Heady stuff, indeed, but who knew that an organization doing such serious work also had a whimsical side? In addition to its sly sense of humor – as the website winks, "we are fond of talking about utilizing the ‘natural resources’ of the pro-gun community (gun shops, shooting ranges, gun & hunting clubs, and gun shows) to spread the word about gun-related issues" – the child-friendly NRA sponsors a Youth Wildlife Art Contest. In 2005, a record 823 children in grades one through twelve submitted entries, which were judged on "creativity, anatomical accuracy, and effort." Entries must "portray any North American game bird or animal that may be legally hunted or trapped" (endangered species are ineligible, presumably because if kids drew them they would then feel compelled to shoot them.)
The NRA notes, "while the contest is an enjoyable exercise for all concerned, there is a very real educational value. Many of the young entrants hunt or are beginning to learn to hunt, and the contest helps them learn the identifying characteristics of game birds and animals, which will help them stay in compliance with game laws " Nature, kids, art, law – it’s an educator’s dream.
Except, as it turns out, not a number of educators have noticed that the NRA’s core mission is not so healthy for children, happy contest winners notwithstanding. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), firearms are now the second biggest cause of injury-related death in the country – and no wonder, considering the 200-million-plus privately owned guns in the U.S. (Only 90 million to go before we’re all armed.) For American teenagers aged 15 to 19, only motor vehicle accidents cause more deaths than guns; for African-American teenagers aged 15 to 19, gun-related homicide is the leading cause of death. Expert sociologists – William Bennett, for instance – might cite this statistic as further proof of the preordained connection between skin color and crime, but it does make you wonder: if guns were the leading cause of death for white teens, would U.S. gun violence finally assume its rightful place as the public health disaster it is? It’s no coincidence that a number of studies of gun violence are conducted not only by law enforcement agencies, but by pediatric, trauma, and public health medical workers. But as the NRA, not to mention the administration, makes clear, when it comes to the Constitution, there’s only one question: "are you for us or against us?"
So where does that leave those of us who believe that "guns kill people?" Everyone knows that people kill people. It’s just that many people kill other people by pulling the trigger. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 373 people were killed by handguns in Germany in 1998; 151 in Canada; 57 in Australia; 19 in Japan; 54 in England and Wales; and 11,789 in the United States. And this is not counting suicides, unintentional shootings, or deaths by other firearms. Even allowing for our country’s sizeable population, this is an astonishing figure. Account for these other factors, as the CDC did, and overall U.S. gun deaths soar to over 30,000 in 2002. We win!
And with the passage of this bill, so do the NRA and its corporate constituents. Never mind that a 2003 study published in The Annals of Emergency Medicine found that 32 percent of unintended shootings in the U.S. were caused by deficiencies in gun design; the impetus for spending money to make guns safer (an oxymoron right there) will be practically nil now that this bill has passed.
The usual suspects have rallied to the cause: the Pentagon, always ready to cry orange alert, wrote a letter supporting the bill as a "safeguard" to "national security" in that it would protect our military-weapons-suppliers from litigation (so the pen really is mightier than the sword?); the President, always ready to add insult to injury, noted that the bill would "further our efforts to stem frivolous lawsuits" (I’ll bet gun-violence-victims liked that word choice). And of course, NRA Chief Lobbyist Chris Cox issued his own misty-eyed encomium: "We are a safer country today because Congress passed this critical legislation and acted to save American icons like Remington, Ruger, Winchester, and Smith & Wesson Our men and women in uniform abroad and at home now will not have to rely on France [feh!], China [yick!], or Germany [ugh!] to supply their firearms."
Even as the NRA publicly crushes Congress in its grasp, equally chilling work is going on behind the scenes. Did you know, for instance, that the organization maintains a web-based tally of individuals and groups that have "lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations?" The blacklist comprises groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, the AARP, and 138 other collective threats to national freedom; individual Benedict Arnolds such as Christie Brinkley, Keyshawn Johnson, and a number of medical and religious "national figures;" journalists, columnists, and cartoonists (cartoonists!); corporations (yet another reason to wear Levi’s); and publication & media outlets (PBS, of course; Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine, not so expected).
Frankly, it would be an honor to make this list. If only the person wielding the pen weren’t holding a cocked and loaded gun in the other hand.
Juliet Eastland lives and writes in New York City.