The NRA may be dying and thats the best news all day!

image of a billboard featuring the NRA logo and the letters NRA in bold black against a white backdrop with a red forward slash across the image
Cropped Photo: Lord Jim / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In 2016, the most recent year they have data available on, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that firearm related violence resulted in:

(It should also be noted that mass shootings, as horrific and tragic as they are, only account for a small percentage of the firearm related homicides each year)

In addition to those numbers, Everytown For Gun Safety finds that an average of 7 kids and teens (up to 19 years of age) are killed each day, intimate partner violence leads to the monthly death of 50 women (average figure), Black men are 13 times more likely than non-Hispanic white men to be killed by gun violence, and the gun homicide rate in the United States is 25 times greater than world’s most “high income” countries (by the World Bank).

Be it injuries sustained via firearms, mass shootings, or suicide, it is clear as day that the United States has a massive problem with gun violence. A problem that needs to be seriously addressed by political officials at all levels of the government,  gun control advocates, and non-governmental organizations dedicated to reforming our country’s gun laws with the goal of reducing gun violence.  Unfortunately, there exists tremendous opposition to such a sensible goal: the National Rifle Association. Founded in 1871 in the wake of the Civil War, the NRA originally had one goal: improving the marksmanship skills of northerners. The founders of the group felt that southern soldiers had superior marksmanship skills, contributing to the length of the war. It is hard to believe this, but for several consecutive decades (beginning in the 1920s), the NRA was a strong advocate for gun control laws:

In the 1920s, the National Revolver Association, the arm of the NRA responsible for handgun training, proposed regulations later adopted by nine states, requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, five years additional prison time if the gun was used in a crime, a ban on gun sales to non-citizens, a one day waiting period between the purchase and receipt of a gun, and that records of gun sales be made available to police.

The 1930s crime spree of the Prohibition era, which still summons images of outlaws outfitted with machine guns, prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to make gun control a feature of the New Deal. The NRA assisted Roosevelt in drafting the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1938 Gun Control Act, the first federal gun control laws. These laws placed heavy taxes and regulation requirements on firearms that were associated with crime, such as machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers. Gun sellers and owners were required to register with the federal government and felons were banned from owning weapons. Not only was the legislation unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court in 1939, but Karl T. Frederick, the president of the NRA, testified before Congress stating, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

For the next 30 years, the NRA continued to support gun control. By the late 1960s a shift in the NRA platform was on the horizon.

On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. He shot the president with an Italian military surplus rifle purchased from a NRA mail-order advertisement. NRA Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth agreed at a congressional hearing that mail-order sales should be banned stating, “We do think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” The NRA also supported California’s Mulford Act of 1967, which had banned carrying loaded weapons in public in response to the Black Panther Party’s impromptu march on the State Capitol to protest gun control legislation on May 2, 1967.

Yes, you read that correctly. The NRA once supported a ban on openly carrying loaded weapons, which is the polar opposite of anything they do today. On the surface of it, their stance is a bit strange  bc prior to the Mulford Act of 1967, it was fully lawful to openly carry loaded weapons in public. However, when viewed through the lens of white supremacy and hegemony and the opposition to Black liberation and equality, such a stance does make logical sense. Wyte people in the 1960’s were fearful of Black people (actually, that’s true at nearly any point in the history of this country). They didn’t want to work with us. They didn’t want to live by us. They didn’t want to go to school with us. They didn’t really want to think about us. And they certainly didn’t want to see us with that most potent symbol of freedom and liberty: a gun. Guns meant that the playing field was shifted slightly more in favor of African-Americans and away from wyte people. Wyte folks really didn’t want to contend with an empowered Black populace. Fear of an armed Black populace lay at the core of the NRA’s support for bans on open carry back then.

