|Dick Cheney, former US vice president, is a staunch supporter of the NRA and ironically was responsible for accidentally shooting a hunting partner during a quail hunt [Getty]|
There is simply no understanding the prevalence of gun violence in America – as evidenced by the recent attempted assassination of a congresswoman during a mass shooting – without discussing the nefarious role played by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Once an organisation primarily concerned with the education and training of sportsmen, in a coup that came to be known as the Cincinnati Revolt in 1977, hardliners took over the leadership and believed that any gun regulation would take us down a slippery slope to Khmer Rougism.
In the years since, unlike the US in the wake of the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy – or for that matter Australia after the Port Arthur Massacre – the response to senseless gun violence has been to discuss everything from the rhetoric on our airwaves to the weather outside.
But any public conversations regarding restricting who has access to guns has been considered verboten (although, thankfully, this time some cracks are beginning to show).
This is largely because the NRA’s duping its own members, which we’ll discuss below, and coming to the realisation that the real money was in actually protecting the rights of gun manufacturers, which we’ll discuss in Part II of this series.
If the NRA leadership is not radical, they certainly see the benefit in playing radicals on TV in order to enrich their financial benefactors who produce and sell the weaponry of death.
In the 1990s, in a climate of fear and paranoia that produced the Oklahoma City bombing, they were all too happy to refer to the government authority that tries to enforce gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), as “jack-booted thugs”. This led former president George H.W. Bush to resign his membership.
They then decided to up the ante by accusing former president Bill Clinton of murder and saying he “had blood on his hands” – all for the crime of supporting background checks at gun shows – which is among the many legislative proposals to reduce gun violence that they have repeatedly blocked.
Others include a ban on high-capacity magazines, banning sales to those on terrorist watch lists, and fully funding the aforementioned ATF (think about the latter when they say they want to “strengthen existing gun laws” after each new tragedy).
In fact, just a few days after the mass shooting in Tucson it was reported by Ryan Reilly from TPMMuckraker that a “jihadist” in America who was… “a moderator and contributor on Islamic extremist web forums, posted songs praising suicide bombers, discussed his jihad fantasies in the open…” was able to get an AK-47, no questions asked.
Emerson Begolly, the “jihadist” in question, responded when queried about this with laughter and facetiously exclaimed that “someone at the FBI showed up to work drunk”. Perhaps, but if they were, it was only because the NRA forced them to do keg stands.
This may be why in a piece last year for the Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank, in referring to the NRA, titled a piece on this subject, “Terrorists who want to buy guns have friends on Capitol Hill”.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the most recent tragedy in Arizona, a who’s who of conservatives has come out in favour of at least reopening a discussion of passing some of the above measures (as well as others not mentioned here), from former vice president Dick Cheney to senior GOP senator Richard Lugar, former republican National Committee Communications Director Cliff May to ultra-conservative Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn.
Dick Cheney, mind you, when he was a congressman, was one of only 12 members of that body to oppose a ban on plastic guns that could slip through airport security screening. In other words, there is not much room to the right of him – you know, unless you think Baby Doc Duvalier’s heading back to Haiti was a swell idea.
Nonetheless, the NRA has found a way to occupy this space. With gusto.
Most of these gun restrictions also happen to be supported by the vast majority of those unknown anti-gun crusaders: gun owners and NRA members.
“They are currently sponsoring laws in states around the country that would allow people to bring firearms into schools and bars. Likely, because alcohol and self-restraint are known to go hand-in-hand.”
In a poll conducted by republican wordsmith Frank Luntz just over a year ago, 69% of NRA members supported closing the gun-show loophole that allows people to buy guns without the hassle of a background check, while an overwhelming 82% backed closing the terrorist gap.
In other more recent polls, a whopping 9% of Americans supported the right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit – which thankfully only exists in Arizona and two other states – and 93% of gun owners “supported requiring federal agencies to share information about suspected dangerous persons or terrorists to prevent them from buying guns.”
In other words, the vast majority of the American public, including gun owners and NRA members, disagrees with the NRA leadership, their extremist rhetoric and their ridiculous positions on gun access.
Yet, not satisfied with simply being way to the right of the American public, they have decided to go for the full monty on guns.
They are currently sponsoring laws in states around the country that would allow people to bring firearms into schools and bars. Likely, because alcohol and self-restraint are known to go hand-in-hand.
This “Open Carry” movement, which they strongly support, sees a country where someone can saunter up to you in your local library or coffee shop with a long gun strapped over their shoulder and create a more friendly and violence-free society. Which as you know, has worked out well for Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.
Meanwhile, statistics in the US tell the same story, as “…Hawaii, where only 9.7 percent of residents own guns, has the lowest gun death rate in the country, while Louisiana, where 45 percent of the public is armed, has the highest,” as pointed out by New York Times contributor Timothy Egan in his piece, “Myth of the Hero Gunslinger.”
This movement has also produced scores of “state militias” calling for the overthrowing of the republic, an Alabama militiaman who advocated breaking the windows at Democratic headquarters’ around the country and a member of the Kentucky-based group who thought that stomping on the head of a female Moveon member at a Senate debate – over a political disagreement – was just another way to express his opinion.
Definitely a guy who should be able to openly carry a gun.
The NRA’s 30+ years of extremism is probably best summed up by their current president Wayne LaPierre.
Recently he remarked that “those with the guns make the rules”. Perhaps he mistakenly read a copy of the Robespierre’s Constitution, but in the one the Founding Fathers created for this country, their quaint view was that ballots and not bullets would accomplish that feat.
This is part 1 of a two-part series.
Cliff Schecter is the President of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.
Follow Cliff Schecter On Twitter: @Cliffschecter
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.