Tuesday, January 29, 2013

NRA leaders misleading members, public

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 7:00 AM

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The National Rifle Association just completed a survey of its members.

The outcome was foreordained because the NRA did a superb job of cooking the results. Gourmet chefs have nothing on the gun lobby.

Seasoning a survey to achieve a desired outcome is, of course, a time-honored tradition among advocacy groups.

Hoosiers saw two great examples of that last year when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and organized labor each did polls on right-to-work legislation. Both polls were about as closely connected to reality as Charlie Sheen on the morning after a hard night out. Each poll showed - surprise, surprise - that the folks who paid for the poll had public support completely on their side.

As impressive as the right-to-work polls were as examples of cooking results, they deflate in comparison with the soufflé of a survey the NRA whipped up.

Here's a sample question.

Is Barack Obama:
The devil
The anti-christ
Neither (if C, terminate interview)

OK, I'm exaggerating, but only slightly.

The NRA packed its poll with enough leading words to produce the responses the organization wanted. Most of the percentages were in the 90s. A couple of them were in the high 80s.

Not surprisingly, given this prompting by the pollsters, the survey results showed that NRA members don't want restrictions on any kinds of semi-automatic weapons, on ammunition clips that carry more than 10 rounds and on registering firearms with the federal government.

They do want background checks for people with mental illness.

And, despite the pledges from everyone involved that the number of mass killings in this country is a multi-faceted problem requiring many partial solutions, the NRA poll shows that the national discussion about the tragedy in Newtown is just a conspiracy to come get their guns.

That clearly is the message with which the NRA's leaders bombard the organization's members: The folks who want to talk about different guns laws don't care about the kids who got killed. All they want to do is come get your guns.

That's a pity, because the emails, letters and comments I get from ordinary NRA members most often are more reasonable than the organization's leadership. They disagree with me, of course, but they have actual points to make. They don't just want to shut the entire discussion down.

These real folks generally make variations of two arguments. One is that gun control advocates don't care about the Constitution - or, at the very least, value the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights more than they do the Second Amendment. The second is that the president's proposed gun policy changes are a lot more complicated - and far more intrusive and restrictive - than they appear.

Those are fair points that are worthy of serious discussion.

On the first one - the contention that gun control advocates don't show the entire Bill of Rights the respect it deserves - I would point to the NRA's own proposed responses to the Newtown tragedy. They include concerns about violent media, stepped-up security measures at schools and increased background checks. Those steps could have implications for the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about those ideas. The Constitution is a balancing act, one that weighs individual rights on a scale with the public interest. The Bill of Rights is there to make sure that the majority doesn't trample on the individual, but it does not mean that the public's needs never should be served.

In fact, there is no other amendment that does not have some restrictions that honor the public's compelling interest.

The second argument - that the proposed gun laws are too sweeping - is an argument for gun owners and users to take part in the legislative process, rather than trying to shut it down. By screaming that all gun laws are bad and that any discussion of sensible gun laws is evil - the NRA's approach - the gun advocates convince many of us that they place a higher value on hunks of metal than they do human lives.

The unfortunate thing is that, by participating with good faith in these discussions, gun owners could help shape laws that save lives and protect their lives.

Instead, their leaders at the NRA spend their time cooking up poll results.

The NRA members deserve better leaders.

John Krull is director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism, host of "No Limits" WFYI 90.1FM and executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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