Thursday, November 16, 2017

NRA Pen Pals

On November 1, 2017, a letter signed by Wayne LaPierre was sent to lifetime N.R.A. members. Like most, it was a fundraising letter asking lifetime members to “take the next big step” and upgrade to a Patriot Life Membership at the Endowment Level. This is the fundraising equivalent of rounding third base.

What struck me is not the ask (all political organizations regardless of ideology need money to operate) it was the tone. Some highlights.

I suppose it is hard to quantify the NRA’s claim that they did “more than any other organization in America” (insert Russian meddling joke here) to get Trump elected, so if we take that at face value the NRA is the most powerful lobbying organization in the United States. 

This establishes that those whose opinions differ from the NRA’s on a specific issue are not just wrong, they actually “hate freedom” and are responsible for unspecified “anger, hatred, and violence” unprecedented in a half-century. Americans are never going to agree on everything, but perhaps it is a little disingenuous to suggest their opinion is derived from a hatred of freedom. That is like trying to discredit a differing opinion on farm subsidies because they “despise liberty or happiness.” 

Here we have Mr. LaPierre strongly denouncing the “denigration and slandering” of police officers. This is particularly ironic given Mr. LaPierre’s previous comments in another NRA fundraising letter (sent in the direct aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing) where he referred to federal law-enforcement agents as “armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black … jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens.”

It was Mr. LaPierre’s words that caused former President George H.W. Bush to publicly resign his lifetime NRA membership. Some would argue that Federal law enforcement officers are not the same as police officers employed by a municipality, but a sizable number of Federal law enforcement positions are filled by those with previous experience as police officers, military or both. In these cases, it would appear that the wardrobe change is the primary target of Mr. LaPierre’s ire.

The “twisted madman” of the last sentence refers to the June 14, 2017 shooting at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity perpetrated by 66 year-old James Hodgkinson. Mr. Hodgkinson utilized several legally-purchased firearms to injure Republican representative Steve Scalise, police officer Crystal Griner, congressional aide Zack Barth, and a lobbyist for Tyson Foods named Matt Mika before being ultimately killed by police.

He appeared to have a dislike of Republicans and had worked on the campaign of Bernie Sanders. What struck me was the idea that the NRA – an organization that prides itself on personal accountability with regards to gun ownership – would blame unspecified “leftist rhetoric” for actions of Mr. Hodgkinson rather that his own choices. Also conspicuously absent from the letter is the mention of any other “twisted madmen” despite the fact our nation’s deadliest mass shooting had occurred just weeks prior in Las Vegas.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, Mr. LaPierre dramatically unmasked a “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.” The culprit? The video game industry. Titles like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat were specifically singled out as contributing factors to this unspeakable tragedy and those like it. The implication that if Adam Lanza had stuck to a Nintendo Wii, perhaps none of this would have happened.

However, if we accept his idea that “rhetoric” bears some responsibility for turning a legal gun-owner into a homicidal madman; the rest of Mr. LaPierre’s letter might be considered dangerous indeed. The very next paragraph paints a dire portrait:

Just to be clear. At no point in the history of America has there been a greater threat to the “fabric that binds our nation together.” Not even the Civil War. Furthermore, anyone who disagrees with the NRA is “destroying America.” There is no possibility that disagreeing with the NRA on gun policy has anything to do with gun policy. They are selling the idea that if another American does not see eye to eye with you on guns, it is because they hate the Constitution and want to destroy their country. Guns serve only as a proxy.

This is somewhat unique even in public policy. Rarely will you hear people on opposite sides of abortion or homosexuality accuse the others of hating “America, The Constitution and freedom in general.” In addition to that, the 6 page letter contains a proportionally-large volume of combative language. Some variations of “fight” “battle” “enemies” “destroy” and “war” appear 16 times. There is talk of “fortifying our lines” and “sacrifice.”  Hopefully “inflammatory rhetoric” isn’t as potent when it originates from the other side of the ideological spectrum.

Then we get the heartstrings…

Millions of people are safe thanks to your willingness to write a check to the NRA. In fact, at the very moment you are reading this letter, there are mothers and fathers who owe (not just their freedom) but their continued existence to your financial benevolence (it would appear those without children must fend for themselves). Just think, if everyone reading this letter would pony-up for the Eternal Patriot Membership with a Double-Valor Enhancement we might end crime entirely.

My issue with the NRA (and many of those on the extreme side of gun ideology) is not that we cannot agree on an issue, it is that my willingness to have the conversation is deemed anti-American. And for all of the patriotism-steeped vernacular, almost every argument for the unfettered application of the second Ammendment seems to end in the ultimate anti-patriotism.

Let me give you an example of an actual conversation I had with a young man and fierce defender of the 2nd Amendment:

Me – Would you at least agree that we should restrict the ability of everyday citizens to own nuclear weapons?
Him – No, because the 2nd Amendment protects our ability to have access to any and all weaponry available to the United States Military.
Me – Why?
Him – Because we must be able to defend ourselves against enemies foreign or domestic.
Me – You believe that the US Military is going to turn on the citizenry?
Him – They will just do what they are told.
Me – By whom?
Him – Whoever they take orders from.

We continued in this vein for some time with him insisting that any limitations or context placed on the 2nd amendment amounted to an infringement and would end in himself and likeminded patriots facing down a rogue US military armed with nothing but punji sticks. I do not believe he was being facetious. This was a visceral fear he lived with. And this is how he felt with the Republican party in control of all three branches of the Federal government.

Just because we think it is okay to have an honest conversation about guns does not mean we “hate America.” I dare say that the majority of us are rather fond of our country and weary of seeing its flag at half-mast to honor the victims of mass-shootings. We have never been a country that looks at a tragedy and resign ourselves to its perpetual repetition. We change procedures, we shift tactics and we do our best to balance individual freedom with sound governance.

I have never understood why this issue causes such legislative paralysis. I realize that we cannot totally prevent mass murder, but is that a valid reason for us to give up on trying to reduce its frequency or scope? Last month I attempted to purchase a box of Sudafed for a head cold. In my state, this requires a government ID and a long talk with the pharmacist who attempts to dissuade you from your purchase in favor of an alternative. As a law-abiding citizen, I am even limited (both monthly and annually) on the amount of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine I can buy. 

All of this was enacted to reduce the amount of methamphetamine being manufactured and distributed in our communities. It is frustrating and inconvenient, but I will subject myself to it if it can be demonstrably shown to reduce the negative impact of misuse on our community. Even when these draconian laws were enacted, I got not fliers from big pharma and was not subjected to a single Facebook meme of “Claritan D! Don’t Tread on Me!”  

Perhaps if we took Mr. Lapierre seriously, we should have a quota on the number of hours we are allowed play Call of Duty each month and have our browsing history checked for “inflammatory leftist-rhetoric.” 

The letter winds down with a promise “to be relentless every time another New York media elite tells a straight-faced lie on national T.V.” I feel safer already.

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