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Sanjay Sanghoee Headshot

What the NRA Is Really Afraid Of

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For an organization that champions guns and machismo, the NRA is surprisingly easy to scare. If you disagree, you merely need to observe its reaction after the mass shooting in Connecticut.

Despite public support for gun control rising, including amongst law-abiding gun owners and some Republicans, the NRA has made it a point to oppose, vilify, and machinate against any type of gun control, including expanded background checks, culminating in its newest atrocity -- conducting robocalls to the citizens at ground zero: Newtown.

This type of belligerence is so extreme, not to mention dumb, that it can only be a sign of fear. If the NRA truly wanted to engage with the nation on the topic of gun rights, it would not be doing everything in its power to antagonize the government and the people by its total intransigence and tone-deaf indifference to the safety of Americans. The only logical conclusion is that the NRA is afraid and, like any scared person, hitting back aimlessly at whatever it can.

But what exactly is the organization so afraid of? The answer to that lies in its stance on background checks.

Even the most ardent conservatives and Second Amendment supporters agree that guns should not be sold to criminals or the mentally ill. In fact, more than 80 percent of gun owners support universal background checks. This is not a matter of parsing the constitution but of simple survival for the American public. Background checks reduce the chances of unqualified buyers getting hold of dangerous weapons and then using them to commit mayhem; they make it easier for law enforcement to trace guns back to their owners and hold them accountable for where their weapons wind up; and from the perspective of law-abiding gun owners, background checks protect their right to bear arms by preventing that right from being abused by unscrupulous buyers.

Given all this and the fact that some 40 percent of guns are sold without background checks, who in their right mind would oppose a system to prevent that?

The NRA, and not because background checks don't work, but because Wayne LaPierre and Co. are afraid that they might.

For one thing, if background checks are effective, then toughening them up could lead to fewer gun sales, which would hurt the NRA's shadow constituency of gun manufacturers. That part is easy to spot. The other part, however, is the dirty secret that the NRA does not want us to guess. Successful background checks could also mean greater safety for Americans and therefore less opposition to gun ownership in the nation. That, in turn, would make the NRA obsolete.

The sad fact of the matter is that the NRA is never more relevant than when gun violence rocks the nation. Every time a mass shooting occurs and public sentiment turns against guns, the NRA suddenly comes alive, donors flood the war chest of the organization with money, and the gun industry ramps up support for its most powerful line of defense against gun control. To put it more crassly, it is precisely when America bleeds that the NRA earns its keep, and so any measure that would keep guns off the streets and which would reduce gun violence is not really in the NRA's personal interests.

It is all right for Americans to disagree about gun control, but background checks are such a basic, common-sense measure that they should not be up for debate at all. The NRA's opposition betrays its bad faith in the national discussion about gun control, and the self-serving agenda that it is really promoting.

Don't be fooled. The battle over background checks is not about the Second Amendment; it is about the NRA's desire to please its corporate masters, its need for relevance, its thirst for power, and its deep-rooted fear of a safer America with a national consensus on gun laws.

SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks and at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of a thriller titled "Merger", which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". He writes regularly on the topic of gun control.