HOUSTON -- To swing the door on a National Rifle Association annual meeting is to enter a world where Freedom comes from a gun. The gun's purpose is not important. It doesn't have to be American made. It can be any number of shapes, so long as it has a grip, a trigger, and a barrel. But only from a gun barrel can Freedom flow. In the words of multiple NRA members who confronted protestors this past weekend, "The Second Amendment is the one thing protecting the First."
Last May in St. Louis, NRA leaders pounded away at this idea in a torrent of Apocalyptic warnings about the consequences of failure in the November elections. A year later, gathering two weeks after helping defeat the biggest effort to strengthen gun laws in a generation, the same men delivered the NRA's Second Amendment gospel with a newfound swagger. Unchanged was the primacy of guns and gun rights in the NRA's understanding of the world and everything in it. In his opening speech, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre described the gun enthusiasts before him as "Freedom's biggest army, greatest hope, and brightest future." The group's chief lobbyist-strategist, the boyish Tennessean Chris Cox, celebrated the convention as "the biggest celebration ever of American values," whose 86,000-plus attendees embodied "the essence of participation in American democracy."
NRA summits involve leadership votes and platform debates, but NRA-style democracy isn't about those things alone. It's also about the guns that make it possible. Which is why NRA conventions feature an exhibition hall packed with hundreds of booths displaying Freedom's latest fashions -- what the group calls "the most spectacular displays of firearms, shooting and hunting accessories in the world."
The big story on the floor this year was the post-election sales bounce following Sandy Hook and a revitalized gun violence debate. Companies that had reduced production to normal post-election levels in November were blindsided by second buying frenzy and have yet to recover their balance. Among the biggest beneficiaries is the assault rifle industry the NRA did much to nurture in the 1980s. "Sales are through the roof," said a rep from Stag Arms. "We have an eight to 12-month wait." A manager from Core Rifle Systems described the recent frenzy as "almost a little ridiculous. But it's good for business. We have a two-year back order producing 3,500 rifles a month." DSA Inc., which makes a range of ARs and grenade launchers, says it's getting 2,000 emails a day. "Business is good, it's real, real good for all of us," said a rep from the online assault weapon retailer CheaperThanDirt.com. Behind him hung an oversized check for $500,000 made out to the NRA.
Veteran guns and ammo dealers see the current frenzy as resulting from several developments that together have created a perfect storm of paranoia among the gun community. Obama's reelection, legislative movement on Capitol Hill, the UN Arms Trade Treaty, reports of large purchases of ammunition by federal agencies -- all have been hyped in the gun press and in rightwing media as heralding everything from ammo droughts to full-on police state tyranny.
"Together with all the gun stuff in the news, you still have the bad economy, which means survival purchases of the three B's -- beans, bullets, and booze," said Jeff Mullins, a bullet designer and owner of Allegiance Ammunition. "Then people see these reports about the government buying high volume [ammo]. That makes people think, 'Well, they're buying it to keep it from us.' I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but..."
When Mullins trailed off, an attendee listening nearby finished the thought. "Everybody is thinking that way," he said. "Nobody trusts the government."
This distrust is spreading to their fellow citizens. NRA members have been as jolted by public mass shootings as anyone else. Some of them just come to different conclusions about solutions. Among the workshops offered in Houston were several related to defensive handgun skills, i.e., how to be a good guy with a gun who stops bad guys with guns. The defensive shooting expert Rob Pincus introduced a full auditorium to the methods outlined in his book, Counter Ambush. In his talk, Pincus avoided phrases like "mass shootings" and "rampages," instead referring to emergencies in "the public environment situation."
Growing demand for bullets capable of dropping a Jared Loughner with one shot has increased interest in frag rounds like those designed by Jeff Mullins. "People are coming out of a fantasy world and realizing they have to take responsibility for their safety, even when they're at the mall or wherever," he said. "People now realize that bad people sometimes need to be taken out quick."
To illustrate why his trademarked bullets are the right tools for stopping an ambush, Mullins reached under the counter and pulled out photos of a dead 485-pound Russian boar. His daughter had recently killed it with a single round of his newest design. "It fragments so well that it creates instant trauma, shutting down the central nervous system," he explained. Like so many of his peers, he couldn't guess when his supply would catch up with demand.
During the 2013 National Rifle Association annual meeting, held May 3 - 5 in Houston, Texas, the gun rights organization reaffirmed its hardline stance against any restrictions on firearms and hosted an over-the-top Glenn Beck presentation that depicted one of the NRA's political opponents as a Nazi.
NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre set the tone of the convention with a May 4 speech that warned of a "long war against our constitutional rights" and concluded with a message for media and political "elites" in America: "Let them be damned."
