Safe Or Sorry? What Will Be Legacy Of Nra?

`SAFE, Not Sorry: Keeping Yourself and Your Family Safe in a Violent Age" is the title of National Rifle Association chief lobbyist Tanya Metaska's new book. It's also a major theme of the NRA's 126th annual meeting, which kicks off this weekend in Seattle. The vigorous promotion of safe and responsible gun ownership is always welcome. But the gap between the NRA's rhetoric and political reality is glaringly wide.

Consider the fate of the bipartisan Whitney Graves bill this spring. Whitney was an 8-year-old girl from Marysville who was fatally wounded when a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol accidentally discharged at the home of a 10-year-old friend. The child had found the handgun on the top shelf of his parents' closet. If the loaded firearm had been properly stored away from a child's reach, both Whitney and her friend would today be safe - not sorry.

A legislative package named after Whitney proposed reasonable measures to encourage safer gun storage, gun-safety awareness and reduction of accidental shootings involving children.

Contrary to the hyperbolic objections of the NRA lobby, no individual mandates on gun storage were involved. Instead, the bill would have made it a gross misdemeanor for a gun owner to leave a loaded firearm in a place where an unsupervised child is likely to gain access. It exempted from prosecution responsible gun owners whose firearms were secured with a safe-storage device (e.g., a locked box, gun safe, trigger lock, or similar device) or obtained through unlawful entry.

The bill also required licensed gun retailers to offer to sell or give customers a safe-storage device. And all sellers would have been required to post signs informing customers that it is unlawful to store or leave unsecured loaded firearms where children can obtain access. Fifteen other states have passed similar legislation.

NRA lobbyists blasted supporters of the Whitney Graves bill for being more interested in "demonizing firearms" than in protecting children. Nonsense. Among the backers was Alan Gotlieb, president of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Bear Arms. As Gotlieb realized, nothing in the bill undermined gun-advocates' cherished right of self-defense.

In fact, it strengthened incentives for personal responsibility without resorting to burdensome regulations. Nevertheless, NRA-backed legislators strangled the bipartisan bill with amendments and killed it in committee.

The NRA claims membership of nearly 3 million law-abiding gun owners. For more than a century, the organization has promoted gun safety, education and training programs for both children and adults. That history is worth celebrating.

But the strong-arm tactics and growing ideological zeal of the NRA lobby threaten to undermine a proud legacy. Whitney Graves is our region's reminder to out-of-town conventioneers of how far the NRA has strayed.