Kearney: NRA’s gun rights claims should not be taken seriously


Ryan Kearney, Columnist

In the wake of a series of mass shootings like the one that took place in Newtown, Conn., in December, the topic of gun rights and gun control has been one of 2013’s most pressing issues. With the recent defeat of a series of gun control measures in the Senate, such as a bill to expand background checks on gun purchasers, few players in the debate seem to hold as much sway over our elected leaders as the National Rifle Association.

This weekend, the NRA gathered for its annual convention in Houston, where it celebrated the Senate’s inaction and made predictions about the state of gun rights under leaders like President Barack Obama. In looking at the speeches and messages coming out of the NRA convention, though, the organization appears to be little more than a fringe group with apocalyptic visions of a tyrannical government wiping out its freedoms. The lack of a rational discourse, or even speeches that were semi-rooted in reality, was stunning, and it begs the question of why so many politicians are at the mercy of a ragtag group of gun extremists.

The common thread throughout the convention was the use of “freedom” as a synonym for “guns,” as if the possession of automatic weapons is some God-given and inalienable right that must never be touched in any way whatsoever. The speakers’ list, which was a who’s who of Republicans considering a run for the White House in 2016, all made this idea the centerpiece of their addresses. From Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and rising-star Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, all heaped praise on the NRA and saluted their work in fighting tirelessly for the “freedoms” of America, all while highlighting their defense of these “freedoms” in their own states.

Breaking down an issue as complicated and significant as the availability of lethal weapons into a simple matter of “freedom,” the ultimate catch-all word in American politics, turns unlimited gun rights into some kind of sacred cornerstone of our society. This prevents politicians from taking even the tiniest action, like passing the watered-down Senate bill, to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.

The strong emphasis on “freedom” at the convention was motivated by a genuine fear among the attendees that their guns are the only thing keeping our elected government from transforming into an evil tyrannical regime, which is what Obama is striving to create with his push to “come after our guns,” to paraphrase one attendee.  Thus, any gun control action would start us down a slippery slope to total government control.

Notwithstanding the absurdity of the notion that the guns of the freedom-loving NRA members would protect them from the “tyranny” of a government with such an extensive military, the widespread fear of a gun-free dictatorship is astoundingly paranoid and removed from reality. One would imagine such fears to be reserved for the YouTube comments section, not the official convention of one of the nation’s most powerful interest groups. Yet, there they were.

The speakers and attendees weren’t the only ones who expressed some almost comically extreme views on guns, though. The NRA leadership is in just as big of a frenzy over the perceived menace of the Obama regime, if not a bigger one. James Porter, the group’s new president, has a history of incendiary stances — he has called the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression,” for one — and firmly believes his organization is on the front lines of, in his words, a “culture war” for the very soul of America. He called for every single American to receive military weapons training as a line of defense against tyranny, a position that would be extreme for a regular person to hold, let alone the leader of a millions-strong lobbying group.

The willingness of the NRA convention-goers to oversimplify serious issues and engage in silly conspiracy theories is not my main issue here — they have every right to do so, after all. My issue is that a group that engages in such behavior has advanced to such a prominent role in dictating what legislation can and cannot pass through Congress. There are members of Congress, grown men and women, who cower in fear before this group and the clout it holds. It is mystifying, and very detrimental to both our gun safety and the ability to even discuss gun safety, that the NRA is so feared in the halls of power. I can only hope that more Americans — and, more importantly, more politicians — reject the power of this organization and work to pass sensible gun legislation that can make this country a safer place, a possibility that will unfortunately remain small if the NRA is able to maintain their sway over our elected leaders.

Ryan Kearney is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].