Column: NRA leaves many gun owners behind

The NRA is not an organization I’m fond of. They are the antithesis of much of what I stand for. Yet, I own firearms. Isn’t the stereotypical gun owner a rabid supporter of the NRA? I’m sure you’ve seen it, especially here in the South. The shirts, the hats and, of course, the bumper stickers. “Don’t tread on me” paraphernalia and pickup truck gun racks. In many people’s minds, a gun owner is a conservative who spits NRA slogans like Bible verses on a Sunday.

Despite this, many gun owners, myself included, break from the stereotype and vehemently disagree with the NRA on a number of points. Perhaps it's because I’m a liberal. Perhaps it's because I support common-sense gun regulation. Perhaps it's because I break the mold of what a gun owner is supposed to be.

My disagreements with the NRA are twofold, in both actions and ideology. They, as an organization, claim to be supporters of universal and equal gun access. They claim to be supporters of the common gun owner. They claim to be the organization that shapes and defines gun culture. On all of these points, they fail to live up to the rhetoric. In truth, the NRA is nothing but a hypocritical sham, taking advantage of American divisiveness around gun ownership for their own ends.

The NRA is obviously a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, there’s no doubting that. However, the NRA seems to take a step back from their position of equal gun access when faced with actual challenges to it. 

Take, for example, the “near silence” of the NRA on the officer involved shooting of Philando Castile. Castile, a legal gun owner with a concealed carry permit, was shot during a traffic stop last July after the officer claimed Castile was reaching for his gun. Eyewitness testimony, as well as video and audio evidence from the police cruiser, seems to indicate instead that Castile, after informing the officer of his lawful possession of a firearm, was shot after attempting to produce his wallet. The officer, though acquitted, faced serious criticism as “police recordings and court records confirmed initial reports that Castile had tried to defuse the situation, assuring the officer that he wasn’t reaching for his weapon.” Furthermore, Castile followed the correct procedure in informing the officer of the legal presence of the firearm. Yet, the NRA stays silent on the matter.

The NRA’s stance is, honestly, unsurprising. For years, they have pushed the narrative that America is becoming constantly more dangerous and crime-ridden despite the opposite being true. As part of this push, the NRA has been attempting to draw more support for police officers from an organization that finds itself at odds with law enforcement over the topic of permit-less carry. This push ran up against a wall with the Castile case. Castile lawfully informed the police officer of his legal possession of a concealed weapon and was shot by a jumpy officer for it. At the end of the day, it appears that support for law enforcement trumped the NRA’s position on equal and constitutionally protected gun access that it loves to throw about after other shootings.

The NRA also seems to forget that liberals and moderates own guns as well. A poll from the Pew Research Center found that 36 percent of moderates and 23 percent of liberals own firearms. Yet, an NRA ad campaign, “Freedom’s Safest Place,” makes it seem as though all gun owners wear MAGA hats and hate anything resembling a protest.

Gun ownership in America is far more complicated than simple ideological lines, but the NRA continues to push a narrative of how all liberals hate guns and want to take them away from you. This conflict is especially evident for all of us liberal gun owners out there. Many of us grew up around guns — to us, it's a part of our culture. Yet, this culture seems to have been co-opted by the conservatives over at the NRA. Instead of pushing a message of inclusion, of working together to preserve gun rights, the NRA just reinforces the stereotype of gun ownership as a staple of conservatism. To the NRA, liberals who support the Second Amendment might as well be non-existent. We liberals, in their minds, simply exist to limit their freedom, rather than holding the potential to be partners in protecting it. With liberal gun owners essentially cut out of the conversation, there is no longer a moderating force within the NRA pushing for common-sense gun control that even opponents can agree on.

This type of divisive rhetoric helps no one but the NRA. Or, perhaps, gun manufacturers. Gun manufacturers have much to gain from the NRA’s current tactics, exploiting fear mongering to sell weapons. Take, for example, the sale of guns during the Obama administration. Gun sales increased rapidly during the Obama administration, with some referring to him as the “best gun salesman in America.” Obama was clearly not the most gun-friendly president (especially by the standards of the NRA), so why did sales increase?

Fear. The NRA, along with other organizations, pushed a narrative that the US was going to hell in a hand basket and, to top it all off, Obama was gonna take (or ban) your guns. People took the bait and gun manufactures made a huge profit. These manufacturers, in turn, donated large amounts of money to the NRA. Skeptical? Gun sales rapidly dropped after Trump’s election, it's hard to spin a Republican president banning or confiscating guns.

The NRA doesn’t rely on fear alone. The NRA lobbying arm, NRA-ILA, fights for massive deregulation of firearms on both the state and federal levels. Many have criticized the efforts of this group as good for gun manufacturers, while neglecting the views of the average gun owner, who may be in favor of some regulation. By either approach, the NRA seems to be more interesting in gun sales than the wants of the average gun owner.

The NRA does little for me. It neglects my positions on issues as a liberal gun owner. It hypes up non-existent problems to sell guns. It fails to stand by its rhetoric of equality. It irreversibly damages America’s overall dialog on guns and gun violence in this country.

The NRA doesn’t stand for me, so I refuse to stand for it.

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