WASHINGTON – Crawling behind the curtains of legitimate campaign contributions and lobbying against all restraints on the trafficking in firearms is what we'll call the gun fanatics' charm offensive.

Anyone who pokes up his or her head in civil discussion about guns – be it a social network blogger, U.S. senator or journalist – is going to feel it from messages from some identified or anonymous source calculated to make your flesh crawl.

A recent column posted in this space about the National Rifle Association's agenda was greeted by charges that I am a communist.

A signed email from a self-proclaimed law enforcement official said that when the government “comes for my guns, I will not greet them as a friend.”

Another writer ridiculed “Sandy Hook hysteria,” referring to the elementary school where 20 small children and six adults were riddled with bullets from an assault weapon.

A weapons control activist from Buffalo shared an anonymous one that said, “The time is near; we, the militia, will rise up against you.” Another: “If it'll keep me a free man, I'll kill 30,000 myself!”

Another long Internet post to “liberal utopians” warned that if the government insists on weapons registration, “people will die. Right now.”

Ever since gun control efforts began in the 1960s after the murders of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., many measured efforts to limit weapons traffic were greeted not only by empty arguments that stretch the Second Amendment but also with labeling, hard glares and the implied threat of harm.

While the amendment guarantees the right to “keep and bear arms,” there is no constitutional right to have an unregistered long gun or to carry a loaded pistol, much less an assault weapon.

But the zealots have been so successful with their rants and intimidation over the last half century, there is no longer any school, theater, restaurant, office or military base in the country where anyone – even a little child – can feel safe from sudden death.

To repeat, there are 270 million firearms now in private hands – nearly 90 times more than held by our police and armed forces combined. The NRA wants broader gun “rights” for convicted felons and those on the U.S. terrorist watch list, and freedom to own .50-caliber weapons and ammo. It has quashed federal research into the causes of gun violence. In its wake, the NRA has smothered a greater civil right: To feel secure in one's own person.

After a half century of political cowardice, it seems there is one president and vice president ready to stand up to the menace and the phony arguments of the NRA and its violent allies. Some attitudes are changing. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who did not sign on to a 2012 bill limiting the size of ammunition clips, says he will support one now.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, allied with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, has sent a detailed, multiphased recommendation to limit trafficking to Vice President Biden's task force, which reports to the nation Tuesday. It spells out most of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's agenda to end gun violence. Thanks for your courage!

One can only wonder what lies in the hearts of some gun extremists. There is a hint in the film “Goodfellas,” when mobster Henry Hill places a gun in the hands of his middle-class girlfriend, Karen. She reflected: “I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn't. I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.”