It’s Time To Stop Talking To Ourselves.


              Here’s the takeaway from last week.  The NRA dumped Ollie North, who turned out to be a very good fundraiser for himself, and replaced him with a woman best known for her involvement with a group which preserves a Confederate memorial that graces the side of a mountain considered sacred ground by the Ku Klux Klan. On the other side of the ledger, the House Appropriations Committee put $50 million for gun research into the  budget of the CDC. 

              In the greater scheme of things, neither of these two events will make a big difference in how we try to deal with the 300 intentional gun injuries that we suffer from each day. But they do symbolize, to quote a Nobel-prize winner, as something ‘blowing in the wind,’ and the wind seems to be getting a lot stronger every day. Maggie Astor got it right yesterday in the ‘failing’ (ha-ha) New York Times, when she said that the national gun-control movement has now built “an infrastructure that had previously existed only on the conservative side of gun policy.”

              I see evidence of this infrastructure in terms of the number of fundraising emails I receive (and I get them from both sides), in terms of media coverage where outlets like The New York Times now seem to carry a feature about guns and gun violence seemingly every other day, and most of all, I see it in the pronouncements by the 20-odd candidates who have announced their intention to chase schmuck-o Don out of Washington, D.C. Just four years ago, conventional wisdom still considered it to be a big risk if you ran for public office and were anti-gun. That bit of received sagacity has disappeared. Fartig (read: finished.)

              Before you read further, let me make one point. My perspective on gun control and gun violence doesn’t date back to Sandy Hook and 2012. It doesn’t date back to 1999 and Columbine or 1994 and the Assault Weapons Ban. It dates back to 1966 when Chuckie Whitman climbed to the top of the Texas Tower and began blasting away. That’s when I first started paying attention to gun violence, okay? So when I say that we are in a very new and different state of affairs as regarding what to do about America’s love of guns (including my love of them) I’m taking the long view, probably longer than any of you. And my long view tells me this.

              Sooner or later, if you want to make a real dent in gun violence, the gun-control community is going to have to start talking to gun owners not as enemies but as friends. And this doesn’t mean just coming up with some ‘reasonable’ gun laws which allegedly garner support from both sides in the debate. What it really mean is talking to gun owners about why the ‘good guy with the gun’ narrative is a myth.

             So here’s my challenge to my friends in Gun-control Nation. There are somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 gun shows held in the United States every year. This means that on any given weekend, there are probably 100 locations where 5,000 to 10,000 bone-fide gun nuts get together to play around with guns. I’m going to a nearby show next weekend, in fact. Here’s a calendar of upcoming shows.

              I am willing to pay the costs of renting a table at one gun show a month for the next 12 months. I’ll send a check to the show’s sponsor which will be in the name of the gun shop that I own. And then you come to the show, sit behind the table, maybe give out some literature or whatever, and engage the gun owners who attend the show in a discussion about their guns.

              I don’t care what you say. I don’t care which organization you represent. Or maybe you’ll just represent yourself. Fine with me. But let’s stop talking just to ourselves, okay? Let’s see what happens when we talk to the other side. And by the way, I have been to hundreds of gun shows and the food is always great.

North Vs. LaPierre.


              Now that the NRA has decamped from Indianapolis with LaPierre still standing and Oliver North down for the ten-count, let’s try and figure out what really took place. Because I’m sorry to say., but most of the reportage about the big battle at the annual meeting didn’t get it all wrong, but did miss some of the most important points.

              On the second day of the confab, a letter from North was read to the membership in which the NRA President informed the faithful that he was going to resign. Later at that same meeting, Wayne-o delivered his standard ‘us’ versus ‘them’ speech (patriots versus gun-grabbers) and didn’t even bother to thank the newly-retired President for his service or time. Because the Democrats haven’t yet decided who is going to run against sleazy Don in the 2020 electoral campaign, he rambled on about Andy Cuomo’s hatred of the NRA.

              The big deal got started when The New Yorker magazine published a detailed article by our friend Mike Spies, which went into details about how the organization’s finances were in tatters because of some sweetheart contracts between the boys in Fairfax and their long-time PR agency, Ackerman-McQueen.  The title of the piece, ‘Secrecy, Self-Dealing and Greed at the NRA’ set off a media wave which then set off a nasty exchange between Ollie and LaPierre, which ultimately resulted in North announcing that the NRA Board would not sanction another Presidential term, so goodbye.

