Go Away, NRA!

On January 15, the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy, which usually signifies an intention to reorganize. The NRA wishes to reincorporate in Texas to evade litigation from local authorities, a move New York Attorney General Letitia James claims indicates the NRA’s failing financial strength.

It is as if it is running away. Good.

I despise the NRA and the toxic gun culture it helped create, and I hope this is the beginning of its demise.

Despite my strong opposition to the NRA, I do not describe myself as anti-gun. I empathize and largely agree with the belief that an armed populace deters tyranny and persecution. I’ve lived under a tyrannical government, and I understand that history has witnessed numerous armed revolts against tyrants, and that governments do not always respect protests and elections. Even today, we witness unarmed citizens being butchered by their own governments.

However, peaceful methods of protest and civil disobedience are preferable and more effective than raising arms against an unjust government, and that the latter tactic is acceptable only when all other methods of protest have been exhausted. America’s electoral system still exists and government criticism is still very much legal, so options remain available.

Are we justified to overthrow a tyrannical government? Perhaps. Does the US have a tyrannical government? I do not think so.

However, many Americans have been abusing their right to keep and bear arms as of late. During the protests in the summer of 2020, some Americans wielded firearms to intimidate their fellow Americans. During the storming of the Capitol in January, several rioters carried firearms in support of a president who was arguably moving toward tyranny by attempting to overturn a democratic election.

Responsible private firearms ownership by law-abiding Americans is important for defense against crime, persecution, and tyranny. On the other hand, we need numerous forms of firearms legislation, such as closing the private transfer exemption, encouraging secure storage of firearms, implementing red flag laws, and mandating firearms safety courses before firearms are purchased.

I doubt the NRA ever really cared about preventing crime or tyranny. Heck, I think they support crime and tyranny!

For too long, the NRA has ignored American suffering and impeded firearms legislation that the public overwhelmingly supports. The NRA spends about $3 million annually on lobbying. It also publicly grades politicians, influences polls through its rhetoric, and files lawsuits to overturn firearms legislation. Hopefully, its superficial love for liberty and the Constitution will soon fade into history.

The NRA’s consistent record of prejudice and hypocrisy has made clear its true colors as a faction of racist bigots. Without the pervasive influence of the NRA, the American people can finally enjoy firearms legislation that keeps firearms away from the most dangerous people.

The Toxic Relationship Between America and Firearms

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I prefer the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude,” a quote periodically referenced by those who oppose firearms legislation.

The first concern with this quote is its blatant hypocrisy, as Jefferson held slaves. The second concern is that it implies that our only choices are tumultuous liberty and tranquil servitude, and ignores the possibility of tranquil liberty. 

Tranquil liberty describes a situation in which citizens are free from both government overreach and the potentially adverse actions of their fellow citizens. Privately owned firearms ensure that the government cannot monopolize violence, theoretically discouraging tyranny. It also allows citizens to protect themselves when the government is unable or unwilling to do so. This is the goal governments should be pursuing.

America is not unique in its gun culture. Canadians frequently own firearms, although their twenty-four guns per hundred people is dwarfed by the US’s 121. The Swiss have a prolific relationship with firearms; marksmanship is a common skill, shooting competitions occur regularly, and able-bodied Swiss men, for whom military service is mandatory, are obligated to keep their service weapons at home.

Yet, no other developed nation has the level of gun violence Americans are forced to endure, and while Americans do live with tumultuous liberty, the NRA actually opposes this and supports tumultuous servitude instead.

Every year, close to forty thousand Americans lose their lives to firearms in tragedies ranging from suicides to mass shootings. The American firearms homicide rate is three times higher than that of Canada and Switzerland. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports between 500,000 and three million defensive uses of firearms every year. Roughly 68 percent of murders and 42 percent of robberies involve the use of a firearm as an instrument of either coercion or physical harm.

While gun-rights advocates often point out that most of these firearms are likely acquired illegally, the root of this issue is still lax firearms laws. In America, roughly 300,000 firearms are stolen each year, usually by robbers who burglarize unsecured firearms from homes. These weapons quickly make their way to the firearms black market, which accounts for roughly 43 percent of firearms used in crimes. Mitigating irresponsible firearms ownership through firearms legislation reduces the number of firearms that are stolen and end up on the black market, decreasing the number of firearms-related crimes.

