a dealer who can easily perform these checks. They take a couple of minutes. They save lives.

They protect sellers from putting guns in the hands of people we all agree have no business owning them. If that’s a “burden,” what kind of person wouldn’t gladly bear it? 

Even so, in a large majority of states, prohibited purchasers can easily avoid these checks by buying guns from unlicensed private sellers who are not required by federal law to conduct them. As a result, an estimated 6.6 million guns are sold each year with no paperwork and no questions asked.

Criminals are fully aware of this loophole. A survey of prison inmates who committed crimes with handguns found that 80 percent of them got those guns through private transfers.

More than 90 percent of Americans want the system fixed — so what’s stopping Congress?

Some lawmakers apparently still believe the NRA’s lobbyists speak for the country’s gun owners. When LaPierre falsely claims that background checks will become “a universal federal nightmare,” some members of Congress are under the impression that he’s representing the will of Manchin, Kelly and 100 million American gun owners.

They’re wrong.

The NRA leadership speaks only for itself now — and for the vanishingly small number of people who compare governors to Adolf Hitler, and who devote their time, their resources and their sacred honor to preserving a status quo in which 33 more people are murdered by guns every day in America, the indispensable nation.

Our bipartisan coalition of more than 900 Mayors Against Illegal Guns is committed to achieving sensible reforms that gun owners support and the country deserves. Standing alongside us are law enforcement leaders, gun violence survivors, faith leaders, domestic violence opponents, hunters and a nearly unanimous American public.

Working together, we will achieve the gun policy reforms this generation of Americans needs — and deserves.

Glaze is director of the national bipartisan coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns.