In August 1925, The New York Times estimated 50,000 to 60,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched in a parade in our nation’s capital. It was a huge public display of the once-secret group. H.L. Mencken called it “a full mile of Klansmen and their ladies.” The man sitting in the White House, Calvin Coolidge, was a member of the Klan. The president before him, Warren Harding, was also a noted Klansman. The fraternity preaching pure “100 percent Americanism” (anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, anti-non-white) boasted of 5 million members — nearly 15 percent of the population in the 1920s. They were in positions of power. They were everywhere. And here they were marching for hours around the National Mall.
If you asked an American living at that time what they thought about the Klan, they would have thought of it as “the way things were.” Having a clandestine Klan standing strong for the interests of Anglo-Saxons and terrorizing minorities was a normal part of living in Jim Crow America, and why would something that widespread ever be any different?
Today the Klan has maybe 5,000 members, according to their own reporting, and they’re considered a hate group. They’re fringe on a very mainstream day.
The point is: Things change. Goliaths fall. It happens.
We think of people in the past as having foresight to the future. This way we can, with authority, say what the Founding Fathers would have thought about things like traffic lights. But people living through history (also known as the present) often have a status-quo bias. What’s going on right now is it. This is how it is.
And this is how we’ve viewed the death grip of the NRA on our politics. “Members of Congress have ranked the NRA as the most powerful lobbying organization in the country several years in a row,” brags the NRA’s Wikipedia page citing a 1999 Fortune article. And because whatever gets repeated enough in the Beltway becomes common wisdom: You can’t do anything about the flood of guns on our streets because the NRA is the most powerful lobby in America — ever!
Any talk about gun control has been a nonstarter. Remember Bob Costas in the beginning of December talking about guns during Sunday football in the wake of an NFL player’s murder/suicide? He was raked over the coals. It was inappropriate! How dare he soil the sanctity of sports night with his dirty pinko agenda!
Then a week later there was Sandy Hook. Twenty first-graders were slaughtered by a gun enthusiast’s arsenal (who was also killed by the same means). The usual voices denouncing any cries for action on gun safety were quickly drowned out by a steady hum of Americans who are tired of weapon manufacturers dominating the debate.
On Jan. 9, the two-year anniversary of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona, the Tucson Police Department held a gun buyback program. Arizona has some of the most liberal gun laws in the nation. It also (as par for the course) ranks among the highest gun deaths per capita. The NRA said destroying those 206 guns turned in was illegal and threatened to sue to stop it. They said the police department would have to sell those firearms according to what they interpreted as the law. The National Rifle Association opposes just the voluntary act of getting guns off the street?
This is not a group championing individual freedom. This is weapon fetishization.
The NRA wants the Tucson Police Department to effectively sell guns to the public.
President Barack Obama, who, contrary to Internet message boards, has expanded gun rights while in office, came out with a comprehensive reform package including: ending the suspension of gun violence research, universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and appointing a full-time permanent director to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). All are things the majority of Americans agree with.
The president also incorporated what the NRA called its “meaningful contribution,” which was looking at violent video games (some of which are produced by the NRA), armed guards in schools and looking at the mentally ill as potential spree killers.
But the NRA doesn’t want to work with the president. Its leaders denounced the announcement before hearing it. The NRA wants to advocate for the absolute unchecked rights of gun manufacturers as they march over to the fringe. Goliaths fall.