PIERRE - With the state legislature about to take up the question of allowing armed personnel in schools, it is worth considering the influence of the National Rifle Association on South Dakota politics.

Since the watershed of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, gun policy has returned to a national political prominence not seen since the shootings at Columbine. President Obama has already enacted a range of executive actions ranging from appointing a full-time director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, to funding studies on the effect of violent videogames on children.

The US Senate will likely consider restoring the ban on assault weapons, outlawing high capacity magazines, and requiring background checks for purchases at gun shows in the first weeks of this new congress.

However, here in South Dakota our legislature is only seriously considering the single proposal put forth by the NRA, namely arming school employees.

Owing in large part to a strong tradition of hunting, South Dakota ranks as a top ten state in gun ownership as gauged in terms of purchase initiated background checks per capita. Conventional wisdom suggests that our lawmakers need to be wary of crossing the gun lobby, or face challenges from NRA endorsed and funded candidates, but there are pretty good reasons to believe that these concerns are overblown.

First, the NRA is a paper tiger. Less than 1% of the money they spent in the last election cycle went to candidates that actually won. That is not exactly a track record of which advocates of responsible gun ownership should be too frightened.

Most importantly, the NRA might not be able to get its own membership to the polls on these issues. The organization has long since moved from being a club of gun owners to being a shill for the gun industry.

Recent polling shows very large majorities, as high as 85%, of NRA members support an assault weapons ban.

It is not difficult to understand why; no one needs a gun designed to kill as many humans as quickly as possible to hunt deer, squirrels or birds. Hunting South Dakotans know that an assault weapon and high capacity magazine ban would not affect their chosen pastime one iota. Nor would closing the gun show loophole or banning certain types of armor piercing ammunition.

As strong as the South Dakotan tradition of gun ownership is, it does not trump the commitment to family, law and order, and commonsense. Most NRA registered South Dakotans are unlikely to see restrictions on the most deadly weapons as an infringement on themselves, so lawmakers should take NRA bluster with a healthy dose of skepticism.

As for the idea of allowing local school boards to decide whether certain school personnel should be armed, it should be noted that such measures are favored by the majority of Americans. One of the President’s recent executive orders was aimed at funding the efforts of schools to place police in their halls, should they so choose.
It is also worth noting that despite having an armed guard at Columbine, campus police at Virginia Tech, and an entire base full of soldiers at Fort Hood, mass murders still occurred with little if any hindrance to the shooters.

While moving authority to make these decisions to the local level is commendable, the real danger is in believing that simply putting someone with a gun in each school solves the problem.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossman and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this radio station, Results Radio or Townsquare Media.