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NRA Getting it Right, Except on Tester

By Beacon Staff

The number of guns Americans own has skyrocketed, but how is this significant?

An incredible paranoia swept the country back in 2008 when it started to look like a perceived “gun-grabber,” Barack Obama, might become commander-in-chief. The rest of the economy tanked, but thanks to Obama, the gun industry prospered. Manufacturers couldn’t even make enough guns, especially handguns, to meet demand. Not only did the number of handguns owned by private citizens double, to more than 100 million handguns (about one handgun for every two adults citizens), but sales of long guns and shotguns also soared. Americans now own at least 250 million guns (more than one per adult), including around 20 million of what gun control advocates call “assault weapons.” The number of privately owned firearms continues to go up by 4 million per year, and interestingly, many new handgun buyers are women.

Watching this happen – in utter disbelief and shock, I’m sure – gun control advocates frequently predicted “terrible consequences.” But what really happened?

The FBI’s recently released crime statistics give us that answer. Now that more private citizens own more guns than ever, violent crime has sunk to a 35-year low, including a 6 percent drop in just one year between 2008 and 2009 when Americans were buying every gun they could get their hands on, plus tons of ammo when they could find any on the shelves.

Remember the Obama paranoia? The new president didn’t push for any new gun legislation, but he did sign several pro-gun laws, including the most pro-gun bill in a long time, legislation allowing open and concealed carry of loaded guns in national parks.

I am not saying Barack Obama has philosophically morphed into a pro-gunner. I am saying the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the rest of the gun lobby has put up such an impenetrable political shield that neither the White House nor Congress will even consider trying to breach it.

The gun lobby needs to stay on the job keeping the defense of the Second Amendment impenetrable, but people giving money to anti-gun groups, well, if you really want to help the country, forget guns and donate to something that matters like trying to get real health care reform, Wall Street and Big Bank regulation, getting out of endless and unwinnable Middle East wars, or giving corporations real incentives to hire people.

Tester, the NRA’s Big Miss

You may have heard the NRA referred to as the National Republican Army because the country’s most powerful lobby rarely endorses Democrats over Republicans. That was certainly true back during Montana’s epic race in 2006 between three-term Republican Sen, Conrad Burns and Democratic Jon Tester with the newcomer narrowly edging out the powerful incumbent by only 2,847 votes. Even though Tester had a perfect record of supporting Second Amendment rights, the NRA endorsed Burns.

I used that endorsement as evidence of the NRA not really caring about wildlife conservation or the preservation of our hunting heritage. Otherwise, given the choice between two candidates, both with “A” ratings on gun rights issues, the NRA would have endorsed Tester because he had a sterling conservation record compared to Conrad Burns.

Well, that’s one endorsement they must still talk about back in the NRA boardrooms. Tester turned out to be the congressional spearhead of the gun lobby, aggressively supporting every pro-gun bill, initiating his own pro-gun legislation, and fighting any new anti-gun regulation. He has probably done as much, if not more, for gun owners in the past four years as any Republican.

Most recently, Tester made headlines by taking the lead in pushing the State Department to allow the sale of thousands of WWII-vintage rifles, but that’s only one of many moves the junior senator from Montana has made on behalf of gun owners. He also supported allowing guns on Amtrak; fought United Nations efforts to restrict gun ownership; pushed for a national cross-state standard for concealed carry permit holders; helped repeal firearm registration and other anti-gun regulation in Washington, D.C.; warned Attorney General Eric Holder not to push for more gun control laws or regulations; signed congressional letters and briefs supporting the national park gun rule and recent pro-gun Supreme Court rulings; and battled to keep the Department of Defense from destroying used brass handloaders use.

The point is, Tester has done more for gun owners than Burns would have, but not without a little controversy.

During the 2006 campaign, it came out that Tester hadn’t bought a hunting license for several years. His critics blasted him for merely playing politics with the gun issue. That could be true, I suppose, but so what? For whatever reason, Tester has spent the past four years going out of his way to help gun owners. He hasn’t been sitting around, like most politicians, making a convenient vote here and there to keep his NRA rating up.

In fact, I’m betting the NRA departs from its preference for Republicans and endorses Tester when he runs for re-election in 2012 (unless, of course, if he’s running, as rumored, against Montana’s lone congressman, Republican Denny Rehberg), but will the big cheeses at the NRA ever have the backbone to fess up and admit they screwed up back in 2006?

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