Attention Liberals, Minorities, and Any American Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired of Gun-Related Deaths in America,
A Call To Arms
(Why This Liberal Joined the NRA and Why You Should, too)
Raise your hand if you like Dead Americans. Just stick it right up there. If you raised your hand, then stop reading, this article is not for you – you’re not welcome here anymore. If, however, the thought of Americans needlessly dying is as upsetting to you as it is to this proud liberal (aka, me) then perhaps you’ve also become depressed, frustrated, and disgusted by not only the near-endless mass shootings across our land but also from the apathy, empty rhetoric, and feigned compassion our political leaders spout after every one of these unacceptable – and potentially avoidable – tragedies. I know the “dead Americans” opening angle is harsh, even somewhat cruel. But what’s going on in our country – this undeniable epidemic of gun-related violence – is harsh and cruel. We’re losing on average more than 30,000 American men, women, and worst of all, children every single year, with more than 1/3rd of those gun-related deaths being homicides. Yet, here we are. Stories about gun-related homicides and tragic accidental-shootings are as common on the nightly news as sports scores and way-too-cheery weather people with way-too-white teeth.
There are two common-denominators to all these gun-related deaths occurring here in the United States. One, they’re happening to Americans (yes, you may call me Captain Obvious). Two, they involve some kind of firearm (yes, you may call me an idiot). Sure, we can argue about all the other variables, including the motives or reasons behind the violence; the robbery gone badly, terrorism, excessive force, as well as to who is committing these various violent acts. But what we can agree on, right now, is we don’t like that these deaths are happening with such alarming frequency, and that those in charge – politically speaking – are doing very little to help curb the startlingly high level of gun-related deaths here. And the combination of those two factors means that unless we honestly try a few different things, this systemic violence in America is going to continue. More Americans will needlessly die.
Captain Obvious here, ready to make another brilliant point. We are never, ever going to achieve “Gun Control” here in America. It is not possible. We are a nation of 50 states and more than 310 million people. The U.S. is a big place. And within this vast country are more than 300 million firearms. That is far too many to ever even dream of controlling. Perhaps, going forward, a better way to frame the debate is to label it “Gun Safety” rather than gun control. Besides, we do have our 2nd Amendment to protect, and I personally don’t want it to be taken away any more than I do any of the other cooler Amendments; you know the ones about Freedom of Speech and the right to vote and have an occasional Whiskey Sour. And while I do want my freedoms to remain, I also want responsibility with my freedom; sort of like fries with my burger (they both go well together). But here’s the catch, they’re not just my freedoms. They’re our freedoms. We are all Americans. And that’s the point, and one we should never stop reminding ourselves and each other over. So, while I must retain my American right to own a shotgun, or a 9 millimeter Beretta, that right doesn’t have greater value than your American right to vote, or exercise your Freedom of Religion, or your child’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must find some kind of compromise, where our nation’s entire population exercises both a healthy respect for our rights and an equal respect for each other and the fact we all have a right to live, love, and work here.
How does all this tie into a snarky liberal joining the National Rifle Association? I’m glad you asked. The NRA is one of the single most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C. They make billions of dollars annually and turn around and compensate our Congress in various ways with millions (also annually) in “legal” expenditures (aka, treats). Feel free to search out what each U.S. Congressman received in expenditures from the NRA each year, and just for a hoot, start with that senatorial fella Tom Cotton (R) out of Arkansas (I know, right?). Yes, some Democrats and many Republicans are well under the influence of what the top brass of the NRA want. Our nation has a population upwards of 310 million Americans (yes, I’d mentioned it before, but it’s a figure worth emphasizing). The NRA has a membership of just under 5 million Americans. Take a moment do the math on that. 4.8 million is what percent of 310 million people? Yep, you did well, that is about 1.5 percent. And then wrap your mind around the additional fact that – according to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll – 74% of NRA members are in favor of background checks for private firearm sales. In other words, based on the lack of movement toward universal background checks becoming a federal law, only 1/4th of the NRA’s members (approximately 1.2 million) truly have the ears of our Congress, and neither that 1.2 million nor many in the D.C. Beltway are that concerned about even slowing the tide of American blood flowing down our avenues, boulevards, and streets. Heck, our NRA-influenced Congress just voted to not stop potential terrorists – say those on the U.S. Terrorist Watch List – from buying firearms here in America. What’s a little American blood compared to the vast influence of the NRA-related One-Percenters with all the money and power? Don’t answer that – it’s meant to be rhetorical.
Despite our current state of shock and sadness over the recent mass shootings across our nation, let’s really think about the Long Game on achieving stricter background checks for all firearm sales and how to sway the NRA heads and our Congress into at least trying this angle as a way to potentially lower the number of gun-related deaths. Now, if you really look at the Congressmen receiving the most treats from the NRA, and also really look at the leadership of the NRA, you’ll see that when it comes to racial and political diversity, these folks make the KKK seem like an all-welcoming melting pot. In other words, the U.S. Congressmen most resistant to even attempting some kind of reasonable effort when it comes to protecting more citizens from gun-related deaths are typically white, Republican males. Again, fewer than 1.5 million Americans are controlling the debate on background checks for firearm-purchases, leaving the other 308.5 million Americans to worry about the safety of their own unrepresented butts. So given the unending cycle of violence and the fact that this tiny select percentage of wealthy, white folks are doing nothing to protect a few more Americans from potential gun-related deaths, it seems only logical to try something different. And one way – thinking about the long game and the bigger picture – is to change up the dynamic of those who make up groups like the NRA and GOA (Gun Owners of America). I think it’s reasonable to believe that many within the Congress and NRA leadership are against dead Americans. Unfortunately, based on the complete inaction of these privileged few, it seems Congress and NRA leadership are in greater favor of the money and power they wield. Perhaps groups like the NRA and GOA should get a sudden influx of new members. What if more African-Americans and Latino-Americans joined the NRA and, over time, moved into greater positions of power? What if more Asian-Americans and Muslim-Americans joined these groups, lending their different perspectives and feelings to the way things were decided upon? What if thousands more liberals like myself joined these organizations and used the inside access, knowledge, and influence to slowly make something like universal background checks a reality? Again, this is unlikely to radically drop the number of annual fatalities within the U.S., but it might save some lives. As a civilized society, shouldn’t protecting a few more Americans be worth the effort? And honestly, by slowly changing the fabric of those running these powerful gun lobbies over time – through membership and votes – well, isn’t that a fantastic example of Americans exercising their democratic rights?