PAUSE

I’m going to go on a slight tangent here. I briefly want to talk about the Black Panther Party bc there is a lot of mis- and dis- information about the organization.  Many people are very ignorant about the Black Panther Party, due to attempts at historical revisionism as well as a general lack of education about African-American history. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale created the Black Panther Party For Self-Defense  in 1966 (later shortened to the BPP). Contrary to what conservative figures would have you believe, the Black Panther Party was not a terrorist organization nor did they engage in activities even remotely similar to the Ku Klux Klan. The BPP carried guns as a message of Black empowerment and to effectively “police the police.”,  Huey P. Newton once said the name of the group was chosen bc the black panther doesn’t strike first “but if the aggressor strikes first, then he’ll attack.” Given the long history of racist policing in Black communities across the country, the Black Panther Party was fully justified in this belief in self-defense against an unjust government. Most people tend to view the Black Panther Party as a militant Black Power group, and while that’s certainly part of what the organization was about, it was so much more. The BPP was dedicated to improving communities of color by educational outreach, building health clinics and food banks, and creating free breakfast programs for children. Their efforts saw a good deal of success, leading to goodwill from communities of color around the country. The demise of the Black Panther Party was the result of several factors. Chief among them were efforts by the FBI to foment internal tension in the group, which led to bitter in-group fighting. The involvement of the FBI is yet another example of the racist history of this country and illustrates the ridiculous nature of comparisons between the BPP and the KKK. After all, only one group carried out multi-decade campaigns of terror against United States citizens, often involving lynching, but that wasn’t the group the FBI worked hard to shut down.

END PAUSE

As a response to the riots in the summer of 1967 (the roots of which lay in the refusal to address systemic racial inequality by wyte people in power), as well as the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, which the NRA supported, though not in full:

The act updated the law to include minimum age and serial number requirements, and extended the gun ban to include the mentally ill and drug addicts. In addition, it restricted the shipping of guns across state lines to collectors and federally licensed dealers and certain types of bullets could only be purchased with a show of ID. The NRA, however, blocked the most stringent part of the legislation, which mandated a national registry of all guns and a license for all gun carriers. In an interview in American Rifleman, Franklin Orth stated that despite portions of the law appearing “unduly restrictive, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”

After 40-odd years of supporting gun control laws though, things were beginning to change within the NRA. Following the passage of the Gun Rights Act of 1968, activists for gun rights began worrying:

The leadership at the NRA was complacent with and even publicly supportive of gun control policies, and began to talk about withdrawing from its already limited political lobbying. (Notably, Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated JFK, obtained the gun through an ad in the NRA’s magazine, American Rifleman — so the organization’s leaders likely felt restrained in how far they could go in opposing gun control, given the potential backlash the group could face.)

But a few hardline members, led by Harlon Carter, subscribed to the argument that if the federal government were given even an inch in regulating guns, it would take a mile, and that would end up with guns banned altogether. So during the organization’s 1977 meeting in Cincinnati, Carter and his supporters rebelled, placing him in charge. It was at this point that the NRA truly became the gun lobby. (Much more on all of this in the books Under Fire by Osha Gray Davidson and Gunfight by Adam Winkler.)

In particular, the NRA has been fueled by the belief that the Second Amendment is the one thing standing against a tyrannical government. Its core claim: Without an armed citizenry, the government will have an easier time suppressing people’s rights. It was not that the Second Amendment was there to let state governments maintain militias; it was that the Second Amendment was there to let the people stand against the government in general. In embracing and propagating this view, the NRA managed to tap into growing public distrust in government — fueled especially by Watergate and the failure of the Vietnam War.

The government has always had an easy time suppressing peoples’ rights. After all, women did not gain the right to an abortion until the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, African-Americans (and several other marginalized groups) had no legal protection against discrimination until the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and gay people only just received the legal right to marry in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Additionally, those rulings have seen ongoing efforts at the federal and state levels to reverse or restrict them. Perhaps most prominent is the never-ending assault on abortion rights and access (in 2017, there were 63 anti-abortion bills passed at the state level and 15 other bills were passed to restrict funding for family planning programs and organizations; source). It’s really warped to portray gun rights as the way to keep the federal government from suppressing people’s rights bc they’ve done a great job at suppression even as gun ownership has skyrocketed in this country (but then, the need to protect from an overreaching government isn’t based on the concern for the deprivation of all rights, only certain rights, possessed by certain people).

