The financial and political power of the National Rifle Association leaves many politicians terrified of crossing it. And because of its ideological and propaganda power, a segment of Americans now equates any proposed limit on gun use or ownership as a catastrophic step toward the extinction of individual liberties and the dawn of a confiscatory, totalitarian state.
Americans recognize that public-safety controls on use of a car—licensing laws, speed limits, insurance requirements, DUI penalties—don’t threaten the “right to drive.” They recognize that restrictions on some prescription drugs don’t threaten their right to buy aspirin, nor do limits on what they can carry onto a plane threaten their right to travel or fly. But the NRA and its allies have succeeded in making gun control an absolute issue. If you believe in the Second Amendment, then whatever the potential control—on gun-show sales, on bulk purchases of ammunition, on waiting times for background checks—it must be fought as a step not so much onto a slippery slope as over a cliff and into the abyss.
Thus even a restriction that seemed common sense a generation ago—for instance, banning a weapon like the AR-15 that was explicitly designed for use by troops in combat, and was never meant to be in civilian hands—now is anathema. A weapon meant for soldiers or perhaps SWAT teams has now been sold by the millions to civilians in the United States, who use it mainly for “personal protection” and “hunting,” but also in most mass killings. “I think the shift you're seeing now is the military-style weapon is here to stay because it's appealing to a whole new generation,” Steve Denny, owner of a gun shop in North Carolina, told John Boyle of the Asheville, North Carolina, Citizen Times back in 2014. “You can see it in the industry,” Denny said, according to Boyle. “The industry had to change from military-style weapons being something that they sold sometimes to them being something that is at the forefront of all their advertising—the tactical use of a firearm.”