              Two days before the Spies article appeared, The New York Times published what I thought was a much more significant article describing  a just-filed lawsuit against Ackerman-McQueen by none other than the NRA! This suit, which you can download here, claimed that the two parties had been negotiating for almost a year, discussions which centered around the behavior and compensation of Oliver North, who has evidently been double-dipping salaries from both the NRA and the PR agency, a clear violation of not-for-profit regulations in New York State (which is where the NRA has been registered since 1871.)

              North was hired by the NRA precisely to help the organization recover from the deficit it ran by giving sleazy Don $30 million or more for his 2016 campaign. In fact, the 2016 operating deficit of $45 million was cut to $17 million in 2017, despite the fact that revenues also declined by some $25 mil. You may recall that North ran for Senate against Chuck Robb in 1994.  He lost the race but set a single-year record for direct-mail donations of $16 million bucks. He has remained a prodigious fundraiser for various right-wing causes ever since, and no doubt his efforts in this respect are what pushed him into the President’s position of the NRA.

              If you read the lawsuit between NRA and Ackerman-McQueen, particularly Section D, you’ll discover that North has, indeed, made good use of his fundraising abilities, largely for himself.  It appears that as an Ackerman-McQueen employee, North may have not only oversold the value of his name, but didn’t even deliver the content to NRA-TV that was going to generate more cash both from sponsors and fans. 

              The boys from Fairfax have made some dumb business decisions over the last several years, chief among them moving from face-to-face to digital training with the accompanying Carry Guard insurance scam. Both of these programs have weakened the organization’s membership base, but anyone who thinks that or hopes that the NRA is now facing Armageddon doesn’t know how to read the tea leaves.

              I’ve said it in previous columns but I’ll say it again. The NRA‘s existence reflects the fact that a clear majority of Americans, including non-gun owning Americans, believe that owning a gun for self-defense is more of a benefit than a risk. And it really doesn’t matter that the evidence proves exactly the reverse. Until and unless my friends in Gun-control Nation figure out a convincing argument in response to this remarkable case of cognitive dissonance, we will remain enamored of those little pieces of polymer which fit neatly in the pocket and hold 16 rounds,

Making Ollie North The NRA President Is A Very Smart Move.

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If you really want to understand why the boys from Fairfax made Oliver North the new President of America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ a.k.a. the NRA, go to your video viewer and watch a remarkable documentary, A Perfect Candidate, which covered North’s 1994 campaign in Virginia for the Senate seat held by Chuck Robb. What made North competitive was an enormous amount of money raised through direct-mail from small donors; what made him a loser was the ‘independent’ candidacy of another Republican, Marshall Coleman, who was basically put on the ballot to pull mainstream Republican votes away from North.

north             What the documentary brilliantly highlights was the degree to which North’s campaign was based almost entirely on an appeal to white Evangelicals who gave North overwhelming numbers in rural counties, but couldn’t help him in urban areas, particularly the ever-increasing and ever more diverse areas around Washington, D.C.  North actually set a record in that campaign for the amount of money ever raised for a statewide race, most of which came through the Evangelical, direct mail pipeline first created by Jerry Falwell and then increasingly exploited by the GOP and organizations like the NRA.

If you think I’m overdoing the connection between the connection between religion, guns and politics, here’s how North began his NRA address on the meeting’s first day: “Lord, we ask you to deliver us from our enemies, for your forgiveness for those things that we have done and failed to do when we stray from your word. Ewe beseech you for Godly, enlightened leaders.” According to the failing New York Times, the audience broke into sustained applause.

Over the last several months, I have occasionally heard vague murmurings from some of my more optimistic, gun-control friends that in the wake of Parkland that maybe, just maybe, the NRA might move slightly away from the crazy, extreme rhetoric of the Trump campaign. If anything, the decision to make Ollie North the group’s new figurehead (and chief fundraiser) should dash any such hopes. What Rev. Rachel Smith called ‘gundamentalism’ – the God-given ‘right’ to own a gun – has now become the NRA’s new watchword and will probably soon replace the ‘good guy with a gun’ as the organization’s favorite slogan embossed on the bumper-sticker pasted on the family car.