I also want to laugh for a second at the people who think their small home arsenal is going to be a match for the military might of the United States government. FFS, the people who seem to advocate so strongly for guns on the premise that they need it for protection from the government are also the people who vote in support of greater funding for United States defense! It’s like they don’t even consider that the combined firepower of every gun held by a US citizen pitted against the firepower of the U.S. government would be about as effective as trying to extinguish an active volcano with a fire hose.  It’s just absurd to think people find that a compelling argument for personal gun ownership.

Basically, since the 1970’s, the power of the NRA has grown demonstrably, to the point that it is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington D.C. (you can read further details about the NRA’s turn to the dark side here). Most powerful and most despicable. This is a group that, even in the face of mass shooting after mass shooting after school shooting after school shooting after suicide after suicide, absolutely refuses to budge one inch on gun control measures. The NRA has such lobbying power that many  politicians won’t even introduce potential legislation for fear of an NRA-led backlash. The NRA can make or break a politician, which leads many of them to be subservient to the gun lobby (it says something both about their power and the deep well of selfishness in politicians around the country, who offer “thoughts and prayers” as their singular response in the wake of mass shootings). This is an organization that thinks there is one answer to gun violence: more guns. Their stock response in the wake of an incident are variations on “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun“. I’ve heard that damnable phrase so many times, it makes my skin crawl. As an argument, that catchphrase ought to have its own category of logical fallacy. Argumentum ad NRA or something. If more guns equaled greater safety, we would be one of the safest countries on the planet (the U.S. saw a 71% increase in handguns in the period from 1995 to 2015). And contrary to their standard response, the good guy with a gun “theory” is bullshit. Malarkey. Hogwash. Thanks to decades of grassroots efforts as well as effectively buying politicians, it is hogwash that the masses have soaked in and absorbed.

Their power to shape not only policy, but public perception is staggering and frustrating. There is some glimmer of hope though. In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting earlier this year, mounting public pressure led to multiple companies (some being very large companies) cutting ties with the NRA. Losing public support is one thing, but losing financial backers is quite another, and perhaps that has contributed to the significant financial woes currently being experienced by the NRA:

In the new document — an amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court in late July — the NRA says it cannot access financial services essential to its operations and is facing “irrecoverable loss and irreparable harm.”

Specifically, the NRA warns that it has lost insurance coverage — endangering day-to-day operations. “Insurance coverage is necessary for the NRA to continue its existence,” the complaint reads. Without general liability coverage, it adds, the “NRA cannot maintain its physical premises, convene off-site meetings and events, operate educational programs … or hold rallies, conventions and assemblies.”

The complaint says the NRA’s video streaming service and magazines may soon shut down.

“The NRA’s inability to obtain insurance in connection with media liability raises risks that are especially acute; if insurers remain afraid to transact with the NRA, there is a substantial risk that NRATV will be forced to cease operating.” The group also warns it “could be forced to cease circulation of various print publications and magazines.”

There are a few things in this world that could bring me unbridled joy. Happiness on a scale I can only dream of.

  1. Waking up to learn that the Republican Party has been fractured beyond all repair and has now been split into warring factions.
  2. Seeing a headline that the Tyrant in Chief was found guilty of obstruction of justice and will go to prison.
  3. Learning that the NRA is dead.

Yes, it is far too early to start getting overly excited, but it is indeed a good day when the NRA begins to worry that its financial situation is dire.  May it become ever more dire in the days, weeks, and months to come.

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The NRA may be dying and thats the best news all day!
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