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