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

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.







Do God And Guns Go Together?

Today’s Des Moines Register contains a Letter to the Editor that sums up everything that works and doesn’t work for people who are trying to figure out a way to reduce the violence caused by guns.  The author, who identifies himself as a practicing Catholic, comments positively on an earlier letter from a reader who did not understand how someone could be pro-life and, at the same time, be against ‘common-sense’ measures for gun safety.  To which the writer of this letter opined: “Anyone claiming to be pro-life but silent on gun safety is irrational.”

church2             What the author seems to be saying is that pro-life activists who also identify themselves as gun supporters are crazy, which means that there are an awful lot of crazy people wandering around. The pro-life movement has always found its message receptively received by people who consider themselves to be religiously and socially conservative; i.e., Evangelicals, many of whom, particularly white Evangelicals, also tend to be extremely pro-gun.

Does the fact that someone might hold religious and social beliefs which appear to be inconsistent to someone else make that person a nut?  Or is it possible that what at first glance seem to be inconsistent religious and social beliefs aren’t really inconsistent at all?

Evangelical preachers were wandering around spreading the gospel in colonial times (basically because most were tossed out of England because they criticized the Anglican Church) but the movement really came into its own in the 1970’s and 1980’s, in particular when Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell began to make common cause with the rightward shift of the Republican Party in the years leading up to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.  This period happened to coincide with the emergence of a much more aggressive, politicized NRA leadership following what is referred to as the 1977 Cincinnati ‘revolt.’

Although the Evangelical movement has now spread all over the country and has even shown surprising popularity with inner-city, new immigrant groups, its basic strength has always been in the South among whites who also happen to be the population that overwhelmingly owns guns. And while Evangelical belief is based on a literal interpretation of the Good Book, another strain which runs through the faith is the idea that family safety and security are basic cornerstones of the faith.  That being the case, how could the gun industry and its NRA allies not attempt to promote a narrative which linked guns to protection from crime?

The fact that someone believes in the sanctity of life doesn’t mean they are being inconsistent by promoting at the same time an argument which views owning a gun as a means of preserving life when or if that life is threatened by someone else. Ask any gun owner if he practices proper safety measures and he’ll always say ‘yes.’ Ask the same individual what he would do if someone tried to break into his home and he’ll unhesitatingly tell you that he’ll pick up his gun and blow the bad guy away.  What’s inconsistent about that?

At the beginning of this column I said that there were things which worked and didn’t work for advancing the idea that we need to make a stronger effort to reduce the violence caused by guns. What works is reminding people again and again that no matter how you cut it, more than 120,000 gun injuries each year is simply a cost we shouldn’t have to bear. And it doesn’t work to wait until after the injury occurs, then grab the guy who committed the injury, slam him into a cell and throw away the key.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that just because someone believes a gun doesn’t represent a threat to themselves or anyone else means that such an individual has no honest respect for human life. I long ago decided that what I believe may conform with reality but that’s only because I define reality in a certain way. Which may or may not work for anyone else.


Are Evangelicals Moving Away From A Pro-Gun Stance? Not So Fast.

Today our friends at The Trace discussed a new survey of Evangelical leaders which shows a majority (55%) might support stronger gun-control laws, even though this same majority reported that they personally own guns. This survey comes as something of a surprise to the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, given the fact that Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported you-know-who in the 2016 election, and you-know-who ran as the candidate of the NRA.  From now on, incidentally, I’m going to refer to the present occupant of the Oval Office as you-know-who, or YKW for short, because his shenanigans don’t deserve to let him be accorded any kind of proper name. Anyway, back to the Evangelicals.

guns and church             I think the idea of a possible shift in Evangelical views on guns needs to be understood in a somewhat more nuanced way. First of all, the Evangelical support for YKW in 2016 was basically rooted amongst white Evangelicals, who constitute a majority of the total Evangelical population, but certainly do not represent the Evangelical movement as a whole. If anything, Evangelicalism appears to be growing fastest within the new-immigrant community, most of whom are considered ‘white’ in a racial sense, but share little of the values, outlook and most of all, religious activity and behavior with the traditional Evangelical population which is overwhelmingly located in rural or suburban areas, primarily in the South.

