Understandable Paranoia and the NRA

As I have argued on these pages numerous times before, I do not believe civilian access to guns is the real problem behind most gun violence, and I believe that firearm access is a fundamental right that must be protected. That being said, I see no reason why background checks of the type proposed by the Manchin-Toomey Amendment would have infringed that right. Why then did dozens of Senators vote to kill the bill? The answer is simple: constituents’ paranoia.
The only legitimate criticism of a system of enhanced background checks is that it could create a national gun registry that might be misused by some future government. Even disregarding the specter of the NRA, gun rights activists in rural states have enough clout, money, and time to seize on these fears and help oust vulnerable incumbents up for re-election in 2014. Manchin-Toomey’s defenders rightly point out that the legislation explicitly bars a national gun registry, but activists could easily retort that the information being collected makes such a system possible. It is the rational fear of this reaction, or the possession of this belief among the senators themselves, rather than of the institutional power of the NRA, that ultimately sealed the bill’s fate.
Does the NRA have a role to play in this failure? Of course — the organization’s hesitance to participate in writing a proposal they have supported in the past was likely a calculated move to sow doubt. The NRA could have helped draft language that would put fears of a national gun registry to rest, but they chose not to.

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