The meeting also involved the adoption of a resolution put forward by fringe gun activist Jeff Knox that stated the NRA will oppose all future gun restrictions. Also featured at the annual convention was a speech from newly-elected NRA president Jim Porter, a hardline gun rights activist, that included the claim that President Obama seeks to take "revenge" against gun owners.
In a freewheeling presentation billed as the "NRA's most important gathering of the year," conservative radio personality Glenn Beck offensively portrayed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a Nazi giving the Sieg Hail salute before concluding his hour-and-a-half long "Stand and Fight" speech by comparing the struggles of gun owners to those of the African-American civil rights movement.
Here are nine moments from the NRA's annual meeting that typify the fringe nature of the organization:
"We Shall Overcome:" Beck Adopts The Mantle Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Referencing the Underground Railroad and lunch counter protests, Beck said that he hoped the NRA would join him in a passive resistance movement. At the apex of his speech, Beck stated, "We are the law-abiding God-fearing members of the NRA. We are Americans. And we will be clear. We will stand; we'll march if we have to. We'll stand because we must. But we will not be moved. Our right to keep and bear arms will not be infringed. We will follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we will follow the footsteps of Frederick Douglas, Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, [David] Ben-Gurion, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, hear me now. Hear me now. We shall overcome."
This weekend former Senator Evan Bayh echoed the beliefs of many in the media that the National Rifle Association has only recently moved to the fringe, telling Politico "their position is now in the end zone, not at the 40-yard line."
These extremes were on display at the NRA annual meeting this weekend where Glenn Beck, during a keynote address just days after the announcement that New York's Cablevision would soon begin to carry his Blaze network to millions of households, displayed on the screen a poster-like image of Michael Bloomberg giving the Sieg Heil salute. To equate the Jewish mayor of New York City to Nazis used to be beyond the pale in American politics.
One could say this outrageous hate speech was Beck acting like Beck, demonstrating his herculean effort to prove Godwin's Law, but Nazi comparisons have been part and parcel of the NRA's rhetoric for decades.
In 1995, former President George H.W. Bush resigned his lifetime membership in the organization after Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre signed a fundraising letter that claimed the Assault Weapons Ban passed earlier that year "gives jackbooted Government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property and even injure and kill us."
Bush told the organization, "your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country."
The rhetoric might have been new to Bush, but the organization had freely referred to law enforcement officials as "jackbooted thugs" for years. It was only in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing that previously ignored communications, such as direct mail pieces, were scrutinized by the media, outing this disgraceful language.
From the May 4 National Rifle Association "Stand and Fight" rally:
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The membership of the National Rifle Association has unanimously adopted a resolution proposed by a WND columnist expressing opposition to any and all additional restrictions against guns during the session of its annual meeting. This position puts the activists in attendance out of step not only with the American people, but with the broader membership of the organization.
The resolution was offered by fringe gun activist Jeff Knox during the open session of the May 4 meeting. Knox is head of the Firearms Coalition, a hardline organization that promotes the "unencumbered right to arms" and opposes "any moves toward more restrictive and/or intrusive gun laws." He also writes a column about gun policy for WND, a discredited right-wing website known for its conspiracy theories. Knox's father Neal is credited with leading NRA hard-liners to crush the group's moderate wing in the 1970s and 1990s, helping to establish the organization as a no-compromises right-wing lobbying powerhouse.
The text of Knox's resolution cites its necessity as "a public repudiation of the lies and distortions from the media and politicians suggesting that the majority of NRA members support the expansion of gun control laws as clearly and unequivocally we do not." Polling indicates that the public -- including self-described NRA members -- overwhelmingly support at least one proposal to strengthen gun laws, the expansion of the background check system.
Speaking on behalf of the resolution, Knox claimed it was necessary to establish that "the members here gathered soundly and solidly oppose any and all new restrictions on our Second Amendment rights." John Fafoutakis of Sheraton, Wyoming, seconded Knox's resolution, saying that "we will not compromise. To all those gun-grabbers in Washington, to all their members of the lapdog presstitute news media, and to the gun-grabbers of the United Nations who want to disarm all law-abiding Americans, I have these kind words for you: fill your hand you son of a bitch."
After voting to strike a clause of the resolution requiring its text be published in the NRA's magazine, the membership in attendance passed it unanimously.
Right-wing media are trying to downplay a confrontation over gun sale background checks between a woman who lost her mother in the Newtown, CT, shooting and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) by promoting a report from an Ayotte donor whose wife is the former chair of the New Hampshire GOP.
Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, asked Ayotte during an April 30 town hall meeting in Warren, New Hampshire, "why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't more important" than Ayotte's claim that conducting background checks would be burdensome for gun store owners. According to NBC News, the meeting "drew more than 100 people who came to condemn or support Ayotte's vote."
Reacting to news reports of the confrontation between Lafferty and Ayotte, Shawn Millerick, editor of the conservative New Hampshire Journal, complained of "liberal media bias" and wrote that reports of Ayotte being confronted over her failure to support expanded background checks were exaggerated by the national media. Millerick also posted photographs of cars with out-of-state license plates that he says belonged to the individuals who opposed Ayotte's background check vote.
