A few years ago I turned 55—a scary time for a guy who had to buy his own health insurance on the open market. Talk about sticker shock! So I thought, why not join AARP, the mega-senior’s organization? Surely they have some sort of group medical insurance a member can piggyback on. It was only after I had purchased a multi-year membership that I decided to research this powerful special interest group and see what their official position was on issues important to me. First and foremost was the issue of gun ownership. What I discovered surprised the heck out of me.
I did not know at the time know that AARP wanted to severely restrict its membership’s right to own firearms.
That was back in 2007. Here’s what their website said at the time: “AARP believes in the Constitutional right to bear arms. But to make the nation safer, we must do what we can to keep guns out of hands of children and criminals. AARP supported the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which went into law in 1994 with bi-partisan support. AARP supports measures to eliminate firearm possession by juveniles, convicted domestic abusers and those under domestic violence restraining orders.”
I called their headquarters and, after playing phone tag to try and get a statement to no avail, finally received an e-mail response from them after asking for their official position on private gun ownership. Here, in part, was the response from someone in “Member Services.”
“Thank you for contacting AARP headquarters on the issue of state and federal gun policies. This is a difficult subject for people to discuss without misunderstanding. Even though you may not agree with AARP's objectives on this one issue, I hope you find our work toward prescription drug coverage in Medicare, for example, and many other important issues worthy of your continued support.
“At this time, the Board of Directors has recently restated AARP policy to continue to support careful measures to restrict the availability of guns to certain populations. Yet, our policy does not preclude responsible citizens who are educated in gun safety from gun ownership.
“However, respected research continues to indicate that the use of firearms in assaults and robbery—particularly handguns—is directly linked to the high death rate from interpersonal violence in the USA compared with other industrialized countries. The prevalence of random violence featuring handguns in some neighborhoods has resulted in numbers of older people becoming virtual prisoners in their homes. Increasingly, families are suffering the loss of children and grandchildren who are the victims of violent crimes and senseless shootings. While registration requirements do not eliminate criminal or psychotic misuse of handguns, such requirements reduce the availability of guns, just as laws do not eliminate but do reduce the availability of illegal narcotics. Reduced availability to inappropriate users means lives saved. While you may disagree with the Board on this particular policy, we hope that many other issues, objectives, and services of AARP so beneficial to older Americans encourage you to remain or become a valued member of the association.”
Talk about a misinterpretation of statistics to support a policy of restricted private gun ownership. No mention of the fact that there are laws already on the books written to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons. No mention of the fact that in states where concealed carry laws occur, violent crime drops dramatically. (In fact, in states that have passed liberal carry laws, deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings have fallen on average by 78 percent in the past half-decade.) Or the fact that a high percentage of juvenile gunshot victims are injured by inner-city gangbangers, often in turf wars over drugs. Or readily available statistics from places like England, where handguns were banned in 1996, yet in the years since the ban, gun crimes have risen 40 percent. The country now has eclipses the U.S. in robberies and aggravated assaults by a wide margin, and is rapidly catching up in murders and rapes.
Fast forward to 2013. With all the hullaballoo about a new “assault weapons ban” and all the other proposed gun-grabbing legislation on the front burner today, I decided to revisit AARP and see if their position had changed. Before contacting AARP directly I scanned their website searching for a stated policy position on gun control. I looked high and low, even using search engines and spending the better part of two hours in the process. No luck. So I sent an e-mail in early February to the Member Services Division. On February 25 I sent it again. Here’s what it said: “Good morning! I am a working press member and also an AARP member. A quick question. Given all the recent hoopla concerning private gun ownership and proposals to restrict the ownership of certain types of firearms, magazines, etc., my readers have been asking me what AARP's official position is on the topic. Can you provide me with a statement that describes AARP's position and/or a person I might speak with by phone? I thank you! Sincerely, Robert Robb, XXXX cell phone, AARP member XXX XXX 235 4.”
Finally, on March 5, 2013 I received the following e-mail:
“Dear Mr. Robb:
Thank you for contacting AARP about our policy concerning firearms. This is a difficult subject for people to discuss. I appreciate your sharing your views with us.
“AARP policy does not "ban all guns." Our policy targets only inappropriate gun purchasers, not responsible citizens. Here is the statement passed by our Board of Directors:
“Congress should eliminate gaps in and strengthen enforcement of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and other federal gun laws. States should enact legislation to eliminate gaps in, and strengthen enforcement of, federal and state gun laws, particularly with regard to possession by juveniles, convicted domestic abusers and those under domestic violence restraining orders.
“AARP continues to support careful measures to improve the enforcement of existing federal and state laws. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, homicides are most often committed with guns, especially handguns. In 2005, 55% of homicides were committed with handguns, 16% with other guns, 14% with knives, 5% with blunt objects, and 11% with other weapons. Recent research indicates that lethal violence in the US far outpaces other Western nations. AARP policy reflects concern that crime-especially violent crime-may have particularly severe consequences for older people and teens.
“AARP policymaking is an ongoing process. Our all-volunteer National Policy Council thoughtfully develops each policy, after reviewing the pros and cons. Then the Council makes recommendations to the Board of Directors, who are also all volunteers. Both groups are made up of a distinguished cross-section of AARP members. All our public policies are carefully reviewed biennially and the Council makes recommendations on issues annually or more frequently as needed. Communications from members, like yours, contribute to establishing, strengthening and updating our policies.
“I hope this information has been helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact us if there is any way we may be of assistance in the future. Thank you again for taking the time to get in touch. It is an important part of our job to consider carefully the concerns of every member.”
In other words, their policy has not changed. If this bothers you—as it bothers me—I urge you to contact AARP with your opinions and concerns, especially if you are a member. They are reached at 1-888-687-2277; www.aarp.org. When I canceled my membership, they knew exactly how I felt.