I understand someone might not want to give his or her money to a group like the NRA, but the small amount of money for a yearly membership ($35 dollars is what I paid) is like an investment in slowly making some minor, common sense changes to an organization whose majority already favors universal background checks. Remember that the average NRA member is simply interested in hunting, ownership, and other sportsman-related activities. Most members are equally mortified about the widespread gun-related deaths in this nation. It is the leadership who calls the shots and lords over our lawmakers. If we are on the inside of such a group, then with momentum and growing influence, we can steadily alter how leadership governs. If we are on the inside of the NRA – at national conferences and local chapter meetings – then healthy debates with fellow members are more likely to allow for differing opinions to break through and at least be heard (face it, Facebook, you’re not a very good host for gun safety-related discourse or nuanced debate). Imagine if more and more active members and leaders of the NRA wanted to protect the 2nd Amendment and also wanted to have universal background checks, or wanted to close gun show loopholes.
And what about the “Us versus Them” mentality of the NRA and similar groups? Right on the Membership Page of the NRA, the words “Join the Fight” are there in large, dramatic print. What “fight” is the NRA talking about? You know, the one they like fear-mongering about; the imagined (aka, not real) one where an imaginary (still not real) Tyrannical Government comes for our guns and white women. Here’s a fun, paranoid quote from the NRA’s Facebook page:
“President Obama’s push to ban people on the Terrorist Watch List from obtaining firearms isn’t about keeping America safe. Rather, it’s just another example of his effort to limit the availability of guns in general, using the no-fly list as a tool.” NRA Facebook Page 12/7/15
Another example of the NRA leadership’s dishonest rhetoric comes from Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre (whose annual salary is nearly one million dollars), written right on your very first “welcoming” letter once your membership’s been approved. LaPierre claims, “…right now the Obama-Biden-Bloomberg gun ban machine is doubling down and coming after our rights with a vengeance. They will not stop until they are at our door, demanding we turn over our guns and our freedom.” The last part of this quote is even underlined, so you know it must be true. Why on Earth do NRA heads need to whip up Americans against each other, as opposed to dealing together with a real, everyday fight we all should be involved with; the one where we fight to protect each other from endless waves of gun-related violence? The above quotes only serve to keep healthy debate about gun safety from occurring. That kind of rhetoric needs to end and instead be replaced with nuanced compromise we can all live with. How great would it be if the future members of the NRA weren’t coming from a place of fear of government, but rather from the idea of truly looking to protect all Americans? Personally, I love the thought of the NRA representing Americans who both love their freedoms and those fellow citizens they share those rights with.
Gun-related violence will always be with us. It is part of the deal when you live in a free society that already has millions of firearms within it. But if over time the very fabric of the NRA and Congress is changed by differing politics and ethnic makeup, then perhaps we begin to make a slight difference. Maybe a few more Americans leave their workplaces in one piece. Maybe a few more American children make it home from school. Maybe we have fewer police-related incidents where an innocent person dies. Maybe just a few more American families are preserved.
The vast majority of Americans agree, as polls continue to show, that when it comes to purchasing firearms, background checks should be mandatory. A recent CBS News poll has 81% of Republicans, 89% of Independents, and 93% of Democrats in favor of mandatory background checks for would-be gun purchasers. That’s 81% of Republicans and 93% of Democrats agreeing on something related to protecting Americans. No one reasonable is asking for the repeal, or tinkering, of the 2nd Amendment. No one is looking to take guns from Americans who live here legally and lawfully. But the fact is an astoundingly high percentage of Americans want background checks for prospective gun owners. Let’s get those numbers inside the NRA and GOA. Imagine an NRA-puppet like junior Senator Tom Cotton receiving pressure from thousands of constituents saying no more votes for him unless he did what the majority of Americans want? Nothing influences a politician more than the reality of losing re-election. As a country we’ve mourned and yelled and then forgotten about far too many dead Americans, needlessly lost to gun-related violence. Maybe I’m naïve about this effort making a difference. What I do know is that the current rhetoric and policy are not saving enough folks. And as a proud liberal American, I know I have both the freedom and responsibility to at least try a different angle. And by now being a card-carrying member of the NRA, I suddenly have a voice in a powerful group that I previously didn’t have.
In 2013, 11,208 Americans died on our soil from gun-related homicides. In 2015, there were hundreds – yes, hundreds – of mass shootings, where in each instance at least four Americans were either wounded or killed. What if, through freely joining the NRA and GOA we lower that 2013 figure by several hundred victims within a decade? Or what if – say, by 2030 – we lower the number of mass shootings in the U.S. by several dozen? Seems like a good reason to try something different. Seems like we’re perfectly capable of real change over time when we actually make an honest effort. It’s not like it’s going to kill us to try. One thing’s for sure, it will continue to kill US if we don’t.