Breitbart.com, The Daily Caller, The Blaze, RedState and NewsBusters are all promoting Millerick's report as evidence that the media was dishonest in its coverage of Ayotte's town hall meeting while also characterizing Millerick's online newspaper as a "local" media source and not mentioning its partisan slant. According to Breitbart.com's John Nolte, Millerick's report "expose[d] the leftist national media for the liars they are." The Daily Caller's Alex Pappas framed the issue as a discrepancy between "local" and "national" media:
From the May 2 edition of NRA News' Cam & Company:
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In the midst of the most promising time for the gun violence prevention debate in decades, the National Rifle Association will name a new president at their annual meeting May 3-5.
Alabama lawyer Jim Porter will replace current NRA President David Keene, whose two-year term is expiring.
Here's what the media should know about Porter, a conspiracy theorist who calls the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression" and represents more of the same for the organization:
1. Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss. Don't expect Porter to be a breath of fresh air bringing with him a new way of doing things. As is traditional, Porter will come to the presidency following two years as first vice president and two years as second vice president of the organization. He has also been the head of the NRA's legal affairs committee and a trustee of the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund. Porter's father was the NRA's president from 1959 to 1961 and chaired the 1977 annual meeting at which hardliners took over the organization and began transforming it into the no-compromise lobbying powerhouse the group remains today.
2. Porter Believes "Un-American" Eric Holder And Hillary Clinton Tried To "Kill The Second Amendment At The United Nations." Porter said during a June 2012 speech at the New York Rifle & Pistol Association's Annual Meeting that Attorney General Eric Holder, who he termed "rabidly un-American," was "trying to kill the Second Amendment at the United Nations" with the help of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He attributed this to the proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which he claimed would "make it illegal for individuals all over the world to own firearms." This is a blatant misrepresentation of the treaty, which deals with the international arms trade, not private ownership.
The Daily Caller discounted the experiences of some victims of gun violence who have promoted stronger gun laws by claiming they suffer from "hoplophobia," a fake psychological disorder defined by the gun rights movement as "the morbid fear of guns."
This baseless attack found in the featured article of Daily Caller's "Guns and Gear" section is the latest salvo from a conservative media that have launched vicious attacks on survivors of gun violence who support reforms to current gun laws.
The Daily Caller article purported to examine "hoplophobia" as an actual psychological condition, asking, "Is America required to accept psychological acting out as a legitimate form of legislative discourse?" However this "disorder" is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and instead is a term coined by the late National Rifle Association board member and famed shooting instructor Jeff Cooper.
In the May 1 article, the authors singled out Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and prominent gun violence prevention campaigner Sarah Brady as allegedly suffering from psychological problems due to their direct experience with gun violence. The article further claimed that the promotion of gun violence prevention is "perilous" to the public:
At least three of the most virulent anti-gun-rights crusaders in the nation suffered extreme gun trauma before entering the fray: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (discovered Harvey Milk's body), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (husband shot dead on commuter train) and Sarah Brady (husband disabled in assassination attempt on President Reagan). Are there others? Have they received counseling for the gun trauma they experienced? And to what extent, if any, does hoplophobic displacement influence and skew what otherwise seems like politics as usual? The biggest question here would be: Is America required to accept psychological acting out as a legitimate form of legislative discourse?
The debate over the precise nature of the condition is likely to continue for a long period of time. This is normal in the psychiatric and mental-health field. The more pressing concern, it seems to us, is the scope of the condition, the numbers of people who may be afflicted, and the extent to which they sublimate their fear by pressing politicians to act in denying the rights of their fellow citizens. That, it seems to us, is intolerable -- the idea that a festering and untreated psychological condition may have more influence over the acts of Congress than does intelligent consideration of life-or-death issues.
In seeking to quell their own turmoil, those so afflicted project their own fears and rage onto others. This is a fairly normal method for handling overwhelming fear and anger, but in doing so, politically active hoplophobes infringe on the rights of healthy law-abiding citizens and the stability of our society. This makes hoplophobia not only unique among all phobias, it makes it perilous. [emphasis in original]
The National Rifle Association's annual meeting on May 3-5 will feature a number of conservative media figures -- including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Ted Nugent -- who often use violent rhetoric and promote gun-related conspiracy theories.
A series of new polls indicate that the media was wrong to suggest that legislators who oppose strengthening guns laws would not pay a political price for their actions.
Following the Senate's failure to pass stronger gun laws earlier this month, political reporters suggested that Senate opponents of those laws had been wisely reacting to the political environment. According to those reporters, Democrats "got gun control polling wrong" because while surveys indicated that an overwhelming majority of Americans supported reforms like expanding the background check system to cover more gun sales, they may not feel as passionately about the issue as their opponents and thus for politicians: "Voting against gun control measures may well carry less negative political consequence than voting for them -- even though the poll numbers suggest the opposite is true."
