'Gun Safety,' Not 'Gun Control'

A reader writes:

Since I heard about the shooting in Newtown, I've been considering joining the NRA. I have no interest in owning a handgun and I'm against concealed weapons and am ambivalent about what the "right to bear arms" means.

However, if 100,000 people like me joined the NRA, could we change the composition of their board of directors? Could we encourage the NRA to focus on gun safety, rather than on increased ownership? Could we "Tea Party" the NRA from the left?

I believe there was a recent precedent in this sort of activism (from the right) when the Sierra Club was taken over by an anti-immigration group.

Do you think this is possible?

I don't know. But day-after thoughts, extending a discussion here:

  • I will henceforth and only talk about "gun safety" as a goal for America, as opposed to "gun control." I have no abstract interest in "controlling" someone else's ability to own a gun. I have a very powerful, direct, and legitimate interest in the consequences of others' gun ownership -- namely that we change America's outlier status as site of most of the world's mass shootings. No reasonable gun-owner can disagree with steps to make gun use safer and more responsible. This also shifts the discussion to the realm of the incremental, the feasible, and the effective.
     
  • After the past few massacres, I've argued that the reality of our politics means that we'll "grieve" and "be shocked" for a few days, we'll put the flags to half-staff, then something else will come up, and nothing will change, and then we'll "grieve" and "be shocked" a few weeks later when the next group of students or parishoners or movie-goers or mall-shoppers is gunned down.

    The case could be the exception. It is so hideous and unspeakable that it could be the shock that makes people think: this cannot go on. But the more precise way to state that thought is probably the one Greg Sargent used in a headline yesterday for the Washington Post:

    Thumbnail image for SargentGuns.png

    Exactly. We don't know whether this massacre will be enough to shift the range of possible discussion about gun safety. But if it's not, it is hard to imagine what event could.
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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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