The question isn't whether our gun laws are nuts. Of course they're nuts. The question is: Why are they nuts?
The answer has a lot to do with money.
The National Rifle Association is an extremely wealthy organization — taking in $228 million in revenue, according to its 2010 federal tax return — with extremely well-paid senior staffers. Executive vice president Wayne LaPierre earned $960,000 in 2010, while executive director of general operations Kayne B. Robinson cleared more than $1 million.
I'm sure they wouldn't be in these positions if they weren't genuine gun lovers — and, yes, "lovers" rather than the dispassionate "owners" is the right word. But I'm also sure they very much like being part of an organization with the cash to influence national elections, terrify lawmakers and, yes, pay its top-ranked people almost like investment bankers.
Don't you think they might occasionally put their heads together to figure out ways to keep the money rolling in and the limousines rolling?
Don't you think the dean of Florida gun rights lobbyists, Marion Hammer, occasionally scrambles to justify the $300,000 she received in 2010 from the NRA and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida?
Absolutely, said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the national Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the total budget of which, by the way, is less than LaPierre's annual salary.
"The NRA thrives because it creates causes," Horwitz said. "It's gotten more and more radicalized to have members give up their last dollar."
Given his job, he would say that. But look at the evidence:
As just about everybody knows by now, the 2005 Florida law known as "stand your ground" has been cited by police as the reason for not charging the shooter of Trayvon Martin in Sanford. State law enforcement officials say they've also seen a spike in claims of justifiable homicide since the law passed, so I think I'll go with the alternative name, "shoot first."
One state law in 2008 guaranteed that workers with the proper permits could keep guns in their cars at work, and another act from 2011 — since struck down by a federal judge — prohibited pediatricians from asking patients if they kept guns in their homes. If you want to argue with Horwitz's use of the word "radicalized," consider that Hammer's original bill called for noncomplying doctors to face prison sentences and fines of up $5 million.
Big fines are still in place for public officials who try to create or enforce local gun rules tougher than the state's, thanks to last year's "pre-emption law." That's why the Hernando County Commission was powerless to stop a man from running an Internet gun business in a quiet Spring Hill neighborhood and the reason the city of Brooksville can't keep firearms out of its parks.
All this goes far beyond the constitutional right to bear arms that the NRA professes to be protecting.
They won that battle long ago, beat the opponent into the ground. The NRA is a pushing a cause without any real opposition.
In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has twice agreed with the NRA's interpretation of the Constitution. "Shoot first" passed the Florida Senate unanimously, and this week it received the renewed backing of co-sponsor Rod Smith, a former senator and current statewide leader of the Democratic Party.
Finally, contrast Hammer, the lavishly paid gun lobbyist, with the most persistent voice for gun control in the state, Arthur Hayhoe, 79, of Wesley Chapel.
"I'm broke, and I run around the state on my Social Security check," Hayhoe said, adding that he has seen clues, in the furor over Martin's shooting, that his ideas are gaining traction. "There's been more dialogue on this law in the past few days than I've been able to generate in seven years."
NRA, take note. At some point, even in Florida, maybe gun laws can get too crazy.