This black market also negates any attempts at firearms control in urban areas, as firearms stolen from areas with loose legislation are trafficked into cities with stricter laws. The most dangerous American cities, such as St. Louis and New Orleans, all happen to be in states with high numbers of illegally trafficked weapons, despite also being cities with stricter regulations, meaning that it is often easy to traffic or acquire an illegal firearm. The NRA’s support for loose firearms legislation full of loopholes, coupled with strict firearms restrictions in urban areas, has inadvertently made it easier for criminals to obtain firearms illicitly.

Similarly, 25 percent of firearms used in crimes are acquired from a friend or family in a private transfer. Private transfers between acquaintances and sales by unlicensed dealers are absolved from background checks in a loophole called the private transfer exemption, or the “gun show loophole.” In total, about 22 percent of gun owners obtained their most recent firearm via a private transfer.

Firearms have also left behind bloody statistics inside private homes. Americans are more likely to fall victim to suicide, domestic homicide, and firearms accidents if there is a gun in their home. A woman in an abusive relationship is five times more likely to be murdered by their partner if said partner has access to a firearm. For many Americans, especially women, it is more dangerous to live in a home with a firearm

Beyond the Americans killed by a firearm in their homes each year, Americans also experience hundreds of mass shootings annually, leaving tens to hundreds dead each year.

Responsible Americans should have the right to own firearms, but current legislation makes it too easy for criminally dangerous Americans—those not included in the “well regulated militia”—to do the same. By supporting legislation that allows dangerous persons to acquire firearms, the NRA is working against the interests of responsible American firearms owners.

Irresponsible and malicious firearms usage continues to terrorize the American public, the American people, and American homes. And how has the NRA responded? Through fearmongering and bringing attention to everything except the problem: the ease of access to firearms for dangerous, irresponsible, or untrained users.

The NRA Helps the Bad Guys

Only two prominent American political figures have ever mentioned firearms confiscation: the NRA and Beto O’Rourke. Even Obama said that no one was going to confiscate firearms that were already owned. The NRA, however, loves to claim that if any gun legislation is passed, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) will soon be raiding people’s homes to strip guns from law-abiding, Constitution-respecting Americans.

This fearmongering has two consequences: surging firearms sales and the continuation of lax firearms laws. This combination has resulted in an uncontrollable firearms black market, reckless firearms transfers between friends and family, and children dangerously playing with guns because their parents do not have a gun safe.

The NRA’s claim that firearms legislation will prevent law-abiding citizens from owning firearms is ridiculous. A law banning private transfers and enacting universal background checks is meant to ensure that the people owning guns are law-abiding. With a more than 99 percent accuracy rate, the chance of a false positive is low; background checks would not remotely impede lawful ownership of firearms.

Similarly, red flag laws allow people to petition for authorities to remove firearms from the possession of at-risk people. They effectively reduce firearms-related suicides and domestic homicides while balancing the risk of government overreach by requiring a court petition. The only people whose right to bear arms will be impeded by these policies are those who have demonstrated that they may harm themselves or infringe upon the rights of others.

The NRA’s refusal to accept basic firearms legislation intended to impede criminals’ access to guns has shown that the NRA, contrary to what it claims, is actually supporting the bad guys, not the good guys. 

While it loves to claim that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” a law-abiding citizen will have little trouble passing an instant background check.

Thanks to the NRA, there’s a lot of bad guys with guns in America.

What Do You Get When You Cross a Hypocrite and a Bigot?

The NRA claims it aims to protect the rights of the people. Nope. It aims to protect the rights of some people and, of course, firearms retailers. The NRA has supported gun control measures before, but only when a marginalized group is wielding the guns.

In 1934, the NRA helped draft the National Firearms Act, which regulated the manufacture and transfer of automatic firearms, short-barreled long guns, and silencers in response to increased firearms violence associated with Irish and Italian gangsters, whose ethnic groups endured anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. This sentiment finally boiled over with the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, in which seven members of the Irish North Side Gang were gunned down with Thompson submachine guns, rumored to have been wielded by members of Al Capone’s Italian Chicago Outfit.

Racism continued to permeate the NRA’s agenda in 1967, when the organization supported the Mulford Act, which banned the open carry of loaded firearms within California. Signed by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, who would go on to speak at an NRA convention in 1983, the act was partly fueled by the Black Panther Party’s armed storming of the California State Capitol on May 2, 1967.

