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Giffords/Kelly PAC a Missed Opportunity for Gun Reform

Ya gotta love Gabby Giffords and her remarkable husband Mark Kelly. But on Tuesday they blew it.

Don’t get me wrong.  Tuesday was the second anniversary of the horrific shooting in a supermarket parking lot that nearly killed Giffords and did kill six and wound 13 others who had come to meet and speak with the congresswoman.   In acknowledging that dreadful milestone Giffords, a portrait in courage if ever there was one, and retired astronaut Kelly provided the country with yet another example of extraordinary service, but one that could have been so much more effective.

Yesterday they announced the formation of a political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions and, according to an op-ed the two wrote in USA Today their goal is to counter the influence of the gun lobby. And that is where I think they erred. Instead of seeking to counter the lobby they should have made it clear they intend to join it.

Right after the Newtown Connecticut massacre an article in this space suggested that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has a soft underbelly – its gun-owning membership. While over 70 percent of its members are receptive to some sensible restrictions on guns, the NRA continues to manipulate its lunatic fringe to influence state and local governments on behalf of its true constituency, gun manufacturers. If we are to get sensible reform, the article said, we must convince rank and file NRA members that it is in their best interests of to rein in the NRA and its out of control executives.

Five days later Wayne LaPierre, President of NRA held his infamous “press conference” and it became clear there is no way NRA members can rein in their irresponsible organization and its crazed leadership. The members are merely NRA’s cannon fodder.

Gun owners, stoked by the fear tactics the NRA has used for decades, perceive only a Hobson’s choice; stand behind LaPierre and his ravings or stand alone. By positioning their organization differently, Giffords and Kelly could have provided both gun owners and the rest of us with a realistic alternative.

Since it is unlikely that members can seize control of the NRA, they need a new group to represent their interests; an organization that is straight up about its intentions to lobby on behalf of sensible gun ownership. Perhaps that could be their name, LBSGO. In your face NRA.

More than merely paying dues and getting a decal, members would sign a pledge to support some reasonable reforms while demanding that their true Second Amendment rights be preserved. Non-gun owners who support the organization’s goals would be encouraged to join but no manufacturers, gun dealers or gun show sponsors need apply. It shouldn’t take much to build a powerful membership.  Perhaps just being an organization of which its members could be proud would be enough. Remember that out of an estimated 141 million gun owners in the U.S. the NRA claims only 4 million as members. If LBSGO could recruit a few thousand more dues-paying members than that it would have real credibility, and a bank account.

If a LBSGO were in place Joe Biden could have ignored NRA and invited a more reasonable partner to his discussions this week. Congressional hearings on reform legislation could hear a different and more balanced point of view. State and federal lawmakers, even Democrats, could compete for the LBSGO seal of approval. This, until we can also get lobbying money out of the overall political equation, would of necessity carry financial clout.

For a minute TuesdayI thought Giffords and Kelly were going to assume this role. In their USA Today editorial they said, “Special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe have used big money and influence to cow Congress into submission. Rather than working to find the balance between our rights and the regulation of a dangerous product, these groups have cast simple protections for our communities as existential threats to individual liberties. Rather than conducting a dialogue, they threaten those who divert from their orthodoxy with political extinction.”

Good start. But then, instead of saying that, as gun owners themselves they intend to represent the interests of the rest of gun owners, the rational and responsible ones, they veered; “Until now, the gun lobby’s political contributions, advertising and lobbying have dwarfed spending from anti-gun violence groups. No longer. With Americans for Responsible Solutions engaging millions of people about ways to reduce gun violence and funding political activity nationwide, legislators will no longer have reason to fear the gun lobby.”

Giffords and Kelly, gun owners and American heroes, would have been the perfect people to run a counter-NRA organization FOR gun owners. Instead, rather than invent such a unique and needed organization they have positioned Americans for Responsible Solutions as another “gun control” group like the Brady organization and a dozen others; one which many gun owners will view as the enemy.

Maybe it is early enough for them to redirect their focus. If not then someone else with stature and credibility needs to step up to represent the sensible 70 percent of NRA’s current membership as well as the other 137 million gun owners who have, for whatever reason, avoided the crazy-town of NRA membership.

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