"What's the NRA done for me?"
That question was recently posed by a young man at an airport. He recognized me and struck up a conversation about gun control. I asked him if he was an NRA member and he said, "No." That's when he hit me with, "What's NRA done for me?"
As NRA members, we've all heard that question--especially from casual gun owners who enjoy the benefit of our success--and I guess your reaction is the same as mine: It's worth a thoughtful response.
Before I answered, I wanted to know more about him--always a key to confronting a lack of knowledge or misconception.
Did he believe in the Second Amendment? "You bet."
Did he believe in the right to carry? "Absolutely. I have a permit." The right to armed self-defense? "Of course." Was he a collector? "Yes." Semi-automatics? "Everybody should own an AR."
Was he a target shooter? He proudly corrected me. "A precision shooter."
A hunter? "Yes."
Just then he was called to board his plane. So I knew I had to answer that question in print for his benefit and for your use.
First and foremost, he can thank the NRA for our 35 years supporting the superb scholarship and practical legal experience that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2008 definitive ruling declaring the Second Amendment to protect an individual constitutional right. That case struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns and the ban on any armed self-defense in the home. It wouldn't have happened without the NRA. That goes for the case pending before the same court challenging Chicago's ban and demanding that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms apply to state and local governments.
The NRA grassroots effort that re-elected President George W. Bush centered on the importance of his high court appointments. Without that total commitment, the court would surely have been dominated by Al Gore's and John Kerry's gun-ban appointees.
Beyond the high court, in broad strokes, here's what the NRA has achieved for my airport inquisitor based on his interests:
He exercises the right to carry and he can thank the NRA for his "shall-issue" permit. Since 1987, that right has been extended to 40 states with 36 states issuing permits to all qualified applicants.
If this young man had carried or even possessed a firearm in a national park before Feb. 20, 2010, it would have been a crime. Thanks to the NRA and our friends in Congress, citizens can now possess and carry firearms in federal parklands in conformity with the laws of the state.
As for today's array of handgun designs and models available to consumers, our friend can thank the NRA for defeating every national scheme to ban pistols and revolvers--from so-called concealable "Saturday Night Specials," to handguns with polymer frames, to semi-automatics capable of using "high capacity magazines," to handguns in small or large caliber, to handguns not possessing built-in "smart gun" technology.
Then there is the question of ammunition. The NRA Institute for Legislative Action's first decisive victory in 1977 prevented the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission from outlawing handgun ammunition as a "hazardous substance" in the home.
As to where a firearm can be used in lawful self-defense, the NRA has been responsible for Castle Doctrine laws enacted in 24 states, many replacing laws that required potential victims of violent crime to run away when confronted with deadly force outside their homes. We've already preserved the rights of employees in 12 states who wish to keep lawful firearms locked and properly stored in their vehicles.
Among the citizen safeguards in the landmark 1986 McClure-Volkmer Act, known as the Firearms Owners' Protection Act, is a provision protecting gun owners traversing any state with properly stored firearms. Previous to that, gun owners traveling through states like New Jersey were subject to felony prosecution for illegal possession for transporting a gun in their vehicle.
That law reformed the worst provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and curbed massive abuse of power against gun owners, licensed dealers and collectors.
That brings me to how my young inquirer obtains his firearms. From dealers? At gun shows? From other lawful individuals? Were it not for the NRA, all of those sources would have been closed down long ago.
Through enactment of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005, Congress effectively slammed the door on scores of big city lawsuits designed to put federally licensed gun dealers and manufacturers out of business.
We have held the line against Brady Campaign and Violence Policy Center legislation intended to close gun shows nationwide. As for criminalizing now-lawful intrastate sales between individuals--the goal of the Brady Campaign--we have blocked that one as well.
As for the young man's ownership of an AR-15, the NRA was responsible for the sunset provisions of the onerous Clinton gun ban, and we used our collective might to make sure that worthless ban faded from law.
"Precision shooter?" We have stopped bans on accurate rifles claimed to be "sniper rifles."
There is more: we worked to arm airline pilots, an essential to protecting passengers.
And he can thank the NRA for keeping the United Nations' gun-ban treaty at bay.
Without the NRA, this young man would have no place to shoot or to hunt. Preserving and developing both has long been an aggressive NRA effort, as is our gun safety focus in training millions of gun owners and law enforcement officers.
Anyone who asks that question-- "What's NRA done for me" --owes a deep debt they can pay by joining our ranks.
As NRA members, we share a sense of pride in what our members and dedicated staff have accomplished.
To show unity and strength in answering new challenges to our rights, I urge you to attend the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Charlotte, N.C., May 13-16, and to participate in our Celebration of American Values Freedom Weekend at this important moment in freedom's history.