It’s almost always a bad idea to compare your political opponents to Nazis. Not only does it show an utter lack of suitable historical reference, it’s also often wildly off the mark. So when Glenn Beck — the keynote speaker at the NRA’s recently completed convention — compared New York City’s mayor to Hitler, it was more than an eyebrow raiser. (For those interested in historical context, it’s ironic that a Jew, whose most infamous “authoritarian” transgression for the right was a ban on excessively sized pop, would be pilloried as the second coming of the Third Reich, but I digress.)
The audience reaction of laughter and applause confirmed that this once bipartisan group of hunters and reasonable gun owners has devolved into a cesspool of far right-wing craziness. Also speaking before the convention were a slew of discredited figures: former half-term governor Sarah Palin; failed presidential candidate and noted homophobe Rick Santorum; and rocker Ted Nugent, who last year predicted, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” It goes without saying that Nugent is neither in jail nor dead.
Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president who cited the Boston bombing as a reason to own a gun, told the irrational faithful that “there is nothing the president will not do to get something, anything, through Congress to advance his agenda to destroy the Second Amendment. Nothing.” Certainly his language can rile up a crowd but it has no basis in reality.
This is the same man who blamed the video game industry in the wake of twenty dead kindergarteners at Newtown. “There exists in this country a callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” he said in December.
Getting back to Glenn Beck, though, illustrates the paranoid schizophrenia of the NRA. In his speech, he claimed that it was not just the president that was out to get people’s guns; it was a mass conspiracy on virtually every level of society:
“Charlton Heston’s words were meant to wake people up. He needed to shock us into realizing who our opponent really was: an out of control growing government under Jimmy Carter.
Today we are in a different place than we were in 1976. The problem is worse today. It wasn’t just Jimmy Carter, just as it isn’t just this president. It’s not just the Democrats either. It’s the Republicans, too.
The problem is everywhere.
It’s in our media, churches, educational systems, in our own homes. It is the Progressive ideology, which is antithetical to our Constitutional Republic. They want to fundamentally transform the country.”
Beck, of course, was referring to Heston’s famous line, “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!” which the now-deceased actor repeatedly employed to push back any measures to regulate guns. Beck goes on to use more alarmist rhetoric, saying that, “Our Constitution, our rights, our way of life is at stake. The freedom of all mankind is at stake. And because of that, so are our souls.”
Got that? Glenn Beck and the NRA faithful see themselves as revolutionaries in a fight against an oppressive government under Barack Obama — and they haven’t ruled out using force. The gun owners of America — not its peaceful citizens — are the last vanguard of freedom. Anyone familiar with this country’s violent history of political assassinations (four presidents have been murdered at the barrel of a gun) would recognize that this type of fiery rhetoric is dangerous.
(As an aside, if you don’t share the same trembling fear of philanthropic former president Jimmy Carter, you’re not alone. The Carter Center has literally facilitated the near eradication of the guinea worm parasite that once afflicted millions. In the United States, he’s built homes with Habitat for Humanity every year since 1984. President Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for his Center’s efforts “to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” His recent political criticisms have been against the use of torture and the invasion of Iraq, hardly controversial.)
The majority of Americans disagree with Beck — as do the courts who are the arbiters of our system of government. Not only are measures to curb gun violence popular, they’re perfectly constitutional. The Supreme Court has upheld gun control measures short of a blanket ban on all guns. Just as no one claims there is an absolute right to free speech (i.e. you cannot threaten people, slenderize, or even hold demonstrations without a permit), there is not an absolute right to gun ownership.
Except for NRA fanatics.
They believe that gun ownership is a fundamental right that cannot be infringed under any conditions. Even the most modest measures to prevent guns from being purchased by criminals, the mentally ill or terrorists are rejected by the NRA. “Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” they said in a statement.
Their logic, if you want to call it that, is baffling. Unless you prevent all violent gun crimes, a law is not worth passing. What if we applied this to any other crime? For instance, speed limits. People speed all the time but I think generally everyone would agree that they are in place as a deterrent AND are justified. To take the NRA’s position to its logical end, why even have any laws since none of them will ever prevent all crime?
Of course we could apply any number of logical tests to their positions but none of them would stand up to scrutiny. More important than discrediting their ridiculous positions is discrediting their organization in the minds of not only politicians who write laws in Washington and state houses across the country, but also amongst the general public.
The NRA does a good job of this on their own, especially when they select a new president who has called the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”. The company that they keep amongst some of the most ill-reputed people in and outside of Washington — and the organization’s leadership that releases outrageous statements on serious policy matters — is more than enough to soil their credibility. Respectable individuals who care about their reputation would be crazy to associate themselves with the NRA.
The Republican Party can either allow the NRA to continue to attach itself like a parasite, voting in lockstep with an organization that is wildly outside of mainstream American politics, or they can burn it off before it sucks them dry of what little credibility they have left with the voting public. It’s one of multiple elements that they will need to jettison in order to be competitive in future elections. Thankfully for them, many of those far right voters overlap and can be severed without doing long-term damage to the party. The long-term damage would come from continuing a relationship with an organization as toxic as the NRA. And as for gun owners, if they want to actually protect their right, they shouldn’t support such an extremist leadership. The NRA is an organization that has come to burn bridges rather than build them.