In the aftermath of the mass murder in Las Vegas, the National Rifle Association has come up with a strategy to shut up the country (beyond telling everyone it’s “too soon”) and divert focus away from substantial gun legislation. It has signaled to its Republican dependents that they may agree to “review” administratively (not by legislative action, mind you!) the use of gizmos know as “bump stocks” that effectively convert a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic one. (The NRA insists that the Constitution protects semiautomatic but concedes that it does not cover automatic weapons. This raises the question: Where do they come up with this stuff?!) In a written statement, the NRA said it was “calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
There is something pathetic about grown men and women who hold federal office waiting to get instructions from the NRA before suggesting that they might be willing to discuss a laughably tiny move to regulate the bump stocks — but of course, not the semiautomatic weapons themselves nor the numbers of weapons one can buy for a personal arsenal. And perish the thought that the NRA might permit lawmakers to consider universal background checks.
The stubborn refusal to enact any meaningful reforms for fear of inconveniencing legal gun owners spurs otherwise sympathetic voices to demand drastic measures. (Bret Stephens decried half-measures, arguing, “Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones.”) When exasperated Americans demand big, bold steps, the NRA screeches that the government wants to take away your guns.
So let’s review the NRA’s ground rules:
- It’s too soon to talk about guns after a mass killing.
- It’s never too soon to defend the Second Amendment.
- It’s never appropriate to recommend a change in law unless it absolutely would have stopped the most recent mass murderer from slaughtering in the specific way that he did.
- It’s always about “mental health” — except when you are “block[ing] the Social Security Administration from reporting mentally impaired recipients to a national background-check database.”
- It’s possible to agree to frivolous changes that affect a fraction of potential cases.
- It’s constitutional heresy to suggest big changes.
- It’s fine to look for moral authority from pro-gun individuals who’ve been shot (and want no changes in law), but the worst kind of manipulation is to drag in pro-gun-regulation advocates who have been victims.
- It’s imperative that we stand up for the police — but not to ban body-armor-piercing ammunition.
The NRA/GOP strategy in this case tells lawmakers to do the bare minimum possible — regulate bump stocks — and then declare there is nothing more to be done. Democrats can either take NRA’s pitiful concession or pocket it and continue pushing for more. (Some progressives want much bolder action, while others insist that “policy proposals, such as expanding background checks, will both reduce gun deaths and play well with more voters.”)
Perhaps what Democrats need is different messengers. Country music has long been associated with a gun-owning culture, but that may be changing after the slaughter at a country music festival in Las Vegas.
[T]here are fissures within the country music community, with voices of dissent questioning loose gun laws, and doing so with full knowledge of likely reprisals by the gun lobby and blowback from some of the genre’s fiercest fans. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Caleb Keeter, the guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, which performed Sunday at the festival, posted on social media that the tragedy had already changed his mind on the need for gun control.
“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night,” he wrote. “I cannot express how wrong I was.”
Rising country singer Margo Price, in an interview Tuesday, said that she is a longtime gun owner – she used to live in a tent in Colorado and kept a shotgun to protect herself. But she also said that after Las Vegas, country artists need to use their credibility with rural and right-leaning voters to advocate for stricter gun control.
Successfully challenging the NRA’s absolutism is a stated goal for many Democrats from blue states. However, unless there is a change in sentiment within red America, no political shift is likely. With the horrific events in Las Vegas, perhaps more country music artists will engage on the issue to help change hearts and minds. What a tribute that would be to their courageous fans who risked their own lives to save friends and family during the worst mass shooting in modern American history.