Contrary to this theory, several polls conducted since the gun votes earlier this month indicate that more voters are likely to oppose senators who voted against stronger gun laws than they are to support them:
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin incorrectly wrote that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is proposing to "ban explosive powder" as a response to the Boston Marathon bombings when in fact Reid has proposed requiring a criminal background check for individuals who buy explosive powder.
The Senate proposal, originally sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), but being shepherded by Reid in his absence, would require a background check to "purchase black powder, black powder substitute, or smokeless powder, in any quantity." Furthermore the legislation would allow the Attorney General to stop explosives sales to suspected terrorists. Under current law inclusion on the terrorist watch list alone does not prohibit individuals from buying explosives or firearms.
While Rubin's apparent aim was to make Reid's response to the Boston bombings seem ridiculous -- explosive powder has many legitimate uses -- explosive powder is a common component in domestic bombings. Furthermore, because of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, it is currently legal to purchase up to 50 pounds of black or smokeless powder without undergoing a background check.
Decades before the Boston bombings -- where the perpetrators reportedly may have used black or smokeless powder -- explosive powder has been known to be regularly employed by domestic bombers. According to a 1980 report issued by the Office of Technology Assessment, a now defunct office of Congress, in incidents involving both successfully detonated and undetonated bombs, "black and smokeless powders and cap sensitive high explosives all occur with high frequency." A 2005 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) found that "because black powder is relatively inexpensive (between $5 and $15 per pound), it is the most common explosive used in pipe bombs." The report also found that explosive powders were present in the most fatal of bombings between 2002 and 2004:
According to National Repository data, 8 people were killed and 49 people were injured by explosives from January 2002 through December 2004. Explosive powders, which may be obtained legally in quantities up to 50 pounds without a license or permit, were the largest cause of deaths and injuries. Over 50 percent of those killed and injured during this period were victims of explosive devices containing black powder. Twenty-five percent of those injured were victims of improvised explosives devices, many of which containing common chemicals.
Still the NRA has spent decades lobbying against the regulation of black and smokeless powder -- which can be components of gunpowder -- and is largely responsible for the current background check exemption for purchasers of up to 50 pounds of explosive powder.
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto questioned the authenticity of a New York Times op-ed authored by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by claiming that the op-ed appeared online too quickly to have been written by someone "who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions."
Giffords' April 18 op-ed was written in response to the failure of expanded background checks legislation. On January 8, 2011, Giffords was shot in the head during a constituent meeting in an attack that killed six and left 13 wounded.
Taranto's comments occurred on the April 19 edition of the National Rifle Association's news show, Cam & Company, where he said it was "odd" that the Times op-ed, which Taranto described as "Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence," was published approximately five hours after the Senate voted on background checks. Taranto cast doubt on the idea that Giffords had authored the piece, commenting, "So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it."
From Cam & Company:
TARANTO: One fascinating thing about this is this piece was published no later than 9:03 PM on Wednesday evening, because that's when it first appears on the New York Times' Twitter feed. The last Senate vote on amendments to the gun bill was a bit after 6 [PM]. Giffords appeared at the White House at 5:35 [PM] when we saw that enraged rant by the president. The Manchin-Toomey [background check] provision was the first vote. That was at 4:04 PM. So if you read this piece it's presented as a cry from the heart, as Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence to the betrayal of these Senators. So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it. So I think that's a little bit odd.
Taranto offers no evidence for his offensive insinuation that Giffords would not have been capable of authoring the piece herself. He also ignores the possibility that Giffords could have authored the op-ed ahead of time in expectation of the widely-predicted outcome - hardly an unusual practice.
Even legendary journalists can fail to recognize the overwhelming popularity of expanding the background check system for firearms purchases. While it is now a well-known fact that the policy enjoys overwhelming support from the American public at large, some pundits remain unaware that it is also very popular in states that typically support conservative politicians.
NBC's Tom Brokaw is apparently one of those pundits. On the April 21 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, responding to the statement that the structure of the Senate explains why expanding background checks did not pass (an amendment had the support of 55 senators but needed 60 votes), Brokaw said that the proposal likely had very little support in the home states of Democrats who voted against the measure:
BROKAW: But in those states in which the senators voted against the background check, it's not even close to 90 percent in terms of wanting it, it's probably down in single digits in Montana and Arkansas and Alaska and North Dakota, the states that block it as Democrats. So you have to take that into consideration.
In fact, state polls in three of those four states found that at least 79 percent of respondents supported requiring a background check on every gun purchase (a broader measure than the one actually under debate).
According to a series of state polls commissioned by Mayors Against Illegals Guns, which supports the policy: