It's Hard to Fight Fair on a Slippery Slope

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On the second day of the NRA Convention, I had a chance to dialogue with a number of zealous gun-rights advocates. The conversations were all civil, but I kept running into the same problem.

Whenever I brought up the basic policy positions that Faith Forward Dallas holds concerning gun control (see here), I heard about the slippery slope. Yes, the age-old slippery slope argument is still alive and well in the NRA.

The slippery slope argument is nothing but the “if I give an inch, they’ll take a mile” theory applied to politics. It is essentially an absolutist position: either this or that, but nothing in between or in moderation. 

Applied to the NRA, the slippery slope argument is the concept that any regulation or restriction on gun ownership will inevitably and surely lead to the prohibition of all gun ownership, and finally to the confiscation of all guns from current gun owners. Therefore, the NRA will always resist any regulation or restriction.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince one pro-gun advocate that I had no interest in taking guns from the average citizen, nor am I trying to abolish the Second Amendment. I said simply that I wanted more common-sense gun policies.

But he wouldn’t buy it. Perhaps he believed that I didn’t personally want to come take his guns away from him, but he sure had a good idea of those who did — “liberal Democrats.” I was informed that their agenda is to abolish guns outright.

I said, “I don’t know any Democrats who are seriously arguing for that.” He assured me that Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, and Hilary Clinton (all female, interestingly) had all dropped hints that this is precisely what they wanted. 

I didn’t get a chance to ask why they — or anyone — might want to abolish guns, but it was clear from Chris W. Cox, Wayne LaPierre, the presenters on NRATV, and anyone else in leadership: to create an oppressive, socialistic system of tyranny. 

No, there are no facts or evidence to back this assertion up, but none is needed if you’re really afraid of the mere possibility. 

And that is the genius of the NRA’s messaging. They have successfully instilled the fear of tyranny into their base to the point that good, decent law-abiding citizens reflexively resist common-sense gun regulations and restrictions. They honestly believe that banning bump stocks is one step on a slippery slope that leads to the ATF breaking down their door to grab their rifles. 

For all the talk about founding fathers, the Second Amendment, and American liberty and freedom, however, the NRA forgets that the founding fathers built a democratic system of governance with a great number of checks and balances on tyranny. Gun-toting citizens are not the only, nor the primary, check on governmental overreach. Instead, there are three separate branches of government, each of which is designed to prevent Americans from losing their basic freedoms.

For now, the problem is that the NRA won’t budge on gun policy. That is a problem because Congress is supposed to be a legislative process, and in that process, people have to compromise, to negotiate, to consider, dialogue, and reason together. If one side refuses to “give an inch,” then there is no possibility for unity. 

Ultimately the NRA will have to back down, because public opinion has changed, and is continuing to change. The swell of people in the streets joining the March For Our Lives movement and Moms Demand Action have had enough of unrestricted gun ownership. They are tired of the free flow of weapons on the streets of America, and they are going to press for changes. 

But they’re not “coming to take your guns away.” They’re not “violent socialists” (an actual accusation the NRA throws at their political enemies). They’re not “anti-American” or “freedom-hating.” They want to do politics the old-fashioned way: give and take, learn and respond, understand and respect.

Forget the slippery slope; there are solid footholds. With a little logic and reason, anyone can find them.

Who's Afraid of the NRA?

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I now receive the monthly NRA publication called “America’s 1st Freedom.”

First of all, the magazine’s name is problematic. The “right to bear arms,” contained in the Constitution’s Second Amendment (not First), is NOT our country’s first freedom. Rather, the First Amendment outlines those freedoms which come first, not only sequentially, but in importance and weight, namely the freedoms of religion and religious expression, speech, press, and peaceful assembly.

The idea that gun rights are the basis upon which this country is founded is … kind of sad, if you think about it. 

That’s the premise of all the content in “America’s 1st Freedom.” You could consider this a clear piece of propaganda in service of the concept that the “right to bear arms” is a sacred and God-ordained freedom, and that any and every regulation which infringes upon ownership of any and every type of weapon is an affront to the foundations of the country.

I’m not exaggerating. In fact, the NRA loves any and every attempt to regulate guns because it fuels their basic narrative: “they” are coming for your guns and will take away your possessions, your liberty, your money, and your happiness. 

This is how they succeed. They play the politics of fear. They scare ordinary Americans who own guns for hunting, sport, or simple self-defense with the idea that there are people out there who want to take their guns away. And they frighten politicians by offering and withholding money for their re-election campaigns.

The NRA has been winning because they know how to instill fear in folks.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a few samples from the May 2018 issue of “America’s 1st Freedom.”

In his column, “Standing Guard,” executive vice president Wayne LaPierre paints the media as the latest boogyman: “We face a well-orchestrated, coordinated, deliberate effort to demean and diminish the NRA and regulate our freedom out of existence. You see, the national news media have been taken over by a new wave of European-style socialists who don’t believe in our constitutional freedom or free-market capitalism.”

Should I even bother with deconstructing this absolutely ridiculous piece of hysteria? Doesn’t LaPierre know that liberals are NEVER well-orchestrated? 

The executive director of NRA-ILA painted the same dire picture in his column, “Political Report.” Chris W. Cox writes, “Like Obama, the more clever gun-control activists, eager to curry favor with moderate Americans, have sought to assure the public that they seek only minor, ‘reasonable’ or ‘common-sense’ changes to current policies. According to these con artists, they only want to restrict a small subset of extremely dangerous firearms or keep firearms away from unpopular demographics … Each incremental step that Americans acquiesce to facilitates the next and brings gun control advocates closer to their ultimate goal of civilian disarmament.” 

Ah, it’s the old “slippery slope” argument. Keep the crazies from getting a gun, and the next thing you know, they’ll be kicking in your door for your AR-15. 

All of that is good-old, basic American fear-mongering. The rest of the magazine plays out the same narrative: the Illinois legislature is about to raise the age limit for ownership of certain firearms to 21 — but what they really want is ALL your guns; we are ALL being blamed for the Parkland massacre; the failure of the Broward County, Florida sheriff is a warning that government is BAD; and only the NRA stands for basic American decency.

This naked appeal to fear and loathing is incredibly dangerous to the fabric of civil society. The politics of fear corrodes trust and destroys unity. 

I refuse to be afraid of anything. I refuse to be afraid of the “other,” of crime and so-called “criminals,” of government and anarchists alike, of terrorists and foreigners. 

I refuse to be afraid of the NRA. 

Wayne LaPierre Sent Me a Nice Letter: Here's My Reply

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Dear Wayne LaPierre,

Thank you for your very nice letter welcoming me to the NRA. I didn’t expect a letter from you, since you’re quite the celebrity these days, but it was a nice touch.

You suggested that I carry my NRA member card with pride, and I can promise you that I am carrying it. I have it in my wallet. However, you also said that the card “symbolizes what you stand for as an American,” and I wanted to state that, actually, it doesn’t.

As an American, I love my country and the people who live in it. I think we have a unique Constitutional system, and I am proud of the Bill of Rights, in particular. Even though I will never own a weapon, I understand that the Second Amendment protects an American’s right to “bear arms,” though I don’t think I understand that phrase the same way you do. I’m OK with that; I’m not trying to pry your weapons out of your hands.

But I don’t think the freedom to own any weapon you or I want is “what I stand for as an American.” I’m more persuaded by the line in the Declaration of Independence that says all Americans have an inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Unfortunately, the current gun freedom in this country threatens the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of millions of people.

You also said that the card means “that (I’m) a member of a family of patriots who make NRA the most powerful defender of freedom in America today.” Again, I take issue with this statement. I know that you’re biased, since you’re the executive vice president and all, but there are lots of organizations out there defending freedoms and rights that currently aren’t being recognized in our country, like Amnesty International, ACLU, and the Human Rights Campaign. This might just be some exaggerated bravado, and again, that’s OK.

But we also apparently have different definitions of “freedom.” I don’t believe that owning a gun has anything to do with freedom. In fact, as long as you carry a gun (except to use in hunting or sport), you’re not free; rather, you’re in bondage to the belief that violence can be defeated with violence.

You’re fond of saying that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” but Mr. LaPierre, that’s a dangerous thing to say. It suggests that people can easily be divided between good and bad, and that you can tell quickly by looking. Ah, but the truth is that we all are both good and bad.

Furthermore, as I have already pointed out, the so-called “freedom” of Dylann Roof, Nikolas Cruz, and Stephen Paddock, to name only a few, was not any type of freedom for their 84 victims.

There is one thing I do agree with in your letter. You said that you need me now more than ever before. “Your voice, your activism, and your votes are how we’ll save freedom … I look forward to hearing from you and getting to know you better in the weeks and months ahead.”

So true, Mr LaPierre. I look forward to that very much, too.

Sincerely,

Wes Magruder

 

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em

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Dear NRA:

Good morning and happy Eastertide. I hope your Easter was meaningful as a conclusion to a horrendous Lent. You might recall that the shootings in Parkland, Florida occurred on Ash Wednesday. Most of us spent the forty days of Lent in somber reflection upon the toll of gun violence in our country. You spent that time … well, differently. Actually, you have been in quite a defensive posture lately, haven’t you? 

We spent Lent lamenting the uselessness of violence, and the tragedy of Jesus’ suffering and execution. You spent Lent celebrating the “God-given right” to own guns, even guns which are good for nothing else but inflicting harm on humans. You spent Lent calling teenagers “crisis actors” and “whiny.” You spent Lent comparing Parkland survivors to Nazis. You spent Lent mocking people who simply want common-sense gun laws.

We observed Easter Sunday with the hope that the despair of violence and suffering has finally been defeated by Jesus. You observed Easter by saying that the answer to violence is more violence.

Frankly, NRA, I have become very tired of your rhetoric and fear-mongering, as has a solid majority of this country. Every time there is a mass shooting, the public voices of the NRA double-down on more guns and less restrictions. 

I recognize that you are a powerful institution, NRA. I see that you have become a very powerful lobbyist in Washington and in capitols across the country. I know that you have lots of money to distribute to politicians to make sure you get your way.

You won’t back down easily, either. There have been some moments recently in which we all thought the tide was turning against you — Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub, San Bernardino, and now Parkland. Every time, you have bounced back, stronger than before.

I have marched in the streets against you. I have railed on social media against you. I have signed petitions, subscribed to websites, and read hundreds of articles.

And nothing has changed. Somehow you only get stronger.

So I am doing the only thing left to do — I’m joining you.

I’m now a card-carrying member of the NRA.

I sent in my $40 and got a nice looking card to carry in my wallet, as well as a handy pocketknife with the letters “NRA” engraved on the blade. Thanks for the knife, by the way — that was a nice touch.

But I’m warning you — you don’t know who you have let into your ranks. I now have access to the Exhibit Hall at your 147th annual convention which is being held in my hometown of Dallas, Texas next month. I’ve ordered my convention pass. I want to see for myself what kind of show you put on. I want to walk amongst you and bear witness to who you are and what you represent.

I’m also planning to attend your Sunday morning “Prayer Breakfast.” I put that in quotes because I don’t think we share the same definition of prayer. I’ll be praying, for sure. And fasting.

I will be there, NRA, because I’m calling you out. You are a hollow, shrill, and pathetic institution which preys on people’s fears and hates. And the people are tired of it.

Worst of all, you don’t truly represent the people who are part of you. You have become something alien, a frightening monster, a distorted beast. You don’t care about the wellbeing of people, their safety and freedom; instead, you have become captive to an extreme reading of the Second Amendment and have turned it into an idol.

Now that I’m a part of you, I will do everything in my power to stop you from spreading your toxic message, and to persuade you to listen to the men, women, and teenagers who are not trying to pry your guns from your hands but instead pass some plain old common-sense laws about guns. 

Now that I’m a part of you, I will take my responsibility of membership seriously, and call you to accountability. I will show up, listen, and let you know what I think. Believe me, you’ll get an earful. 

See you in May.

 

Wes Magruder