A Constructive Suggestion, and a Test, for the NRA

The University of California has backed off its benighted plan for a new "improved" logo. Normally I would say a lot about that, but it will keep for a day or two. Back to today's news:

Over the years I've occasionally remarked that I belong to "my" version of the NRA. That would be the AOPA -- the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, of which I've been a loyal dues-paying member for many years and many of whose activities I support. Its magazine, AOPA Pilot, is one of my several "favorite" publications -- along with the Atlantic, China Daily, All About Beer, the Redlands Daily Facts, and so on. 

The one thing I don't like about AOPA is its NRA-like, no-compromise, absolutist-absolutism on certain issues of public policy. In much of the world, governments or transport ministries impose "user fees" for takeoffs and landings, some air-traffic control services, and so on. According to the AOPA, there cannot ever be any fees of this sort, of any level, for any service, at any time, or else America is on the way to the hell of Hayek-style serfdom.

The merits of the user fee debate are not my point right now. (Summary of the AOPA side: non-airline aviation activity already "pays its way" through the quite hefty tax imposed on each gallon of airplane fuel, plus providing all kinds of ancillary benefits to the country. I agree about the benefits and that the American aviation scene is the envy of the world.) Rather it is to introduce a comparison between AOPA and the real NRA. This comes from my friend Garrett Gruener, a successful Bay Area entrepreneur and venture capitalist who is also a longtime pilot. In the 1990s he even took an around-the-world trip, with his wife and daughter, in their turboprop airplane. He writes:
I had an interesting conversation with my Republican, gun loving [colleague] after the Aurora massacre.   I said to him that I have my NRA in AOPA - they are very effective on the Hill and zealous in the defense of my right to fly, even to a point of being more uncompromising than I would prefer.  

The difference is the overwhelming focus on safety.  I feel that AOPA is the FAA's partner in trying to reduce the number of fatalities in aviation, while the NRA never gets beyond "guns don't kill...".   

My colleague agreed there was a difference, although I'm not sure he saw any fault in the NRA's stance.  He went on to say that NRA discussions are dominated by a fear that the Gov't is going to take their guns away, and hence there is little bandwidth left for a sensible conversation on how to avoid future massacres.  Given the huge and ongoing carnage in America from guns, seems to me it is time for the NRA to publicly commit themselves to reducing the body count.
What Gruener says about the AOPA rings true to my experience. The only thing the AOPA talks about more than user fees is safety, and the individual and system-wide changes that can reduce the accident level.

NRA, that's the test. Let's hear you, now, join the rest of the country in saying "Enough!" and working with your "responsible gun owners" on bringing that about. That's what "my" NRA does. Otherwise... well, otherwise the NRA deserves an all-out assault from people sick of having children slaughtered.
Update. Here's what the real NRA has contributed to the discussion today. There is zero mention of the Newtown shooting on its blog. And here, as of 13 hours after the shooting, are the most recent entries on its @NRA Twitter feed:



Update An obvious and constructive implication of Garrett Gruener's argument is that the ongoing discussion should be about gun safety, which any reasonable person should be in favor of, versus gun control, a phrase that provokes all-out immediate hostility from a significant number of Americans.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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