Like many controversial issues, the dialogue surrounding gun control can go from friendly to flammable in only a moment. Constructive discourse is often hindered by accusatory and extreme rhetoric, suggesting that there is perhaps no middle ground and thus no forum for productive conversation. Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly aim to change that. Both gun owners and avid supporters of the second amendment, Giffords and Kelly began their efforts to expand firearms background checks after Giffords was shot point blank by a mentally ill detractor on January 8, 2011. Founders of the organization Americans for Responsible Solutions, the couple has written a new book, Enough: Our Fight to Keep America Safe From Gun Violence, that chronicles Giffords’ ongoing recovery and rallies the cry for responsible gun ownership. We spoke with Kelly about the book and he and Giffords’ ongoing effort to encourage sensible gun laws.
Your book suggests that one side of the gun control debate is fed by extreme generalities that often distract the public from the real issues. How have extreme views clouded the issue?
Well, if you just listen to statements made by the head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, or the head of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt, the message is that any new gun laws and any kind of [purchasing] restriction on the rights of anybody, including criminals or the dangerously mentally ill, will lead (not could lead) to massive confiscation of firearms from everybody, and will lead to a tyrannical government.
Do they really believe that?
I don’t think they believe it for a second. But I do think they believe it works.
How does the NRA profit from greater gun sales?
There are several different programs that manufacturers have to support the mission of the NRA. I don’t remember which one it was for sure but I think it was Taurus that did the buck-a-gun program. In one year, if they sold more than a million guns, Taurus would write a check directly to the NRA for a dollar for each gun. There’s also a round-up program that a lot of gun stores and gun sellers use, where you round up the purchase price to the next dollar and the change goes to the NRA. So there is a correlation between how the industry is doing overall, and the money that goes to the National Rifle Association.
Will restricting criminals and the mentally ill from buying firearms really put that big of a dent in gun sales?
Probably not. But I think they’ve figured out that the no-compromise approach is the rhetoric that works best for them.
It’s acceptable in our society to restrict drunks from driving cars, namely because they can kill or harm innocent people. The same is true for illicit drugs. How are those legislative measures any different than keeping mentally ill or criminal people from being able to buy guns?
It shouldn’t be any different, right? That’s what’s so crazy about this. People who are repeat DUI offenders lose their drivers license. But somebody who gets out of prison, who is a convicted felon, is able to go to a gun show in most states, or over the Internet, and go buy a gun. It doesn’t make any sense.
[In America,] we do 60 percent of gun sales with background checks. And 40 percent are completed without a background check where they’re not required. It’s like if you go to the airport and you’re going through security, and [you see] another line where there’s no metal detector and no TSA. And 40 percent of the people are allowed to go through there. Where do you think the terrorists and the criminals are going to go? They’re going go through that line. That’s the [background check] system we have.
You seem to be under no illusion that you can completely eradicate gun violence. There will always be ways to get around the law. But your efforts appear to be focused on the individual lives that can be saved by the fact that a criminal or mentally ill person couldn’t easily get their hands on a gun. Is that a fair assessment?
Yes, absolutely. You’ll never know what you’ve accomplished. But if we can just prevent the next Newtown, the next 20 kindergarteners and first graders from being murdered in their classrooms, it was well worth the effort.
Laura Jenkins is a writer living in Austin, Texas.