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We can't let the pro-gun zealots win

April 16, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, left, and Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania talk about their proposal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers at the Capitol in Washington.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, left, and Republican… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave politicians everywhere some sound advice on gun control recently.

Defending New York’s tough new measures against critics who charge that the state has exceeded its regulatory authority, he said:

“Yes, they are against it, but they are the extremists, and the extremists shouldn't win, especially on this issue when it is so important to the majority. In politics, we have to be willing to take on the extremists, otherwise you will see paralysis.”

How obvious, and how true.

But, of course, it isn’t that simple. After all (if I may paraphrase): One man’s extremist is another man’s freedom fighter. Or, as Barry Goldwater so famously said: “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

So, I'm willing to give many gun rights advocates the benefit of the doubt when they say they are engaged in a principled fight for the freedom to bear arms -- that they are defenders of liberty and the Constitution.

But that doesn't mean they should be opposed to the bipartisan proposal to extend background checks to most gun sales proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.).

Their plan falls short of what President Obama and many others want when it comes to background checks and other gun control measures. Yet its passage in the Senate is anything but assured. Which leaves even a conservative like Toomey puzzled:

"There are other members of this body who are not happy with this bill because they want active, aggressive gun control. But trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who aren't legally entitled to have them -- dangerous people, be they criminals or dangerously mentally ill people -- that's not gun control. That's common sense."

Yes it is, senator. Unfortunately, common sense left the NRA’s building a long time ago. Otherwise, how to explain the group’s opposition to a measure proposed by one of its members -- Manchin? The same man who, as my colleague Michael A. Memoli wrote recently, “owns two 12-gauge Beretta shotguns, a semiautomatic Remington 58 Sportsman and a deer rifle,” and who, “since he was elected to the Senate two years ago … has easily maintained an A rating from the National Rifle Assn.”

Manchin, like Cuomo, has heard from the crazies. And he’s bothered too:

"All these lies and distortions, and trying to promote paranoia that we're going to take their guns away, repeal the 2nd Amendment, we're going to have a national registry -- all of this crazy nonsense by real zealots, real extremist groups and different organizations," Manchin fulminated in a recent interview. It was all, he said, "a bunch of lies."

So now comes the test. The Senate is expected to take up the measure this week. The NRA and other gun rights advocates say we should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.

That’s what this measure would help do. It should pass.

Otherwise, the extremists win. And that’s never a good thing.

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