During the weekend of May 14-16, the National Rifle Association (NRA) conducted its annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. The theme of the gathering was “A Celebration of American Values.” The message delivered by speakers at the event, however, leads one to wonder exactly what the gun lobby thinks our country stands for.
Charlotte is the same city where, a decade ago, Charlton Heston hoisted a rifle over his head and shouted the insurrectionist battle cry, “From my cold, dead hands!” The speakers this year were no less emphatic, with a line-up including celebrity Chuck Norris, Fox News personality Glenn Beck, and 2012 Republican presidential nominee hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.
Palin demonstrated NRA values by claiming that Americans who care about the 30,000 gun deaths a year in the U.S. are immoral purveyors of “emotionalism” and “propaganda.” Gun death is not a public health issue, explained Palin: “In fact, more people die from car accidents than they will from a gunshot. Is driving then a health issue? I supposed you can say just about anything is a health issue if you want.” Apparently, Palin is completely unaware of decades of local, state and federal regulation that have made our roads exponentially safer and saved countless lives. Auto safety was one of the biggest public health issues of the 20th century and it continues to be addressed head-on by American manufacturers and policy makers.
Palin also addressed the topic of gender equality, opining that, “God made men and women, and Colonel Colt made them equal.” We think most American women would agree that it is their intellect and character—and not their ability to wield a revolver, Glock or AK-47—that makes them the equal of their male counterparts.
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The convention’s keynote speaker, Glenn Beck, demonstrated the great American values of tolerance and pluralism by comparing Obama administration officials to Nazis, “Marxist revolutionaries” and “free-love, smoking-dope, having-sex-in-the-mud Woodstock hippies.” Beck also come out strongly in support of a controversial new anti-immigration law in Arizona that will require residents of Latino descent (or those who look like they are of such descent) to present identification papers to authorities upon request or risk detention. A coalition of national Jewish groups, conscious of Jews’ treatment during Nazi-era Germany, have described the law as “an affront to American values.”
Beck apparently also believes that pride in violence is an American value. Mocking a proposal to establish an award for military service members who display “courageous restraint” by holding fire in civilian-occupied areas, Beck exclaimed, “‘Courageous restraint?’ I’m sorry, you’re coming at me with a gun, I’m going to shoot you!”
Just two days after the convention, Representative Mark Souder (R-IN), who enjoys an A+ rating from the NRA, put “family values” on display. The sponsor of the NRA-drafted “Second Amendment Enforcement Act” to eradicate the District of Columbia’s gun laws announced that he would be resigning from the House of Representatives due to a sexual affair he conducted with a staffer. Souder joins Sens. John Ensign (R-NV), David Vitter (R-LA) and Larry Craig (R-ID) as NRA champions on Capitol Hill whose careers have been diminished and/or ruined by extramarital sex scandals over the past three years.
Not everyone agrees with the NRA’s concept of “American values.” This was evident when a peaceful protest gathered outside the NRA convention on May 15. Abby Spangler, the founder of Protest Easy Guns, conducted a “Lie-In” with other participants to call attention to NRA policies that have weakened America’s gun laws and facilitated the arming of dangerous and deranged individuals. “I'm fighting for American lives,” said Spangler. “I'll do what it takes.” Dee Sumpter, the founder of the Charlotte-based Mothers of Murdered Offspring, described the “loss, hurt, sorrow, anguish, pain and suffering” that still lingers from the 1993 murder of her only daughter, Shawna Denise Hawk (presumably, the NRA sees Sumpter as just another American peddling “emotionalism” and “propaganda”).
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It’s telling that not even the attendees inside the convention center fully agreed with the NRA. In fact, several NRA members attending the convention were interviewed on video and indicated they fully support prohibiting individuals on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List from buying firearms, a direct contradiction of the NRA’s position on the issue. These interviews corroborated a recent survey by noted Republican pollster Frank Luntz that showed that 68% of NRA members reject the NRA’s brand of “patriotism” and support closing this “Terror Gap” immediately.
A Tennessee state legislator, Rep. Joe McCord (R-8), recently provided a clue as to why even the NRA “faithful” go along with the lobby. McCord—an A-rated NRA legislator and lifetime member of the organization who is not seeking re-election—recently voted against legislation to allow loaded, concealed handguns in Tennessee bars. The bill passed comfortably regardless. McCord explains that the NRA told legislators, “If you don’t support and vote for carrying guns in bars, we will not endorse you.” McCord felt that, “This line of reasoning borders on lunacy ... What line will we not cross for the NRA?”
A good question... One would think that values aren’t for sale, but a gun lobby that’s given more than $17 million to politicians over the past 20 years (82% of it to Republicans) has significant purchasing power to work with.