Robert J. Spitzer: The NRA’s Silent Motive

Roundup: Media's Take

Robert J. Spitzer is Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at SUNY Cortland. He is the author of four books on gun control, including the recently published fifth edition of "The Politics of Gun Control" (Paradigm Publishers 2012).

America has witnessed the proliferation of gun-happy laws in recent years, especially laws making it easy for citizens to carry concealed handguns, and the now widely discussed “stand your ground” laws. The spread of such legislation would lead you to believe that Americans are fonder of guns than ever before, but in fact fewer citizens own firearms now than in the 1960s. Why have America’s gun laws loosened even as guns themselves decline in popularity?

Behold the political power of the National Rifle Association. The gun lobby’s muscle in Washington is famous. But critics often overlook the NRA’s motivations. There are more than Second Amendment principles at stake. The NRA confronts an existential threat to its recruitment base: declining gun ownership and use among Americans.

Not only do fewer Americans own guns than before, but fewer Americans engage in traditional hunting and sporting activities. And younger age cohorts take less interest in guns than their parents and grandparents. In a 2008 survey, for example, gun ownership rates were highest among those over the age of 70 (48 percent), and lowest for those ages 18 to 29 (17 percent). Even though roughly 80 million Americans own guns, demographic decline is already in the cards. Gun familiarity comes mostly from family habits, and fewer families are carrying on gun traditions. What better way for the NRA to resupply the gun users pool than to strip the nation’s laws of obstacles to gun purchase, use fear of crime to motivate potential gun buyers, and to desensitize the nation’s majority of non-gun owners to the sight of civilians packing heat?...

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