I always liked guns. When I was 6, Mom sent my picture to LIFE magazine, laughing with my toy six shooters, claiming I had lassoed my Grandpop’s cigar. The story was apocryphal, but the laugh was genuine.
My interest changed after a quail hunting trip to Fort A.P. Hill. Dad and I had a long morning of tramping through frosty fields. We flushed an occasional covey, but quail are quick and we did not even bag one. Later, Col. John Smith joined us. He asked how we were doing and commiserated with us.
Fifteen minutes later, we flushed another covey. Before either of us could get off a shot, the Colonel let loose a barrage of eight shots from his semi-automatic shotgun. He got his limit, but the quail meat vanished in a hail of shot, nothing but feathers.
Karl Frederick, Olympic pistol gold medalist and National Rifle Association president testified during 1934 congressional hearings that, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. ... I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” The NRA’s position changed after a 1977 coup. The organization moved from promoting gun safety and marksmanship, to a political action committee committed to defending the Second Amendment.
This policy relied on a cynical invocation of a nonexistent threat. In a PBS News Hour interview in 1991, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger referred to the NRA Second Amendment myth as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American people by any special interest group that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
But the Second Amendment is limited. Justice Antonin Scalia, in Heller v. the District of Columbia, wrote, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the amendment or state analogues.
“The court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Why does the NRA defend against a nonexistent threat? The answer is money. In 2015, the NRA reported total revenue of $337 million, and a “profit” of $33 million. This allows them to pay their top 10 executives nearly $11 million, with over half going to the Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
I do not need an overpaid huckster to tell me a semi-automatic can turn quail into feathers.