This is not an article about guns. It’s not meant to attack gun owners or advocate for sensible gun control. It’s not about whether guns kill people or people kill people or even a logical breakdown of how of course people kill people, but guns make it terrifyingly easy for them to do so en masse. No, this is about the NRA. An organization that’s quite intentionally tearing at the fabric of a society that’s already stretched thin and splitting at the seams.
By being the noisiest, wealthiest, most media-savvy of all pro-gun groups, the NRA is often discussed as if it’s inseparable from our broader gun control debate. But by tugging at the oily tendrils that this organization has left glommed all over the gun control conversation, you can indeed untangle the two. Gun control is a massive issue which — most Americans agree — needs pragmatic management, common sense regulations, and across-the-aisle leadership; while the NRA is one of our nation’s most racist, xenophobic, fear-mongering “social welfare organizations.” The former needs the attention of pragmatic elected officials and nuanced thinkers (Beto O’Rourke comes to mind); the latter deserves to be rejected by every American acting in good conscience. Not for its belief in guns, but for how it props up those beliefs with divisiveness.
For evidence of the NRA’s slick double standards, one need to look no further than Botham Jean, the Dallas man shot by an off-duty police officer on September 6th. When speaking on the case, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch implied that not having a gun was what sealed Jean’s fate, saying:
This could have been very different if Botham Jean had been, say he was a law abiding gun owner and he saw somebody coming into his apartment.
She followed that up by blaming Philando Castile — himself a gun owner with no criminal offenses on his record — for getting shot by the police. As the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer quickly pointed out, the NRA’s stance on Jean contradicts their policy of silence or police support when legally armed black people are shot by law enforcement (which itself is a direct contradiction of the NRA’s advocacy for “open carry” laws). This dizzying double standard reminds us that the NRA — where leaders wave guns and sing to their guns and talk about their guns being taken from their cold, dead hands — quickly grows ambivalent about guns the second their position might come into conflict with their staunch support of white supremacy.
To lay out every example of NRA bigotry would bore even the most engaged/enraged reader (there’s an entire website built to catalog these incidences), but a few situations demand to be mentioned:
- After Hurricane Sandy, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre lied about rampant looting in the mythical land of “South Brooklyn” — his lack of specificity seemed like a poorly lampshaded attempt to stir up racially-motivated fears nationwide.
- At the NRA National Meeting in 2015, LaPierre said in opposition of Hillary Clinton, “Eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough” — essentially a call for a return to white, male leadership.
- Grant Stinchfield, an NRA TV host, chalked up the gun violence problem in America to “minorities killing each other.”
- Stinchfield (broadcasting with ex-Army Ranger Chuck Holton), also warned of a race war led by Black Lives Matter — after connecting the movement to violence in South Africa.
- Perhaps worst of all, the NRA continues to give Ted Nugent a platform to speak for them and sit on their board (he was re-elected in 2016), though the man is aggressively prejudiced in all of the lowest and grossest ways imaginable — reciting rhetoric that smacks of Nazism, sharing racist memes, and spitting slurs every time he opens his mouth. Oh, and did he write an op-ed about the joys of using the n-word? Yep.
One more for the road…
- In the weirdest joke ever attempted by humorless people, last week the NRA put Klan hoods on Thomas the Tank Engine in order to mock the show’s push for diversity. How did the segment relate to guns? It didn’t. But clearly the NRA’s broadcasting arm thought that having Loesch rant about diversity gone overboard on a show about sentient trains would resonate with their audience.
It’s not only matters of race where the NRA reveals itself as rotten to the core. The organization has also duped responsible gun owners into feeling as if they were reasonable advocates — all the while using fear mongering (fear of the other, fear of the government, fear of diversity, fear of the left) to boost sales for their corporate donors.
There is no behavior more jaded, perhaps in this country, than a CEO like LaPierre (who clocks more than a million dollars per year), telling everyday gun owners that the world is scary in order to sell more guns.
Contrary to commonly held notions, the NRA is not the only pro-gun group on earth. Orgs like Redneck Revolt attack racism right in their mission statement, while Pink Pistols goes after homophobia. That’s just to say: In light of the NRA’s current move into polarized politicking over a second amendment focus (they’ve waded into Kaepernick, #MeToo, and race this year alone), it would be interesting if gun owners turned away from them in favor of a less systematically bigoted option. Already, amidst reported financial struggles, the NRA has realized that it needs to appeal to a wider audience that LaPierre’s rhetoric offers access to. NRA TV’s Colin Noir is the channel’s most prominent black host and its most nuanced host in general. It’s curious that he’s not featured centrally on the NRA site — where many of his white co-hosts with smaller followings take center stage.
Going after the NRA won’t “solve” gun control. But gun control isn’t an issue to be solved, not truly. Maybe it’s more about picking the right voices to listen to in a conversation that will continually evolve in order to fit the needs of our society. The point here then is that the NRA’s voice — full of white supremacist bluster, absolutely reveling in fear, and masterful in its ability to divide people in order to drive home an agenda — is far louder than it deserves to be. It has dominated a conversation that needs input from more sensible Americans on both sides of the gun divide.
Those fighting for common sense gun control recognize the toxicity of the NRA, but maybe the first step in shifting (and de-escalating) the debate is for Second Amendment supporters to admit that being led by a rat king of fear-inciters is against their best interests too. The NRA has failed gun owners by splitting them across racial, financial, and political lines — so it’s worth considering that gun owning citizens might make more clear-headed choices about what they believe after stepping away from the group.
Then, when higher values are finally brought to the table, we just might be able to get someplace productive.