Washington Post: The NRA Sucks

This morning’s Washington Post series The Secret Life of Guns rehashes a theme expressed during their last extended salvo: the Nation Rifle Association (NRA) sucks. “The controversial proposal by officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives calls for a measure strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association: requiring gun dealers to report multiple sales of rifles and shotguns to ATF. The gun issue is so incendiary and fear of the NRA so great that the ATF plan languished for months at the Justice Department, according to some senior law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity but would not provide details.” Once again, the WaPo paints a picture of the NRA as a shadowy organization dedicated to thwarting a “common sense” law enforcement proposal because . . . oh wait. Seems they forgot that bit . . .

The NRA opposes gun registration because they believe the federal government should not have access to personal information on American citizens who purchase firearms. They consider a federal database of gun owner info to be a dangerous infringement of their right to bear arms, an over-reach that could give the government power to ID and confiscate their weapons. As they did in post-Katrina New Orleans.

It doesn’t really matter if you see this fear as gunloon paranoia or a right to privacy that should be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. The issue is what Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan disingenuously called “settled law.” I refer you to Section 18 U.S.C. 926(a) of the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986.

No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established.

Now you could say that the current ATF record keeping process, including the eTrace system that this “quiet” proposal sought to expand, is illegal. And you’d be right. But the Washington Post has an NRA-shaped blind spot that prevents it from seeing gun control from anything other than an advocate’s point-of-view.

In the NRA alert cited by the WaPo (click here for the link that the paper inexplicably neglected to include), the gun rights group sets out its opposition to multiple long gun registration in different terms. Simply put, it won’t work.

BATFE doesn’t follow up on most of the multiple sales reports it receives on handguns, so there’s little reason to think it would do things any differently with reports on long guns. Theoretically, more multiple sales reports and NICS checks would make it easier for BATFE to conduct commercial record traces on firearms, but as the report points out, “most trace requests that are submitted to ATF from Mexico are considered ‘unsuccessful.'” Only 27 percent of traces between 2007 and 2009, on firearms seized in Mexico, were successful.

BATFE traces are of such dubious value that, the report notes, “Mexican law enforcement authorities do not view gun tracing as an important investigative tool. . . . One Mexican official stated that U.S. officials talk of eTrace as if it is a ‘panacea’ but that it does nothing for Mexican law enforcement. An official in the Mexico Attorney General’s office told us he felt eTrace is ‘some kind of bad joke.'”

Surely such considerations are important when deciding if the NRA is, as the WaPo clearly sugests, a hindrance to the ATF’s work. Never mind. The Post doesn’t. From this flimsy platform, they swan dive into a pool of demonization. Apparently, the NRA’s power is a bad thing, not a good thing.

The result [of the NRA's political muscle] is that a president such as Obama, whose campaign platform called for tougher gun laws, finds his freedom of action circumscribed.

That would be the same President Obama who wrote “I believe in the Second Amendment. Period.” To its credit, the Post lets the NRA defend itself,—and then kicks it with the other journalistic jackboot.

NRA officials say their efforts protect the rights of gun owners. “We don’t represent criminals who misuse firearms,” said Chris W. Cox, director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “We don’t represent dealers who willfully and knowingly violate the law. We represent honest, law-abiding people, including honest dealers who are often targeted in an unfortunate way.”

Last year, the NRA perturbed ATF agents by sending dealers an article by an industry lawyer. “You never, ever have to speak to an ATF agent or inspector,” the article said. “You have the absolute right not to answer any questions that an inspector may pose to you.”

So reminding Americans of their right to remain silent is wrong? To quote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who are those guys? While the Post article presents a potted, more than slightly antagonistic history of the NRA, I’d like to know the history of this Washington Post series.

Did anyone involved with this year-long investigation question the series’ underlying assumption that gun rights groups in general and the NRA in specific are the enemy of law and order? Did anyone suggest that gun dealers perform a valuable service, and should not be smeared in a non-judicial rush to judgement on a few alleged bad apples? That innuendo should not be the legacy of the paper’s tradition of “real” journalism?

I think not.