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NRA Represents Only A Fraction Of Gun Owners


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, Oscar nominated actress Angela Bassett and film director Antoine Fuqua are here and they will tell us about their latest project, the action thriller "Olympus Has Fallen." It may make you rethink that White House tour you'd been planning. That's later in the program.

But now we want to take another look at the issue of gun rights and gun safety in this country. We've been hearing a variety of perspectives on this program.

First, though, the news. A proposed ban on a number of so-called assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines was removed from a Senate Democratic gun policy plan, clearly a setback for the bill.

Now, many advocates for tighter restrictions on gun ownership blame the political influence of the National Rifle Association for standing in the way of such efforts. NRA CEO and executive vice president Wayne LaPierre spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week and he talked about that. Here it is.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: I came here to stand for what I believe is true. The political elites, they may not like it. The liberal media can keep hating on me, but I'm still standing, unapologetic and unflinching in defense of our individual freedom.

MARTIN: Now, the NRA reports that it has 4.5 million members, but it is estimated that a third of American households claim gun ownership, so even by its own admission the NRA's membership only accounts for a fraction of them. So who speaks for all the rest?

Now, we're about to meet one such person. His name is James Gash. He is a farmer and a gun owner and while he does not claim to represent millions of people, he recently wrote an editorial for the Kentucky Heralder(ph) about why the NRA does not speak for him, and he is with us now from member station WUKY in Lexington, Kentucky.

Mr. Gash, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

JAMES GASH: Thank you.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, your editorial is titled "I Depend On My Gun, But the NRA Does Not Speak For Me." Why now? Why did you want to write this piece now? You've been a gun owner for quite some time, as I understand it.

GASH: Yes, I have. I guess it's the critical mass of events that seem to occur more regularly than not in our lives. The elementary school shooting, the Aurora shooting - they blur with time. It's a painful blur, but it just seems like it becomes incumbent upon us to address it to reduce the chances of recurrence. I don't think, if you asked the average person right now who's paying attention, any of them would have any confidence that we have done anything to reduce the possibility of something happening tomorrow or next week, for instance, that's even worse and bigger.

MARTIN: You call your gun a tool, like a calf-puller, kept handy and brought out when needed. Give an example, if you would, about how you need your guns.

GASH: Well, there's any number of instances where, on the farm, at least, you have varmints, you have incidents where coyotes have become more and more populous in our area and are predators on baby calves. That would be an instance. You also have animals like groundhogs that are considered varmints, that if they go uncontrolled, they'll undermine your barns and outbuilding.

MARTIN: You also mentioned, though, that there are times when you just feel it's necessary for the protection of your home and family to have a weapon.

GASH: Certainly, certainly. We're far enough away and we live down a dead end farm lane. If someone comes down that lane with bad intentions, it's a reasonable use of a gun and a reason for having one to protect yourself and your family. There was an instant that I was gone on a fishing trip, as I remember, and my wife, for some reason, woke up in the middle of the night and all the lights were on in the barn down the road. She walked down there to it and I was glad that she took a deer rifle and she caught a fellow emptying a bunch of tools into a box, and I don't know what the outcome might have been if she went down there unarmed.

MARTIN: And you go on to say in your piece, the point I wish to make in no uncertain terms is that the National Rifle Association does not speak for me, for while I am one who believes strongly in the 2nd Amendment, I also believe gun control is an issue with a tolerable middle ground. And I take from that that you believe that the middle ground is not somehow present in our debate, you know, right now. Why do you think that is?

GASH: Probably because of the stridency of the rhetoric. I don't think the rhetoric matches the sentiment of the bulk of the population. I kind of entered into this debate perhaps a little naively. I feel like the boy that poked the hornet's nest with his fishing rod. The question of casual involvement doesn't seem possible and if you're not careful in this debate, you'll find yourself shouting. I would like to bring a little reason back to that, a little calm. My little entry into this debate has educated me rather quickly how impassioned a certain small proportion of gun owners jealously guard that right and they want that right to be unlimited.

MARTIN: But, you know, to that end, though, the NRA does make the argument, and Wayne LaPierre pretty much made it at CPAC as he has made it repeatedly, he's not hiding this point of view, that the NRA stands for no compromise because they argue that even limited attempts at gun control, including a so-called assault weapons ban - I know there's a lot of argument about whether that term even means anything, but for the sake of argument we'll use it - is the first step in taxing or confiscating guns from law-abiding owners and that there are individuals who believe - in fact, one person wrote and responded to your column saying that there are circumstances in which they believe that people should be able to have high-powered military-style weapons because they might need it to defend themselves against an oppressive government.

GASH: Yeah. The question then becomes, how much do we want to trust their judgment about this government being worthy of being overthrown? There are reasonable regulations. I think it makes sense that the weapons that most people are talking about putting limitations on are military weapons that are designed for mass killing in the shortest amount of time and those are properties I don't feel like I need as a gun owner.

MARTIN: But could you make an argument, though, that by not joining the NRA, by people like you, the millions of people who are gun owners who do not belong to the NRA - that you've allowed that organization to represent a very tiny minority of gun owners?

GASH: Well, that's an interesting argument. I really have no interest in joining the NRA because of the stances it's taken, but I really don't necessarily feel a need to be represented in that manner. I guess I could join a tractor owners' association as well.

MARTIN: OK. Well, thank you for joining us. Before I let you go, just - I mentioned a sampling of the reaction to your piece. What kind of reaction have you gotten? I'm imagining that many people are stopping to buttonhole you and share a comment or two.

GASH: Well, you know, there's a small percentage of people that disagree and disagree mightily, but I've got - an overwhelming majority of comments have been positive. I've had people call me that I'd never known before and I guess they looked my number up and wanted to make the point that they thought it was a good common sense position.

MARTIN: James Gash's commentary, "I Depend On My Gun, But NRA Doesn't Speak For Me," recently appeared in the Kentucky Heralder(ph), and he was kind enough to join us from member station WUKY. That's in Lexington, Kentucky.

James Gash, thanks so much for speaking with us.

GASH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.