After
every mass shooting, I become a metaphorical target for my liberal
friends. I am a gun owner and concealed-carry permit holder. I believe
the Second Amendment is as foundational to our country today as it was
two hundred and thirty nine years ago. I think the country’s founders
wished to imbue the right to self-defense in every citizen.

Worst
in their eyes? I have a lifetime membership in the NRA. That is the
great boogeyman for so many anti-gun liberals and they simply don’t see
the NRA as anything but a manifestation of political evil; worse than
the men who took up arms against innocents at Columbine, Newtown, and
Law Vegas, just to name a few.

Through the red in their eyes, it
is hard for them to understand the non-political benefits that attracted
people like me in the first place. The instructional courses, the
educational magazines, discounted insurance policies, and access to
fire-arm related events. If you want to know why the NRA has so much
political clout, you don’t need to do anything more than compare the
paltry attendance at Tuesday night’s caucuses - even an energized
Democratic Party base only had a fractional proportion of its registered
members attend - to the number of people who file into an event like
Denver’s annual Tanner Gun Show.

And for the majority of its existence, the NRA argued for responsible gun ownership up to and including reasonable, rational restrictions.

Unfortunately,
the NRA has waved a white flag on advocating for responsible gun
ownership. Their spokeswoman Dana Loesch made that abundantly clear when
she made personal rhetorical attacks against 17-and-18-year-olds from
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I don’t doubt that many of those
kids received talking points from gun-control advocates; but I’m even
more certain the raw emotions and heartache fueling their advocacy are
100-percent their own. Given that the voice of those students isn’t
fading, but growing, the long-term effect of Loesch’s tactics seem
likely to backfire. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some
point the NRA will realize they only brought a peashooter to the battle
for the future of gun rights in America. In contrast, the Marjory
Stoneman Douglas students appear to be stockpiling an arsenal of
powerful arguments.

Of course, Loesch is just a symptom of the
greater problem. Over the past few decades, the NRA has allowed the
shrill cries of “no compromise” gun groups to erode its prior dedication
to open, reasoned debate on the role of guns in our country and the
rights of our citizens. Groups like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (who both
uses an AR-15 in its logo and as a fundraising draw), Gun Owners of
America, and the National Association for Gun Rights have spent the past twenty years waging a relentless campaign against the NRA for being “too soft” on gun rights.
The NRA response was too often to tuck tail and acquiesce. I know from
personal experience; when I ran as a card-carrying member of the NRA for
state senate in 2014, RMGO savaged my campaign with emails and mailers.
The NRA didn’t bother to respond - instead they let RMGO foist its
scorched-earth candidate and message upon the race. He lost the general
election and the NRA lost its way.

The truth is gun owners need
knowledgeable, reasonable advocates now more than ever, just as the
NRA’s self-immolation seems complete. Otherwise, they risk having laws
dictated to them by elected officials with no idea how guns work, much less how they can be owned responsibly.

In
recent years, gun rights supporters have adopted the Greek phrase
“Molon Labe” (roughly translated as “come and take them”). Considering
the formidable opposition posed by a rising tide of student advocates,
they may want to rethink that challenge. Or they may have to learn how
to say “we surrender.”

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and
Denver Post columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system
and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq