The NRA's Vigilante Approach to Justice

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”

Wayne LaPierre



This is the NRA’s primary slogan. It is pithy, easy to remember, catchy.

And it’s deeply flawed.

Let’s take a closer look at the logic of the statement: first of all, the basic claim that an armed guy is the “only thing” that can stop another armed guy is obviously untrue. Just last week, an unarmed man in a Waffle House disarmed a naked shooter, and then proceeded to raise over $200,000 for the families of the victims. 

Besides anecdotes like these, there are the larger cases where entire movements changed the course of history without firing a shot or carrying their own weapons into war. Gandhi led India to independence without guns; Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement faced down hundreds of armed guys, most of whom were supposed to be the “good guys,” by the way; and don’t forget the fall of the Berlin Wall, the overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, or the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. 

Perhaps it would be more accurate if LaPierre and the NRA claimed that “the best way” or “the quickest way” to stop a bad guy with a gun, etc.

But this is also an extremely problematic statement. How does one know the difference between a good guy and a bad guy? Is it that easy to spot?

I suppose LaPierre would answer that a bad guy is the person who is doing something illegal or harmful. But notice how easily the term “bad guy” can be expanded … what about the person who potentially might do something illegal or harmful? Are they bad, too? Should they be stopped with a gun?

What about someone with a criminal past? Is he “once bad, always bad” or do we hold out the possibility that he has reformed and become a law-abiding citizen? 

What about someone who fits in a particular ethnic or racial group which has been stereotyped as a group more prone to criminal activity? 

And what about white-collar crime — are “good guys with guns” the best way to stop tax evaders? Funny how the NRA doesn’t really seem to be all that concerned about the bad guys who are so wealthy that they don’t need guns or weapons to commit their crimes.

As a pastor, I cringe when somebody refers to good guys and bad guys. Because one of the major tenets of Christianity is the persistence and ubiquity of sin. Every single one of us has sinned; we regularly fall short of the glory of humanity. We often fail to live up to the image of God in which we are created. 

At the same time, we do sometimes live up to the image of God! Sometimes we are crazy beautiful and creative people; we love spectacularly and commit great acts of mercy and compassion. 

Throughout our lives, we stumble between the two poles of sin and glory. As the Apostle Paul lamented, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Martin Luther summed it all up with his dictum that we are “simultaneously saints and sinners.” 

Unfortunately, in the mind of LaPierre, there are essentially two kinds of people in the world — the good guys and the bad guys. You’re either one or the other. I simply can’t accept that dualism, that simplistic black-and-white thinking, especially when it directly impacts the safety and wellbeing of ordinary people.

There’s one more reason why this oft-quoted statement is problematic: LaPierre and the NRA support the idea that armed citizens have the ability and the right to be the judge and jury of another person’s actions. Never mind due process — the appropriate punishment of any crime committed with a gun is the death penalty.

Yesterday, security camera footage was released of an incident in a convenience store in which an undercover cop pulled a gun on someone he thought was stealing a package of Mentos. Only it turns out that the man was not stealing the mints; he’d already paid his $1.19. What is truly frightening is that the “good guy with a gun” was ready and willing to use his firearm to stop a bad guy with Mentos. 

We have another word for this behavior: vigilantism. That’s what the NRA supports. That’s what a pack of law-abiding, arms-packing citizens who are watching out for bad guys with guns ultimately become — vigilantes. 

The NRA talks a lot about the rule of law, but when it comes down to it, the only rule that matters to them is the one that comes down a barrel.

So who’s the bad guys?

It's Hard to Fight Fair on a Slippery Slope


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.

The NRA is Fighting a War It Will Lose


Walking down the long, broad hallways of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center today, where the NRA Convention is being held, I felt extremely out of place.

For one, I was wearing my clergy collar, which is unusual for me. I don’t normally wear it in my daily work.

Often, I get mistaken for a “priest” or “father” while wearing my collar, and this crowd was decidedly not Catholic, and likely not Episcopalian either. I can only imagine what they thought I was doing there.

And, of course, I don’t connect with these people politically. I find some of their positions downright dangerous and wacky. So it felt strange to be wandering among them, listening in to their conversations and showing interest at their booths. 

However, there is an even deeper dissonance, which finally dawned on me while I was sitting through the long speeches of Vice President Pence and President Trump, and the NRA’s own Chris Cox and Wayne LaPierre.

The NRA is successfully and unashamedly waging a culture war.

This war is the same one that was fought between “true patriots” and “dirty Irish Catholics,” Negroes, Jews, “Chinamen,” Japanese-Americans, anarchists, Communists, “illegal immigrants,” and Muslims. The war is always portrayed as a fight between good, Protestant Christian, freedom-loving Americans and those who aren’t. 

Pence plays along magnificently by talking openly about his evangelical Christian faith. When I say “evangelical Christian,” I mean that it is quite implicitly anti-Catholic (except when it comes to abortion), anti-mainline denomination, and anti-any-other-religion. In fact, not one speaker referenced the existence of any other religion.

LaPierre plainly addressed the membership of the NRA as inhabitants of the country’s “heartland,” people who are decent, hard-working, honest, “law-abiding citizens.” And he contrasted these patriots with their enemies, and there are many enemies: the mainstream media elites, the political class, university professors, and the cities of Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Hollywood. These are broad-brushed stereotypes, but they are resonate deeply with the people who make up the bulk of NRA membership.

The crowd booed and hissed at any and every mention of these “enemies.” But I could understand why. Because most of them can’t possibly relate to what it’s like to live in a big, urban, multicultural city, and most have likely never met a Muslim, much less a Sikh, Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, or Buddhist. These are folks who have had much of their impressions of life elsewhere framed by television or Facebook. And yes, these are the people who get their news from Fox. 

Not once did I hear the words “tolerance” or “diversity” mentioned. That’s because these are dirty words in the culture wars. There is right and wrong, law and order, borders and boundaries. They must be respected, no matter who you are and where you’re from. You shouldn’t “tolerate” what is wrong, and nobody needs “diversity” when it’s so crystal clear what is best and right.

Seen from that simple perspective, NRA members make sense. America is for Americans first — naturally. The only threat to good Americans are bad folks with guns, and the only way to stop them is with your own guns. 

But the world is so much more complex than that. This planet is full of diversity, beautiful in its variety, but also confusing in its chaos. There are real problems that we have to solve together, and we cannot simply retreat into a “what’s-best-for-us” mentality.

NRA members represent a certain way of life, which they understandably want to preserve. However, times have changed — and are changing.

The crowd was largely, overwhelmingly, impossibly white. And it is aging.

I looked around the room and thought, “This isn’t what America looks like.” It never has, but it certainly won’t be in a few years when minorities will outnumber whites. There were no refugees present, no DACA young people, no Indians or Pakistanis. The people who are changing the future of America with their genius, their courage, their gun-transcending solutions, were not represented. 

The NRA can’t win this culture war because culture is a slippery matter, and can’t be contained by wishful thinking. Eventually, Americans will decide that the NRA is a vestige of white supremacy and will settle on more rational, common-sense gun policies.

Until then, there may be many more victims of this war.


Interesting Responses to A Faithful Response

I am responsible for creating the website, "A Faithful Response to the NRA Convention" for Faith Forward Dallas, which contains information about our Prayer Vigil, as well as our Policy Statement. I'm starting to receive feedback from this statement, and shall we say, the crazies are out?!!

Comment received yesterday at 11:19 pm from Fred: "I read the position statement. I clicked on the links included in that statement that I assume are intended to support statements made. A shocking number of statements made in that position statement are either refuted, or at the very least are not substantiated, by the information found on those webpages. It is so disappointing to find misinformation being spread, but especially by faith groups. Not only does that hinder finding successful solutions to the problems we face, but when the truth is encountered, it drives people away from faith communities. Thou shall not lie. Thou shall not bear false witness."

Not really sure which statements have been refuted or non-substantiated because he didn't tell me. But we're certainly not trying to spread misinformation. 

Comment received today at 6:00 am from Susan: "Your petition is a weakly written and poorly researched, deceptive crock of shit. All the sources you name are old and out of date. Things are taken out of context. It is written with a totally anti-gun bias. And it's wrapped up in FAITH. How dare you use churches and faith to push your leftist propaganda. And ask people to blindly sign. BTW, lose the pale gray type it's so f****** hard to read."

No comment.

More to come ...


Who's Afraid of the NRA?


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.