I find myself in the uniquely uncomfortable position of defending a bill that I do not particularly support, but the attacks on this legislation and the NRA are so outrageous and unfounded that I can not simply stand by and let them go unanswered. Anyone who is familiar with me and my family knows that we have never been reticent to kick NRA in the shins when they get off track and I am definitely no blind NRA minion. In this instance, I am frustrated that NRA entered into this deal knowing that it would be contentious within the gun rights community, but charged ahead heedless of objections and determined to keep all other players away from the negotiating table. NRA's disrespect and dismissal of the gun rights grassroots continues to be one of their biggest problems and will be the organization's downfall if they don't take corrective action.
Since I oppose the whole concept of NICS, I cannot support a bill that offers more money to the program. At the same time, NICS is a fact of life that is not likely to change any time soon and there are serious problems with the system that need to be rectified; H.R.2640 answers some of those problems without generating any new ones. An earlier version of the bill took the price-tag through the roof and incorporated a number of other problematic programs which led to our strong opposition of that version. The final version still opens the door to too much spending, but has corrected most of the other problems and answered most of the major concerns. For those reasons, while I still can't support it, I do not oppose this final version. I do oppose NRA's cavalier and arrogant attitudes and tactics and I oppose the unfounded "sky is falling" hyperbole of opponents to this legislation; both are seriously detrimental to the gun rights movement – much more damaging than this bill.
After the last minute revisions, there seem to be only two major sticking points that keep people grousing about the bill:
1. That it was based on a bill originally introduced by Carolyn McCarthy and Chuck Schumer – the two most active anti-gunners in the Congress.
2. The incorporation of the phrase, "court, board, commission, or other lawful authority," for determining whether a person has a "mental defect" or is "mentally incompetent."
Anyone who bases their opposition to a bill on who else supports it is simply an idiot. Politicians support or oppose legislation for a variety of reasons and using that support or opposition as a guide is asinine. Barbara Boxer was a leader of the fight to allow guns back into the cockpits of commercial aircraft; she has never seen a gun control scheme she didn't like. Should the gun rights community have opposed that effort because Boxer supported it? Schumer and McCarthy support H.R.2640 because it allows them to claim they are "doing something" about tragedies like Virginia Tech and pour more money into a favorite program, but their support is absolutely irrelevant. What matters is what the bill actually says and will do.
The phrase, "court, board, commission, or other lawful authority," has been the standard for many years and while it has been abused in some instances, this legislation specifically repudiates such abuse and makes it clear that it is the intent of the Congress to guarantee due process before rights may be denied. The phrase has never been interpreted to accept a single physician or bureaucrat as an, "other lawful authority," and it is unreasonable to suggest that such would be the case if this bill is signed. Could the outrageous interpretations suggested by opponents be implemented by an anti-gun administration? Of course. Just as an anti-gun president or court could declare the Second Amendment null and void. Abuse is always a possibility, but that is why our system of government is built with multiple layers of checks and balances.
The most important feature of this bill is that it requires states to implement procedures for restoration of rights and ties those procedures to the money allocated under this bill. For the past 15 years there has been no process for a person to get their rights restored because Chuck Schumer pulled funding for the program. Under this bill, that could never be done to state programs if the state accepts any money allocated under this legislation. In order for a state to receive these funds they must present the Attorney General with a plan for a restoration of rights program and a minimum of 3% of all funds received must go to supporting that restoration of rights program. The feds are required to accept any restoration of rights finding by a state and completely remove any records related to a person whose rights have been restored. Those guarantees are significant and an important step in the right direction.
The bottom line is that this bill is a net gain for gunowners given current realities. NRA needs to step down from their ivory tower and work with the grassroots rather than just walking over them. GOA and others managed to force improvements in the bill, but did so by dramatically exaggerating the negatives and in so doing seriously widened the rift within the gun rights community – hurting the cause in the long run.
I have no dog in this race. I think NICS is bad, restoration of rights is important, NRA is arrogant, and GOA and others were out of line with their attack-hype. It would be easiest for me to just be quiet about this bill and the fight around it and reap rewards as other groups tear each other down, but they're also tearing down the movement's potential effectiveness and I will not sit by for that. It is well past time for NRA to take a true leadership role in the gun rights movement, not just a biggest dog role. They must be inclusive, accepting and respectful of the positions and concerns of others in the movement. That kind of leadership must come from the top down and if Wayne LaPierre is really worth the Million+ dollars he is paid every year, he will take up this challenge; otherwise it is up to the NRA Directors to force a change in attitude among the staff or send them packing.
The other players must stop trying to paint NRA as the enemy. They are arrogant, often petty and vindictive, sometimes plain stupid, and less effective than they ought to be, but they are not the enemy. Fundraising by bashing NRA might be effective, but it is harmful to the movement. Are these organizations of a few thousand or a few hundred thousand going to take NRA's place? Not a chance. Nipping at NRA's heels to move them in the right direction is one thing, tearing them down to get contributions is repulsive. Right now NRA is dragging most of the rest of the gun rights community behind them kicking and screaming and many of those being dragged have fangs solidly locked in NRA's flesh. This is not a winning approach and it is up to NRA to change the tone of the debate. The question is, do they have the leadership, in staff or on the Board, to actually make the necessary changes?