THE NATIONAL Rifle Association has done good work in its time representing the interests of gun owners and promoting gunmanship, target competition and firearms safety. But in recent years, with ever-greater stridency, it has become a trade association for the enlargement of markets for gun manufacturers and dealers. That, too, is a legitimate enterprise, but a very different one -- a difference NRA leaders have disguised with the language of ideological extremism.
Its trade association motivation was never clearer than in its application to the United Nations for accreditation as a non-governmental organization (NGO) that may make its views known to U.N. bodies. This is because the General Assembly created a U.N. Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms to inquire into ways "to prevent and reduce the excessive and destabilizing accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons."
The inquiry may never amount to more than U.N. wheel-spinning, but it was instigated by two countries that control weapons sales but are plagued by ever-more violent criminal gangs that smuggle all they need from the U.S. and elsewhere. One of these is Colombia, the other Japan.
The NRA certainly deserves this accreditation. If it has information, the panel should invite it to appear. If it is alarmed that reducing international small arms trade would harm the world, that is the forum in which to express those fears. The NRA has already enlisted members in a postcard blitz of the Japanese mission to the U.N. denouncing the initiative.
But the legitimate gun owners of America might wonder what interest they have in keeping gun exports up to supply Colombian narco-terrorists and Japanese gangsters. Tighter controls of this trade would not impede target practice, safety instruction, home protection or antique ownership in the United States.
It is a threat only to the expansion of markets for those gun dealers and manufacturers who don't know -- or want anyone to know -- the ends for which their products may be the means. That's whom the NRA really represents these days. Not the law-abiding American gun owners for whom it purports to speak.
Pub Date: 11/30/96