The literally fatal flaw in maximal gun logic, and the reason it will eventually succumb to more socially responsible policy, is the inability of the extreme gun-rights movement to draw distinctions.
There are gun owners who follow best practices both for handling guns and securing them. They respect the lethal power in their possession and its tragic potential, and they take precautions to safeguard others as they protect themselves.
Then there are George Zimmermans.
The gun-rights movement embraced Zimmerman as a hero and ideological soul mate. Here is what we know about him. In February 2012, he fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager. In September 2013, after his acquittal for Martin's death, Zimmerman's estranged wife said Zimmerman smashed her iPad during a domestic dispute. (She initially told police he had a gun but changed her story.) This month, she called him a "ticking time bomb." Also this month, Zimmerman was arrested after his girlfriend, Samantha Scheibe, told police that Zimmerman had pointed a shotgun at her and used it to smash a table.
Zimmerman is a reckless man who has already caused one senseless death. There is mounting evidence that he is also a violent man, one who brandishes guns to bully women. When he was arrested last week on domestic-violence charges, Zimmerman had five guns and more than 100 rounds of ammunition.
The National Rifle Association demands that a reckless, violent bully be afforded the same access to guns and ammunition as, say, a well-trained, responsible and emotionally balanced target shooter. More, it demands that every deranged Adam Lanza who is not institutionalized be given equally unfettered access to guns.
Earlier this year, the NRA opposed a House bill to fund state programs to identify and disarm gun owners who've been deemed mentally ill or have committed a serious crime. In 2009, it opposed a bill empowering the U.S. attorney general to block weapons sales to anyone whose name appears on the government’s terrorist watch list.
It's a testament to the American passion for guns that the NRA can champion maximum gun rights for terrorists, the insane and the violent and retain remarkably favorable ratings from the public at large. But it's unclear how much the public knows of NRA policy views and, in any case, that passion animates fewer and fewer people. As the number of households owning firearms declines, claims of extreme guns rights should find it more difficult to gain purchase. The Supreme Court has ruled definitively that guns can be regulated. Zimmerman is an ever-more convincing exhibit of why they need to be.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)