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A woman at a makeshift memorial for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 15, 2012. (MARCUS YAM/NYT)
A woman at a makeshift memorial for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 15, 2012. (MARCUS YAM/NYT)

Globe editorial

Public should confront gun companies, instead of letting NRA do the talking Add to ...

When 20 children and six of their educators were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, Americans turned their eyes to the National Rifle Association. How would it respond? What would it say? A week later, the NRA finally delivered its laughable and insensitive call to place armed guards in every school. Now some are rightly arguing that those who want saner guns laws in the U.S. should take their fight directly to the source: the gun manufacturers themselves.

It is no secret that the NRA, in spite of its claims of being a grassroots organization, is heavily funded by gun makers. And it is more obvious than ever, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, that the NRA’s clients prefer it to take the heat in the wake of such tragedies while they remain in the background. The NRA has become adept at keeping the discussion away from the subject of the manufacturers. By framing the debate around the Second Amendment and blaming the media and video games for mass shootings, the NRA inflames passions and refocuses attention onto itself.

There’s good reason for this. Gun makers are very nervous about the backlash that each new slaughter brings. After Newtown, some of the companies saw their stock prices fall precipitously. A private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, announced it would sell the company that made the rifle used to gun down those 20 children. But it was not a moral decision; it was an economic decision made by an anxious investor who feared tighter gun laws.

Gun manufacturers are producing a legal product, and can hardly be blamed for wanting to protect their business. But they can also play a constructive role, as responsible corporate citizens, in accepting some restrictions, and distancing themselves from the extreme rhetoric and dangerous objectives of the NRA.

If people want to see change, the economic route may be the way to go. And that would mean confronting the gun companies themselves. It would take a courageous politician to ignore the NRA’s caustic rhetoric and call the companies’ owners and executives into a hearing room in Washington. There the public could watch as they justified their position on sensible regulations and the sale of assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, the banning of would be the first step in bringing sanity back to America’s gun laws.

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