After the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook last December, the nation seemed poised to enact common-sense gun controls. Poll s showed that even the majority of gun owners and NRA members were in favor of such measures as universal background checks and the banning of some military style assault weapons.

Then, while most of us were still reeling with shock, the NRA went into high gear. Wayne LaPierre was all over the airways sounding like a cross between Elmer Gantry and an Old Testament prophet warning of Armageddon. His message: The government was coming to confiscate our guns and deprive us once and for all of our Second Amendment rights.

After weeks of this, and despite President Obama’s assurances that the government did not want our guns and had no intention of messing with our right to own them, public opinion slowly but inexorably began to shift. Passionate arguments for these same modest gun control measures by the president and the parents of the murdered children fell on deaf ears. Congress listened to the gun lobby once again and decisively voted down the gun reforms.

And the n came the massacre at the Navy Yard — 12 dead, eight injured — and public reaction was not only muted, it was almost nonexistent. David Gregory on “Meet the Press” felt obliged to ask LaPierre: Is this the new norm? As if LaPierre had the answer. Indeed, I think he does.

We have to ask why the gun lobby’s arguments are so potent. How do they manage to override our common sense and evoke our deepest, most primitive fears —not once but time after time?

I have a theory. I believe the NRA is deliberately channeling the voices of those individuals and groups that exist on the extreme fringes of society; groups that have never had a legitimate platform for their loathsome views and paranoid fantasies until the NRA gave them one.

I’m talking about self-described racist skinheads, felons whose hatred of society was forged in prison, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and “doomsday” cultists like David Koresh, who provoked his own apocalypse at Waco. All have in common an unshakable belief that the federal government is the enemy.

And that’s the message the NRA is relentlessly insinuating into the lizard part of our brains: Hang on to your assault weapons, your .50-caliber bullets and your 100-round ammo clips. You’re going to need them when the government comes to take first your guns, then you, away.

Ann Shoben, a science writer for several nonprofit scientific and research organizations, retired to Tucson in 1998. Contact her at