Just as the National Rifle Association has famously stood tall in defending the Founding Fathers' Second Amendment guarantee of our "right to bear arms," no one ever stood taller in defending the NRA than the Founding Father of modern conservatives, the late Senator Barry Goldwater.
The Arizona Republican, an iconic figure with his white hair, square jaw and black-rimmed glasses, famously posed standing tall beside his favorite rifle in a newspaper and magazine ad that proclaimed, decades ago: "I'm the NRA."
And indeed he was. Yet in 1989, as cops patrolling our city streets were being outgunned by bad guys with semi-automatic assault rifles fitted with magazine clips carrying 30 rounds and more, Goldwater also demonstrated why he also deserved his other, even more famous badge of designation: "The Conscience of the Conservatives."
"I'm completely opposed to selling automatic rifles," Goldwater told The Washington Post then. "... I've never used an automatic or semi-automatic for hunting. There's no need to. They have no place in anybody's arsenal. If any SOB can't hit a deer with one shot, he should quit shooting."
It was typical of Goldwater's clarity of ideology and commitment. A quarter century before that, a young student named David Keene was so inspired that he quit the University of Wisconsin to work on Goldwater's ill-fated 1964 presidential campaign. Keene eventually became head of the American Conservative Union; and later become president of the National Rifle Association.
Meanwhile, the semi-automatic weapons with huge magazine clips have become weapons of choice for deranged killers who slaughtered students in Columbine High School in 1999, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary just days ago, as well as people in malls and movie theaters.
The federal government once banned sales of some assault weapons, but left loopholes permitting sales of others. Then Washington would prove itself gutless, as senators and representatives let the ban expire, fearing attacks by the NRA Goldwater once championed.
Recently, in the Washington merry-go-round spirit of what goes around comes around, it was Keene who convened a nationally televised event where the NRA advocated arming America with those semi-automatics that Keene's hero, Goldwater, once decried.
Keene had billed the event as a news conference, but opened it by announcing it would be a no-questions news conference. That left the Washington press corps performing in a somewhat reduced role of NRA wallpaper. Then NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre entered to lambaste journalists for not doing their jobs properly.
The NRA advocated arming good Americans so they can outgun bad Americans -- and left loudly unmentioned the notion of reinstituting a ban on assault weapons sales.
It is at this point in this column that you are probably expecting a full-blown fusillade against the nutty notions of gun nuts -- but we are not going there. Because the truth is that the NRA has a point (which it chose to make callously and cravenly).
The NRA says: (A) Evil-doers with guns blazing are more likely to attack where they know they will not encounter armed guards -- so we must better safeguard schools and other public places; and (B) Banning legal sales of assault weapons won't guarantee that bad people will not obtain those deadliest weapons.
NRA critics say: (C) We must ban semi-automatic weapons for private use; and (D) Ban those ammunition magazines can enable them to fire 30 bullets and more without reloading.
The correct answer -- the only answer -- to safeguard our communities must be all the above. But we dare not implement our solutions with our eyes wide shut.
We must understand, for example, that turning schools into amateur vigilante outposts, with teachers armed and guns locked in desks, will probably lead to accidental shootings. And will probably result, as well, in some guns falling into hands of students who break into locked desks.
The NRA's new true believers seem to have forgotten the guiding principles and wisdom of those who were once its conscience.
And all of us need to recall forgotten lessons. For example: In 1999, Columbine High School was protected by an armed, trained guard. He traded shots with the killers, but couldn't prevent the slaughter.
In safeguarding America, no proposal will be flawless. But we dare not dismiss any ideas -- even those of our political adversaries -- with our old politics as usual.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.)