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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

The NRA waves the white flag on responsible gun ownership

[Picture: a campaign flyer sent out targeting me during my state senate campaign by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, despite my NRA membership]

After every mass shooting, I become a metaphorical target for my liberal friends. I am a gun owner and concealed-carry permit holder. I believe the Second Amendment is as foundational to our country today as it was two hundred and thirty nine years ago. I think the country’s founders wished to imbue the right to self-defense in every citizen.

Worst in their eyes? I have a lifetime membership in the NRA. That is the great boogeyman for so many anti-gun liberals and they simply don’t see the NRA as anything but a manifestation of political evil; worse than the men who took up arms against innocents at Columbine, Newtown, and Law Vegas, just to name a few.

Through the red in their eyes, it is hard for them to understand the non-political benefits that attracted people like me in the first place. The instructional courses, the educational magazines, discounted insurance policies, and access to fire-arm related events. If you want to know why the NRA has so much political clout, you don’t need to do anything more than compare the paltry attendance at Tuesday night’s caucuses — even an energized Democratic Party base only had a fractional proportion of its registered members attend — to the number of people who file into an event like Denver’s annual Tanner Gun Show.

Unfortunately, the NRA has waved a white flag on advocating for responsible gun ownership. Their spokeswoman Dana Loesch made that abundantly clear when she made personal rhetorical attacks against 17-and-18-year-olds from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I don’t doubt that many of those kids received talking points from gun-control advocates; but I’m even more certain the raw emotions and heartache fueling their advocacy are 100-percent their own. Given that the voice of those students isn’t fading, but growing, the long-term effect of Loesch’s tactics seem likely to backfire. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point the NRA will realize they only brought a peashooter to the battle for the future of gun rights in America. In contrast, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students appear to be stockpiling an arsenal of powerful arguments.

Of course, Loesch is just a symptom of the greater problem. Over the past few decades, the NRA has allowed the shrill cries of “no compromise” gun groups to erode its prior dedication to open, reasoned debate on the role of guns in our country and the rights of our citizens. Groups like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (who both uses an AR-15 in its logo and as a fundraising draw), Gun Owners of America, and the National Association for Gun Rights have spent the past twenty years waging a relentless campaign against the NRA for being “too soft” on gun rights. The NRA response was too often to tuck tail and acquiesce. I know from personal experience; when I ran as a card-carrying member of the NRA for state senate in 2014, RMGO savaged my campaign with emails and mailers. The NRA didn’t bother to respond — instead they let RMGO foist its scorched-earth candidate and message upon the race. He lost the general election and the NRA lost its way.

The truth is gun owners need knowledgeable, reasonable advocates now more than ever, just as the NRA’s self-immolation seems complete. Otherwise, they risk having laws dictated to them by elected officials with no idea how guns work, much less how they can be owned responsibly.

In recent years, gun rights supporters have adopted the Greek phrase “Molon Labe” (roughly translated as “come and take them”). Considering the formidable opposition posed by a rising tide of student advocates, they may want to rethink that challenge. Or they may have to learn  how to say “we surrender.”

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and Denver Post columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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