Slippery Slopes, Imagined and Real

04/17/2013 07:48 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

The leadership of the NRA is exceptionally fond of the Slippery Slope argument. "Universal background checks will inevitably be followed by a national registry of gun-owners which will inevitably be followed by confiscation of all their guns." Or, "A ban on assault-style weapons and thirty+ round magazines will inevitably be followed by a ban on hand guns with ten-round magazines, that will inevitably be followed by bans on all guns, including antique dueling pistols inherited from our Founding Fathers".

Problem number one with this slide down the fearsome slope is how much weaponry has changed since the days of militias with muskets. Even the NRA agrees that lines have to be drawn somewhere. They do not favor legalization of civilian use of rocket-propelled grenades, bazookas or stinger missiles. If there is a slippery slope we are starting approximately half-way down.

At the core of those tacitly accepted restrictions is the National Firearms Act of 1934. A product of the Al Capone era, it banned various weapons including mob favorites like long-guns with short barrels and fully automatic guns. The law was upheld by The Supreme Court in 1939. I guess pre-NFA we were a little farther up-slope and then slid a few feet down.

The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was another slip down the slope. But the NRA will tell you both that it changed nothing and that it expired in 2004; if we did slip we crept back up. The Brady Act of '94 requiring background checks of people buying guns from licensed dealers was also a little slip. It's harder to tell where the NRA stands on that one: they don't work to repeal the law, but do not want the loopholes in the law closed, yet they say they would like to see the existing system improved - especially when it comes to the mentally ill. Maybe they are on some kind of ledge, teetering in mid-air.

A poser for panicky people pounding pitons into the perilous precipice. Which of these two would you rather be in a gun fight?

Mr. Smith has a vintage tommy gun that sprays 45 caliber bullets all over the place until, as usual, it jams, he wears street clothes. In case something goes wrong, Mr. Smith has a buddy wielding a vintage sawed off shotgun, behind the wheel of a vintage 1933 Buick Model 57.

Mr. Jones has the latest Glock 17C with a laser sight that fires 9mm ammo from a 33 bullet magazine with extreme accuracy. He wears Kevlar body armor. His sidekick, ready with a sniper's rifle loaded with 50 caliber armor-piercing bullets, is in an armored 2013 Chevy Suburban.

Why, we would all pick Mr. Jones, of course! Especially if the cops come before the fight starts. Mr. Jones can just glide away from the scene having broken no laws. Mr. Smith, on the other hand, will be on his way to the clink headed down the slippery slope toward a lifetime of crime... of course!

Here's the most important slope of all. This one is slippery, it does promise to decline steeply and I understand why it scares the hell out of NRA leadership. It's the chart with sales projections for U.S. gun manufacturers.