EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


December 30, 2012

Column: The NRA is missing its old conservative conscience

Just as the National Rifle Association has famously stood tall in defending the Founding Fathers’ Second Amendment guarantee of our “right to bear arms,” no one ever stood taller in defending the NRA than the Founding Father of modern conservatives, the late Sen. Barry Goldwater.

The Arizona Republican, an iconic figure with his white hair, square jaw and black-rimmed glasses, famously posed standing tall beside his favorite rifle in a newspaper and magazine ad that proclaimed, decades ago: “I’m the NRA.”

And indeed he was. Yet in 1989, as cops patrolling our city streets were being outgunned by bad guys with semi-automatic assault rifles fitted with magazines carrying 30 rounds and more, Goldwater also demonstrated why he also deserved his other, even more famous badge of designation: “The Conscience of the Conservatives.”

“I’m completely opposed to selling automatic rifles,” Goldwater told The Washington Post then. “... I’ve never used an automatic or semi-automatic for hunting. There’s no need to. They have no place in anybody’s arsenal. If any SOB can’t hit a deer with one shot, he should quit shooting.”

It was typical of Goldwater’s clarity of ideology and commitment. A quarter-century before that, a young student named David Keene was so inspired that he quit the University of Wisconsin to work on Goldwater’s ill-fated 1964 presidential campaign. Keene eventually became head of the American Conservative Union; and later become president of the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, the semi-automatic weapons with huge magazines have become weapons of choice for deranged killers who slaughtered students in Columbine High School in 1999, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary just days ago, as well as people in malls and movie theaters.

The federal government once banned sales of some assault weapons, but left loopholes permitting sales of others. Then Washington would prove itself gutless, as senators and representatives let the ban expire, fearing attacks by the NRA Goldwater once championed.

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