The next year, the NRA advocated for further gun control that disarmed marginalized communities by supporting the 1968 Gun Control Act, which targeted Black Americans and prohibited firearms ownership by undocumented immigrants and convicts. This was enacted just in time for the draconian War on Drugs which, by disproportionately convicting people of color, made it harder for them to obtain firearms.

The NRA has been around since 1871, meaning there are plenty of cases to analyze. Did the NRA speak out when Black Americans and other minorities were being gunned down nationwide, such as in Tulsa, Porvenir, and Oak Creek? Does the NRA protest or file lawsuits as Black Americans continue to be gunned down?

Did the NRA give in after the Waco Siege, when four ATF agents were killed in a firefight against a White anti-government cult? No. The NRA considered the Waco Siege a government overstep, not an operation against an out-of-control militia.

Did the NRA support firearms legislation when White gunmen stormed the Michigan State Capitol and stared down police officers, a similar action to that of the Black Panthers in 1967? No. By advocating for firearms legislation to combat the Black Panthers, but not the more recent militias, the NRA has created an apparent double standard.

Likewise, the NRA has at times voiced support for a database of mentally ill people, while at other times lobbying against restrictions on the same people owning firearms. Apparently, it has no qualms about domestic abusers owning guns, but is confused about how much blame to put on the mentally ill. This is both hypocritical and discriminatory, as the NRA opposes other registries including a proposed federal registry of firearms.

Throughout history, the NRA has only supported some people’s Second Amendment rights, exacerbating the amendment’s racist past. The NRA claims to “support” the constitutional rights of the American people, but are clearly lying through their bloody teeth.

The alleged purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect the personal security of vulnerable people, but the NRA only cares about your right to protect yourself from tyranny if you’re not at risk of tyranny. The NRA has never represented the marginalized, oppressed, or endangered, and has thus flipped the original intent of the Second Amendment it claims to advocate for.

It was perfectly complacent as the FBI combated civil rights by (often illegally) targeting activists, and as law enforcement activities decimated Latinx and Black communities. It has also stood by as far-right militias abuse their right to bear arms and intimidate left-wing protestors, and as legally armed citizens are killed by police.

I support safe and responsible private firearms ownership by law-abiding Americans. I support the Second Amendment rights of marginalized Americans, who live under constant threat from crime, persecution, and tyranny, and do not or cannot trust the government to protect them or respect their rights.

I oppose the NRA, which has made it easier for law-infringing people to own firearms, while simultaneously making it more difficult for many Americans to protect themselves from legitimate threats.

Now that the NRA appears weakened, perhaps we can finally pass meaningful legislation.

HR 127 establishes that the Department of Justice may not deny firearms licenses to any legally qualified person. The bill also requires people to take firearms safety courses prior to purchase and prohibits transfers to unlicensed users; it also establishes a firearms registry.

The course requirement is a plus, but a certificate of completion should be required only to prove attendance to a firearms vendor. Establishing government-issued firearms licenses or a registry is risky, as both have historically been racially motivated.

HR 8 and HR 1446 are preferable. HR 8 expands background check requirements to include private transfers, closing the private transfer loophole. HR 1446, meanwhile, extends the background check review period from three days to ten. Currently, if a background check is not completed within three days, the sale automatically proceeds, as was the case in 2015 when a White supremacist obtained firearms using the loophole and attacked a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Biden administration has also begun taking significant strides toward gun legislation. On April 7, the White House announced six executive orders, including particularly positive moves to establish an annual firearms trafficking report, invest in community-based violence interventions, and promote red flag laws.

America can expand on these orders—without the NRA—by passing HR 8 and HR 1446. If we close loopholes and respect freedom, someday Americans will be able to responsibly practice their right to keep and bear arms without risking their right to life.

Related articles

A Letter to My Brother

Illustration by Emily Rubin (Business Administration 2022) In 1965, African American author James Baldwin took part in a debate at Cambridge University against William F. Buckley, founder of National Review and staunch opponent of the Civil Rights movement. They discussed whether “the American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” I often come […]

Judith Butler’s: Precarious Life

Judith Butler’s book Precarious Life was a subject of discussion in Prof. Bormann’s Contemporary Political Thought POLS 2332 class this past semester.  This book puts human vulnerability and loss (the precariousness of life) at its center and Butler asks us, against the backdrop of 9/11, what – politically – might be made of our grief […]