To drive to my office in Springfield I go down the main street of Chicopee, MA, which used to be the location of enormous manufacturing plants owned by Spalding and Westinghouse, but is now just another, inner-city pile of rubble surrounded by crummy housing, welfare offices and mini-marts. On the six blocks of Main Street which I take to get to work, I pass eight storefront Evangelical churches, whose congregations are entirely comprised of recent immigrants, most of whom do not speak English as a primary language and have as much in common with white Evangelicals siting in those mega-churches as I have with the man in the moon.

Given this division within the Evangelical community, it should come as no surprise that a slight majority of the religious leaders responding to a survey conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals would be in favor of stricter gun-control laws. After all, the NAE sent a public letter from its leadership criticizing YKW for his initial order barring immigrants; it also issued a very strong condemnation of white supremacy after Charlottesville (“The NAE condemns white supremacy and all groups, such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis, that champion it.”) and immediately called on Congress to protect DACA after YKW announced his intention to terminate the program over the next six months.

Where did YKW deliver his first commencement speech after taking office? At Liberty University to which he was returning following a campaign appearance at the school in 2016. In both appearances, Trump made no attempt to hide his pro-gun credentials, given the fact that the school’s President, Jerry Falwell, Jr., is a strong advocate of concealed-carry and recently announced the construction of a shooting range where students can get trained and apply for CCW, although Liberty University, believe it or not, does not allow students to walk around the campus toting guns. So much for Falwell’s nonsense about the virtues of being armed.

Obviously, whenever any faith-based group or organization pushes the idea of stricter gun laws, such news should be shared around the community which advocates reducing the violence caused by guns. But in evaluating the impact of such pronouncements, the gun-violence advocacy community needs to fully understand both the motives and the context in which such ideas might arise. Would it have been better had the NAE survey disclosed that a majority of respondents were against stricter regulations on guns? Of course not. But by the same token, to believe that the Evangelical movement as a whole may be moving away from a pro-gun position is to make an assumption which is simply not true.


Of All Places – A University In Gun-Rich West Virginia Bans Guns.

            “The possession and/or use of any dangerous weapons is strictly forbidden on university property. Weapons include but are not limited to the following: Firearms, BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns, blowguns, bows and/or arrows, dangerous knives, firecrackers, ammunition, and other explosive material. Possession of the above will result in the immediate suspension from the residence halls, and may also result in expulsion and possible legal action.”

WLU           Folks, this isn’t from the student manual at Berkeley, or Johns Hopkins, or Harvard, or some other bastion of liberalism where students are taught first and foremost to be politically correct in everything they do or say.  This is from the student manual from West Liberty University which happens to be located in Wheeling, West Virginia. Now don’t confuse West Liberty University with Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by one of America’s most successful televangelists, the late jerry Falwell, which prepares its students, according to the school’s website, to become a ‘Champion for Christ.’

West Liberty University was founded in 1837, at a time when the state hadn’t yet been admitted to the Union, but its location at the far western corner of West Virginia meant that it was considered to be the westernmost spot where liberty and justice was guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence.  The school was actually started to provide a liberal arts education to the Appalachian region, which it has done from then up until the present day.

So the school is quite different in terms of culture and content from what goes on at Liberty University in Lynchburg, and nowhere is this difference more apparent than as regards the issue of guns. Because you may recall that our illustrious Republican Presidential Pretender, Donald the Shlump, made an appearance at Liberty University back in January, misquoted the Scripture but still managed to give the University a big pat on the back because the University President, Jerry Falwell Jr., is an unabashed supporter of anyone and everyone who wants to walk around his campus carrying a gun.  He went so far as to say back last December that if more people had been carrying guns in San Bernardino, that the Muslims could have been ‘killed’ before they walked in the door.

Falwell’s message evidently hasn’t gone over very well with the Board and Administration at West Liberty University in the neighboring state. In fact, the decision to ban all guns from the campus, even guns locked away in automobiles, was in response to recent mass shootings on college campuses and elsewhere, and I quote the University President’s statement right here: “We want our students to feel safe, secure, and comfortable. I don’t know how comfortable someone would feel knowing that someone on campus is carrying a dangerous weapon.”