Give the NRA credit, okay?  For an organization primarily dependent on membership dues, these guys really know their customers.  Yea, yea, I know all about the so-called ‘blood money’ that comes from the gun industry. So let me break it to you gently, of the $300 million the NRA hauled in during 2016, somewhere around $260 million came from membership dues and nickel-and-dime donations to their NRA-ILA fund. In fact, the NRA’s political arm raised a record-breaking $2.4 million during March, of which $1.9 million was in donations of $200 or less.

I’ll never forget going to the NRA show in 1980, it was held in an arena not far away from Phialdelphia’s Constitution Hall. And the main speaker was none other than Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, who was in the midst of his campaign. The day he spoke happened to be the day I mostly spent hanging out with Jeff Cooper of Gunsite fame; neither he nor I even knew or cared that Reagan was in the hall.

The gun world and the rest of the world has obviously changed since 1980. We now use the internet for fundraising, the guy in the White House makes Reagan sound like a liberal, but we also have gay marriage – some battles you win, some you lose. Why should anyone be surprised that an organization which promotes the ownership of products still owned primarily by older, white men who profess the Evangelical faith and live in the South would make common cause with an older, white, Evangelical guy from the South named Ollie North?

And by the way, you might consider joining Ollie on a freedom cruise to Normandy in August to celebrate the sacrifices made for the ‘century’s greatest cause.’ The cruise is co-sponsored by the NRA.






Want To Do Something About Gun Violence? There’s A Meeting For You On November 3rd.


I was born in Washington, DC and one of my earliest memories was being taken by my mother to a concert at the resplendent National Cathedral, the towering Gothic  edifice which until the recent re-making of downtown, used to be one of the tallest building in our Nation’s Capitol. The ‘cathedral,’ as we all used to call it, was much more than the seat of Washington’s Episcopal Diocese; it was also a site that attracted visitors worldwide and had been the venue for many events that symbolized what America was all about.

Some Presidents , including both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, journeyed up Massachusetts Avenue following their inaugurations to participate in prayer, other Presidents – Ford, Eisenhower – lay in repose at the Cathedral following their deaths.  Although the Constitution still gives everyone the right to follow whatever religion we choose, or not to follow any religion for that matter, the Congress designated the Cathedral as the “national house of prayer,” and what the Rev. Eugene Sutton called a “soaring, majestic place” still evokes the same wonderment in me today as it did when I walked into the building for the first time as a six-year old little boy.

cathedral                Leaving aside its historical, architectural and spiritual significance for a moment, the Cathedral has also not shied away from confronting public issues which impact all of us from day to day. And if you believe there’s any public issue that demands our attention more than the issue of gun violence, don’t waste your time trying to convince me that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  I’m not saying there aren’t other issues that need to be addressed, but gun violence is the only public problem for which a loud and incessant chorus repeats ad nauseum that no issue exists at all. There’s no gun violence according to the NRA; there’s no gun violence according to the NSSF.  In fact, the NSSF was just awarded a $2.4 million DOJ grant to help them continue their “effective” Project Chlldsafe program which is so effective that unintentional gun deaths and injuries have increased over the last few years.

If the National Cathedral is the nation’s house of prayer, it also functions as the nation’s public conscience.  There is no religious organization that has been as consistently and publicly concerned about equality, promoting freedom of choice and freedom of being over all racial, religious and gender lines.  In fact, the very last pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon before he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet was the pulpit at the National Cathedral.  The Cathedral was the scene of lively debates about wars in Viet Nam and Iraq; its leadership, both religious and lay, spoke out about the injustices of Abu Ghirab and the Cathedral sponsors an ongoing initiative to help veterans overcome the wounds of war.

And now the Cathedral will become a focal point for voicing concerns about gun violence when they sponsor a national forum on gun violence scheduled for Tuesday, November 3rd.  The meeting will bring together all the different constituencies who want to see some “common-sense” solutions put into place: political leaders, advocates, public policy experts and, most important of all, victims and survivors of gun violence themselves.  There will be a webcast, exhibits and tables run by the advocacy groups; it’s an opportunity to strengthen and extend the concerns we all share about putting an end to the senseless and destructive use of guns.

I just looked at the latest video treats offered by the NRA, It’s a series called Freedom

Safest Place and it features some of our country’s most notable freedom-fighters like felon Oliver North and home-schooling expert Dana Loesch.  I don’t notice that anyone who was injured with a gun ever comes out on behalf of the NRA.  Isn’t it funny how the victims of gun violence always seem to end up on the other side of the debate?   And that’s the reason why the people who come to the National Cathedral on November 3rd will ultimately win.


Book Review: Michael Waldman’s 2nd Amendment – A Biography

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I started to read Michael Waldman’s book, The Second Amendment, A Biography, with a certain amount of trepidation, because if nothing else, here’s someone who hits the ground running when it comes to anything having to do with public policy. And whether its voting rights, or election financing reform, or same-sex marriage or just about any other domestic policy that liberals want to own, Waldman has been in the thick of the argument ever since he took over the Brennan Center in 2005.

Why trepidation?  Because although Waldman may have actually shot a rifle at least one time, let’s just say that he’s not much of a gun guy and his friends and policy associates don’t spend Friday afternoons popping some tops down at Franzey’s Bar & Grill.

Now don’t get me wrong.  You don’t have to be a gun guy to say something smart about guns.  But Waldman’s resume reads like the exact opposite of someone who would give gun owners a break, and let’s not forget that he runs a public policy institute named after a Supreme Court justice who probably would have been just as happy if the 2nd Amendment didn’t exist.  So I figured the book to be just another one of those “it’s time to defang the NRA” deals, with the usual elixir of anti-gun proposals like more background checks, another assault weapons ban and, for good measure, let’s get rid of all the damn things anyway.

scalia                I was wrong.  Leaving aside the early chapters on the how’s and why’s the 2nd Amendment even got into the Constitution, the book’s real strength is Waldman’s ability to tie the narrative of recent gun jurisprudence to the general rightward drift of American politics and American law.  I have been waiting for someone to explain how judges like Scalia defend the notion of 2nd Amendment ‘originalism’ in order to promote a conservative, current-day agenda and Waldman nails this one to the wall. Going back to the 1980’s, he charts the confluence of conservative energies represented by politicized evangelicals, right-wing think tanks and specific-interest groups like the NRA, all combining to support a judicial agenda that seeks to roil back or dilute progressive programs and reforms.

It’s not so much that gun control is at the top of the progressive agenda; it ebbs and flows as high-profile shootings come and go.  But a majority of gun owners, particularly people for whom guns are a serious part of their life-styles, tend to be politically conservative anyway, so using fears of gun restrictions to enlist them in the anti-liberal crusade works every time.

A close reading of sources from the debates over the Bill of Rights makes clear that individual gun ownership represented the ability of citizens to protect and defend their political rights; rights to free speech, free assembly, due process and the like.  But the argument for gun ownership advanced by the NRA today, Olliver North’s appeals to patriotism notwithstanding, is based on the alleged social value of guns to protect us against crime.  The NRA would never argue that the Glock in my pocket should be used to stop cops from coming through the door, but they insist that the same Glock is my first line of defense when a bad guy breaks down that same door.

Waldman clearly understands that by using the 2nd Amendment to justify gun ownership as a defense against crime, the pro-gun community has successfully restated the history of the 2nd Amendment to buttress a contemporary social justification for owning guns. Neither will be readily undone as long as gun control advocates believe they can respond to this strategy by stating and restating the “facts.”  Remember “it’s the economy, stupid?”  Now “it’s the guns.”

Can The NRA Sell Their Message To The Millennial Generation?

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Even though violent crime has declined by more than 50% over the last twenty years, it’s not surprising that Wayne LaPierre and other promoters continue to justify gun ownership as our first, last and most sacred form of personal defense.  After all, guns are found most frequently on farms, rural communities and smaller towns.  Bye-bye farms and rural living, bye-bye guns. Thirty years ago a majority of small arms manufactured in the United States were rifles and shotguns; now more than 60% are handguns and the percentage would be even higher were it not for a surge in assault-style rifles which are often sold as weapons that can be used by the ‘good guys’ to keep the ‘bad guys’ out of sight.

Going forward the news for the gun industry and its advocacy organizations like the NRA doesn’t hold any silver linings, at least any that can be found in a very detailed poll conducted by the Pew Foundation on the outlook of the Millennial generation, aka, persons aged 18 to 29.  The Pew poll summed up Millennials as follows: “They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. Their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.”

Wow.  That’s hardly the profile of the NRA stalwarts who gathered last week in Indianapolis to hear Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, Oliver North and the other harbingers of doom tell them that the country was quickly going to hell in a handbasket and that only a gun and a good dose of patriotism would keep the criminal hordes away from knocking down their doors.  In the first four minutes of her speech, Sarah Palin referred to the anti-gun threat sixteen times and made it clear that only a Republican sweep in November would guarantee American freedom and basic rights.  And what did the audience look like that whooped and hollered as these well-worn bromides were being served?  Mostly male, mostly 50 or older and totally White.

The NRA and the gun industry have done a really great job making that kind of audience feel like they are under attack. They’ve done an equally good job pushing the idea that modern life is fearful and fear can be overcome if you own a gun.  The problem is, that even after a prolonged recession when many younger people had great difficulty finding jobs, the Millennials are the most optimistic and the least fearful of all population groups, and remain the most convinced that their future dreams will come true.  They aren’t tying these thoughts to a Republican win in November; they see the world through their own eyes, and those eyes aren’t focused on the NRA.

If Millennials maintain this very distinct world view as they get older, the problem of gun violence may take care of itself.  Because even though many younger people think that guns are “cool,” (after all, they were raised on video-games,) they don’t see the world as a dark or forbidding place.  And it’s that dark and dangerous world that the gun industry and the NRA has been using to sell more guns since everyone started leaving the farm.

evolve-badgeWant to see the kind of gun message that Millennials will like?  Take a look at this video produced by my friends Jon and Rebecca Bond for their organization called Evolve.  It’s, hip, it’s cool, it delivers a serious point about guns but makes it in a clever and sophisticated way.  I have never seen a message like this coming from the gun industry because they haven’t figured out how to speak to the generation that will either become or not become their customers and supporters in the years ahead.  And if  they don’t figure out how to do it the Bonds and other Millennial-conscious organizations will end up owning the debate.

Which Republican Will Win The Concealed-Carry Vote?

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I haven’t yet had time to listen to the speeches delivered at the just-concluded NRA meeting in Indianapolis, but within the next few days they will probably be posted by the NRA.  I won’t bother to listen to Palin and Oliver North because they are just show up for a speaker’s fee, but I will pay attention to Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, because this trio are prominently mentioned as potential Republican standard-bearers in 2016.  I did find a report on Rick Santorum’s speech on a CNN blog, which quoted him as saying that he was in complete agreement with the NRA as regards using guns to protect all of us from crime.  In fact, Santorum came up with a catchy little phrase which I suspect he’ll trot out a few more times before the election really begins to take shape.  At the NRA show and again on a Sunday television interview he said, “a well-armed family is a safe family, a well-armed America is a safer America.”

Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre

And if you want to know who all these well-armed Americans are protecting us from, a complete list was furnished the NRA audience by America’s chief crime-fighter, Wayne LaPierre, who painted this portrait of a society on the edge of chaos and collapse because the following people are running around: “terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, car jackers, ‘knock-out’ gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse as a society that sustains us all.”

I can’t think of a more effective way to stop chemical attacks or the spread of the plague than a loaded .38 on my night-table or an assault rifle propped up behind the front door.  Okay, so Wayne-o is given to a bit of hyperbole when he gets up in front of the faithful, and he knows he won’t get air-time unless he says something that’s just a little bit beyond belief.  The only problem is that the NRA is staking out such an extreme position that to wind up as the most pro-gun candidate in a field of pro-gun candidates is to push yourself so far to the edge that there’s no way to go but down.

At one point LaPierre rhetorically asked the audience whether they would trust the government to protect them and of course the answer was a resounding ‘no.’  But while the NRA only ramps up its anti-government rhetoric when the government happens to be controlled by the Democrats, the notion that we all have to walk around with guns because, as LaPierre says, “we’re on our own” in facing this terrible, crime-ridden world, cuts both ways.  The truth is that if you get elected President, the first thing you have to do before moving into the White House is to take an oath in which you promise to defend America against its enemies.  What’s Santorum going to do if he’s standing there with his hand on the Bible? Ask Wayne LaPierre to serve as Secretary of Defense?

The NRA’s been able to grow its membership and flex its political muscle for one reason and one reason only: there’s a very liberal, very progressive politician sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who doesn’t buy the argument that walking around with a concealed weapon makes you safe.  Even if the NRA could produce a legitimate study that showed this to be the case, which they haven’t, by the way, it probably wouldn’t change Obama’s mind anyway.  But Obama’s out of here in slightly more than 28 months, and we could wind up with a President who really does believe that the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center could have been shot out of the sky if someone in one of the twin towers had been armed with a gun.  Which will make it rather difficult for the NRA to pretend that we need to arm and protect ourselves because the government isn’t up to the job.

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