The great gun debate rages on now more than ever in my email inbox where reader reactions to last week’s column have been stacking up at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. Some folks agreed with my line of reasoning about the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun rights. Others? Not so much. A quick recap: In that column I took the NRA to task, impugning the association’s leadership for its intractable resistance to any and all legislative measures aimed at stemming gun violence.

I contended that this obstinacy might be a mistake because it generates so much backlash, serving to bolster the gun control crowd by putting a bigger target on the NRA’s back. With calls for more legislative action seriously ramping up in the shadow of the Parkland (Fla.) school shooting, I suggested that the NRA should get out ahead of the curve, seek a few reasonable compromises with the other side, and cut their losses. They’re already losing ground to private retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart and some state legislatures are breaking free of NRA dogma (look what happened in Florida last week). In the long run they may be at risk of losing relevance.

But many NRA stalwarts are convinced that even a millimeter of concession will open the floodgates for unmitigated gun control.

“I believe the reason why the NRA takes such a hard line is because the other side (Chuck Schumer, Bloomberg, et al) does as well,” said one reader. “If you give an inch they take a foot; give a foot they take a yard. As in any kind of negotiation you hope to meet somewhere in the middle, but I don’t see that happening here. And both sides are to blame. There is just too much distrust – and understandably so.”

“Unfortunately, with such a caustic battle neither side is willing to give in to anything,” he reasoned. “I know a lot of gun rights people castigated Senator Toomey for trying to find some common ground, but I applaud him for what he did. Somebody had to have the guts to reach across the aisle which is the first step to coming up with a resolution.”

Another reader expressed understanding of the NRA’s entrenched position but added a few caveats. “To fight against gun control is the ‘tip of the spear’ for those who fear big government, the takeover of our country by socialist parties and big city liberal ideals. It is a bigger cultural battle by a minority of activists where giving any ground, even to reduce the killing of innocent people, is seen as unacceptable.” He added, “Your writing gave me an insight about those who so vehemently fight against logical gun access measures that I had not previously grasped. It was honestly one of the best pieces I have read on this volatile subject.”

One reader told me, “I think you failed to take into account the government coming for your guns. Remember Katrina? Remember store owners protecting their shops during riots? As for all the protests against guns, some sportsmen still love the protections of the Second Amendment.”

A few readers castigated me for deviating from NRA orthodoxy, painting me as a turncoat to the cause. “It appears all the liberal Soros Bloomberg backed media rhetoric has gotten to you,” charged one impassioned e-mailer. “The base premise of your article is that the NRA is to blame ... you had the opportunity to use your platform to dissect the recent Parkland shooting and emphasize the facts that contributed to the shooting and you didn’t. The facts tell me that the NRA, me, and any firearms I may own or not own are not to blame. If you are going to parrot MSNBC talking points, stay out of the discussion.”

This reader suggested that maybe I should move to New Jersey, an extremely oppressive state for gun rights. I may disagree with the NRA’s dogged relentlessness, but I still commend them for their vigilance in safeguarding our Second Amendment freedoms. I also acknowledge the positive programs they sponsor on gun training and safety and the Great American Outdoor Show they host in Harrisburg each February. And when it comes to laws restricting gun ownership, I sure don’t want the rest of the country to become New Jersey. That’s why I’m an NRA member.

Some other readers weren’t quite so hard on me. “I really felt you captured the frustration I feel with the lack of logical steps to reduce gun violence,” said one. “You speak for a lot of moderate Americans who are growing ever weary of our toxic and illogical political environment.”

And at least one other NRA member also questioned the wisdom of the NRA’s tactics. “I congratulate you on a thoughtful and comprehensive article,” he said. “I too am an NRA member and while I can only claim membership for the last 25 years, I have, in the past, always thought that the NRA was a useful organization. Lately, however, I find that the leadership at the NRA headquarters is out of touch with reality. I also believe that they are incorrectly interpreting the meaning of the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. I read the recent mailing of the NRA-ILA and the arguments that it presented seemed totally unreal ... I was embarrassed by its strident tone and its veiled accusation that unless we supported their current path of resistance, we are opening the doors to some type of doom. I believe that their current path is going to do great harm to the NRA.”

Another reader asked, “Why should AR-15 type weapons be available to everyone? If an 18 year old wants an AR-15, let them join the Armed Forces where they can find plenty to use either at the firing range or in actual combat. I congratulate you for your list of what the NRA should be asking its members to comment on. They should be pushing for tougher background checks and age restrictions for semi-automatic weapons for the safety of society. If they continue to act irrationally, then their influence is likely to lessen on the National scene.”

Some former NRA members also weighed in with their concerns about the association’s overheated rhetoric and tiresome fear mongering. “I stopped renewing my NRA membership when George H.W. Bush resigned his Life Membership, and for the same reason, i.e. Pierre LaPew’s reference to ‘Jack-booted government thugs,’” said one. “The NRA has surely changed, and, in my humble opinion, for the worse. Now it’s all about black rifles and CCW (carrying a concealed weapon). Universal CCW is insane. Walter Mitty with a gun does not make me feel safe. By the way, it’s not the NRA’s checkbook that scares the politicians. What scares the politicians is the horde of single issue voters the NRA turns out.”

Another reader questioned the NRA’s reach in other areas, referencing the Dickey Amendment (named after former congressman Jay Dickey, a strong NRA supporter) which prevents the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from using money to advocate or promote gun control. “The fact that the CDC cannot study gun violence is a clear sign to me that the NRA has too much power,” he concluded. “It is not going to be easy finding ways to reduce gun violence, but what has happened to date has clearly done nothing.”

Other NRA supporters were more pragmatic. “While the NRA is not perfect and I don’t agree with everything they do, they are the only entity that gives you and I the freedom to own any firearm,” one reader proclaimed. “Were it not for the NRA we would be like those helpless souls in England, Australia, and most of Europe, unable to defend ourselves and protect our families. May I suggest as a fellow gun owner that you renew your NRA membership. Thank God that we have such an organization, and don’t ever forget that the NRA is the only reason that America is not disarmed like the rest of the planet.”

And finally (since this is my column after all) we’ll end with this: “I wanted to thank you for the thoughtful article on the gun issue and the NRA,” said one letter of support. “I am not a gun owner but hail from Central Pennsylvania where hunting is part of life. Thus, I think I understand the viewpoint that the right to own guns continues to deserve respect. On the other hand, to argue that all democrats are socialists and are only interested in confiscating all weapons is absurd. I trust we are both in the same camp that the current crisis is a catalyst for less rhetoric and meaningful reform. I am sure you got a lot of heat from taking a courageous, thoughtful stance. Know that there is a great middle that respects your point of view and wants a dialogue. Keep up the good work!”

Many thanks to all the readers who offered their opinions on guns, the NRA, and gun rights in response to last week’s column. Next week we’ll get back on track with news about Pennsylvania’s ongoing Sunday hunting debate and our upcoming regional trout season.

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