So when it comes to college campuses and guns, the veritable cat has finally been let out of the veritable bag, namely, this school has decided that all of the NRA and Gun-nut Nation crap about how guns in the hands of civilians protect us from crime is simply not true.  And furthermore, this enlightened University administration is equally unimpressed by the other Gun-nut Nation crap about the lure of gun-free zones.

What really prompted West Liberty University to promote and enforce its campus ban on guns was the recent constitutional-carry law in the Mountain State which basically means that anyone who can legally own a gun in West Virginia can also walk around armed.  The bill was originally vetoed by the Governor but the Legislature overlooked opposition from the law enforcement community and told Governor Tomblin to stick his veto you know where.

The Administration and Board of West Liberty University, a school located in what is probably one of the most gun-rich states, had the intelligence, common sense and leadership to decide that guns and education simply don’t mix.  College-age students often drink, they sometimes get depressed, and most of all, they sometimes do silly and impulsive things.

Go Hilltoppers! When it comes to a gun-free campus, let’s hope your message spreads.


Did Jesus Carry A Gun? That’s What Sarah Palin Would Like You To Believe.

Back in the 1980s, when the Republican Party discovered that it could build a base among Christian conservatives, the social niche issues were all about opposition to what they called ‘alternate’ life-styles; i.e., gays, feminists, pro-choice and the like.  Only a funny thing happened between Jerry Falwell and the SCOTUS decision known as Obergfell v. Hodges, namely, that all the worst excesses of secular progressivism and liberalism have, de facto or de jure, come true. Now let’s not get into an argument amongst ourselves as to whether everyone and everything really is equal in every sense of the word; when it comes to social issues that the Right can use to help sway election results, their victories have been few and far between.

palinBut in the run-up to 2016, the Right appears to have found a new issue, or at least an old issue that they are using for the first time, and the issue is guns. This doesn’t mean that Republicans ignored gun owners; various Republican Presidential wannabees always show up at the NRA convention to burnish their gun-loving credentials in front of the gun-owning crowd.  But these appearances are no different from requisite appearances that all politicians make in front of their traditional constituent groups: Democrats talk the civil rights talk before the NAACP and the UFT; Republicans greet the faithful in pilgrimages to Liberty University and the KofC.

Back in 2010 Rick Perry made headlines when he allegedly pulled a Ruger out of his jogging outfit and shot a coyote who was allegedly menacing his dog. This incident, in fact, was the beginning of the end of Perry’s political career, or at least a career that he hoped would land him in the upstairs apartment at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Put simply, the attempt to create an image of himself as a latter-day Annie Oakley got himself dismissed as a buffoon.

I wonder how Perry feels this time around when the Republican Presidential race so far has centered not on lowering taxes or cutting the cost of government, but on the degree to which each candidate supports the 2nd Amendment and who among them is walking around armed.  This nonsense started with Trump following the Virginia shooting of two television journalists, but the notion of an armed citizenry has become the de rigueur Republican response to every issue involving safety and security, particularly in the wake of the Paris attacks and concerns that the ISIS-led rebellion in Syria may be getting out of hand.

The recent attempt by the NRA to market guns as a life-style is tailor-made for helping to boost the Republican brand.  Because the polls seem to indicate that Republican support gets weaker as one goes down the age pyramid, ditto interest in guns.  When Colion Noir dresses up hip and cool and prances around the NRA video channel with his AR-15, he’s trying to promote a ‘life-style’ that will appeal to the young and non-White demographics whose support the GOP desperately needs.  When Dana Loesch tells all those soccer Moms they should be carrying guns, she’s sending a similar message to another population group that, hopefully, will vote Red instead of Blue.

Into this newly-found Republican marketing scheme jumps none other than Sister Sarah Palin, who just released a book that unites faith, freedom and guns.  It’s a collection of devotional verses that can be read every day, and Sarah chose to hype it on her Facebook page by saying that Jesus would “fight” for the 2nd Amendment because otherwise only the ‘bad guys’ would have guns.

I feel sorry for Palin; she’s reminds me of a wannabe Anita Bryant who ended up trying to prevent gay marriage and now runs some kind of online ministry which sells the usual inspirational junk. If uniting guns and religion is how the Republicans believe they’ll expand their base, it just opens the door for the faith-based GVP groups to remind their followers about turning the other cheek.