The Block Island Times

Guest Opinion: Not Right Away

By Martha Ball | Jan 28, 2013

Generally speaking I am not a fan of guns.  I loathe the sound of them in the settling dusk, I hate the fact that forever seared on my mind is a tableau from my kitchen window, the fiery flash of a muzzle a nano-second before a deer fell, a split second before the sound reached my ears. Even given that, I think in a perfect world we’d have a small, contained deer herd that would be a food source, so I close my heart and sign deer hunting permission forms, trusting the hunters will be respectful as most are, hoping some deer will be removed in the process.

And I hear that the recent insidious positions of the National Rifle Association (NRA) leadership (“porn,” one commentator aptly called the ad questioning the protection afforded the children of the President of the United States, an ad that betrays more of the mindset of that leadership than they seem to realize) may not fully represent the full membership of the organization, although their silence is not reassuring.

Yes, there is a local relevance: I doubt everyone realizes the long — and, again, insidious — reach of the strong arm of the NRA. A number of years ago I was at the State House in Providence in my capacity as First Warden. My council had submitted several pieces of legislation, chief among them raising the first-time home owner exemption on the property transfer tax, which we’d always been told not to touch lest we lose the entire authority and the establishment and funding of the Housing Board, which we thought a long shot at best. Those and others of our bills flew through the Senate Corporations Committee (the place most legislation dies  is “in committee”) and went on to become law.

Our remaining legislation — home control of deer hunting — we did not expect to pass and it did not. I know full well there were factions who blamed me, personally, and refused the reasoning of picking one’s battles. Getting all but one passed was a darn good record, one of which we were — I think justifiably — proud. Everyone knew the state Department of Environmental Management was vocal in its opposition to our deer legislation and that, alone, would likely have carried the day. The whole story was so preposterous it really wasn’t worth trying to explain.

At the Senate committee hearing that day the owner of a Providence gun shop testified that the hunting of deer — a state resource — on Block Island brought his establishment no business. No, there was no logic involved; were the hunting authority shifted, nothing would have changed. I do not remember if anyone from the NRA — there in the person of the Rhode Island State Rifle and Revolver Association — or the Gun Owners Political Action Committee actually testified, but it had been made clear they were opposed to it, again for reasons I never understood beyond a perception of somehow limiting wide access to the killing fields; I do remember being told a number of the committee members received campaign funding from the NRA (the inanity of the NRA caring about deer hunting on Block Island does not trump political finance reality). It was not an expenditure of political capital; it was a safekeeping of real capital, it was a lesson in governance on all levels. It did at least explain the inexplicable: how on God’s Green Earth could anyone beyond our shores care enough about this issue to expend political capital on it.

This was the great and powerful NRA, the nationwide organization that brazenly held its annual convention in Denver just 11 days after the springtime massacre in nearby Columbine — where, they want us to forget, the first person shot was a guard. It was that same year that a September 18 piece in the Denver Post opened with:

“It seems inevitable that the shooting rampage at a Baptist church in Texas will become the latest round of ammunition in a debate about guns that has ratcheted up with each deadly shooting this year. But not right away.”

That was in 1999, even longer ago than my 2002 trip to Providence.

And now we hear warnings against knee-jerk reactions, against emotional responses, against any action other than more gun sales. It’s been a winning formula, keeping serious discussion of gun safety at bay all these years; why change course now?

“Not right away,” powerful words carrying an implied promise of action.

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