WASHINGTON – Even after the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association holds a 54 percent approval rating, Gallup reports, while a slightly higher number want tougher gun laws at the same time.
The paradox is explained by another survey showing that U.S. civilians, according to a 2007 scholarly report cited by GunPolicy.org, own at least 270 million firearms.
That's almost 89 weapons for every 100 Americans – a total weapons count that is nearly 100 times more than the guns held by our military, and 300 times as many as held by all of the nation's police agencies.
Clearly, there are enough guns around. And the NRA, which is funded by the arms business, wants more out there.
Exhibit A is a questionnaire the NRA offered to all 2012 House candidates. The NRA, of course, wants all candidates to affirm they support the Second Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing the right to "keep and bear arms," etc. But this powerhouse wants a lot more than that.
For example, it seeks to shred all state laws, including New York's, about carrying a concealed weapon. A calibrated cousin of the Defense of Marriage Act, H.R. 822 declares that a "carry" license issued by one state is good in all of them.
As evidence of the NRA's clout in the Republican Party, 245 House members, including Rep. Tom Reed of Corning, co-sponsored it, along with 34 GOP senators. It died in the Democratic Senate.
But what I call "The Defense of Concealed Weapons Act" is only a starter, according to the questionnaire. The NRA declined to respond to emails and phone calls asking for guidance, so here's my best interpretation of its agenda:
*Make it easier for convicted felons and those on the "terrorist watch list" to buy weapons.
*Make it harder for the government to revoke individual or dealer permits.
*Relax restrictions on imported weapons.
*Oppose laws tracking gun sales by individuals or at shows.
*Oppose reporting multiple sales of semiautomatics and big magazines. It says these reports are "wasteful."
*Oppose banning fully automatic rifles and short-barreled shotguns.
*The candidate is asked to agree with the NRA that "no records be maintained on any lawful gun buyer."
*Oppose new restrictions on private ownership of military-scale .50-caliber weapons and ammo.
*Oppose bans on new exotic ammunition, similar to the banned "armor-piercing" bullets.
*Let veterans and their families keep trophy weapons like submachine guns.
Reacting to Newtown, Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed a bill that flies in the face of the entire NRA wish list. Democrat Charles E. Schumer, who supports re-enactment of his assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, is on her committee.
Against the power of the NRA and other shooters' organizations, getting any gun control legislation passed next year is problematic even after Newtown. Reactions to the tragedy vary. Everyone was horrified, including gun owners. Still, many flocked to stores and gun shows to buy semiautomatic weapons.
In two weeks, the 35th annual National Shooting and Sports Foundation show, the biggest gun exhibit in the world, will open as usual in Las Vegas. About 60,000 will attend. News media are effectively barred.
CQ's Politicalmoneyline shows that Congressman-elect Chris Collins, R-Clarence, was the only major House candidate from Western New York who took no campaign money from the NRA. Also, while media pushed snarky pieces about Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's, D-N.Y., sudden break with the NRA, campaign records show she has not taken the group's cash for more than three years.