April 15, 2023

Trump at NRA: “Require Teachers to be Armed.”

by Hal Gershowitz

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Pence Booed

You wouldn’t know that Mike Pence singlehandedly stopped an attempted coup on January 6th, 2021, not by the boos that greeted his introduction at the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis this weekend.

It’s a sad commentary, not simply because Pence got booed, but rather because the NRA, which was founded a century-and-a-half ago, was once a responsible organization that primarily advocated marksmanship, gun safety, and responsible gun ownership. To be sure, those programs are still widely promoted in the 152-year-old organization. However, in recent decades the NRA has become fanatically opposed to any legislation or regulation that meaningfully addresses the gun violence epidemic in America.  

My firearms experience is limited to my military basic training over a half-century ago. However, the gun owners I know are all serious and responsible people, including those in my family and friends who own guns. All sane people understand that guns are dangerous in the wrong hands and that some guns are tools of carnage in the hands of miscreants in our country, of which we are constantly reminded there are many. Yet, we can do almost nothing, legislatively, to address the problem of gun violence in America. For that, we can largely thank the NRA.

The NRA, which boasts about 5.5 million members today, is known more for its gun zealotry than for its gun training. That zealotry has been good for business but not so good for the country. America today has grotesque and continuous gun-related agony visited upon its citizens year after year. We can do almost nothing about it because too many local, state, and federal lawmakers are either beholden to or fearful of the National Rifle Association. Anything less than an A or an A+ rating from the organization can spell the end of a political career, let alone any political aspirations. Unbridled support of gun rights, on the other hand, is a pretty good assurance of generous NRA financial election support

It wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t until 1980 that the NRA ever endorsed a Presidential candidate. That would be Ronald Reagan, who, a year later, was nearly killed by a deranged young gunman, John Hinckley, Jr., who shot the 40th president with a 22-caliber revolver, puncturing his lung.

While Reagan was the last President targeted by an assassin, assassinations and assassination attempts have riddled American politics. Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy were all cut down by gun-wielding assassins. Andrew Jackson was saved when a would-be assassin’s gun failed to fire. Theodore Roosevelt survived being shot in an assassination attempt, as did, of course, Ronald Reagan. Gerald Ford was also the target of an attempted assassination by Manson Family cult member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was, in 1933, the intended target of an assassin who missed him and killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak instead.

Presidents are, of course, not the only politicians in America who are targets of assassins. On January 8, 2011, at a “Congress On Your Corner” constituent event in Tucson, Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman who killed six people and injured 12 others. Gabby survived. A few weeks ago, Eunice Dwumfour, a sitting elected councilwoman in New Jersey, was shot and killed outside her home. There have been 55 public servants murdered in America since the founding, 49 by gunshot; two were stabbed, two were bombed, one died by arson, and one, James Bent, Governor of New Mexico Territory, was scalped to death in 1847.

The NRA was once known for promoting the safe use of firearms and even worked closely with various levels of government. There was a time when the United States Army gave surplus firearms to the NRA, and the NRA got its very first shooting range with the help of the State of New York.

The NRA once supported permit requirements for concealed weapons and worked with the White House and Congress on serious legislation and gun regulation.

That all began to change when crime began to spike in the late 1960s, and then in 1971, an NRA member hiding a large number of illegal weapons was killed in a federal raid. That’s when the NRA began to contemplate lobbying against gun regulation seriously. In 1975, the organization created a lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), and chose a former chief of the Texas Border Patrol, Harlon Carter, to head the new legislative effort. Carter was determined to radically change the nature of the NRA by quickly transforming it into an absolutist organization opposed to any gun regulation or legislation.

Carter overcame a brief struggle by the old guard at the NRA by leading a revolt at the organization’s annual convention in 1977. He became the NRA’s executive vice president, and another gun-rights absolutist, Neal Knox, was selected to head the ILA. The new marching orders were to oppose all forms of gun control across the board and lobby aggressively for gun owners’ rights in Congress and the legislatures.

Its mantra ever since has simply been to oppose just about all gun regulation or legislation.

The NRA, today, regardless of the extent of gun violence, embraces a simple strategy when considering gun regulation or legislation. It can be summed up in one word. NO! Or as former NRA president Charleton Heston dramatically declared at the 2000 NRA convention, “From my cold dead hands!” as he hoisted a rifle above his head.

In 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court determined in the landmark Heller decision that an individual had the right to possess firearms regardless of whether they belonged to a state militia, thereby neutering the well-regulated Militia language in the Second Amendment. It was a new day for gun-rights advocates.

In 2016, when Hillary Clinton, an advocate of gun reform legislation and regulation, ran against Donald Trump for President, the NRA went, no pun intended, ballistic. The organization endorsed Donald Trump even before he was the official nominee. And once he was the nominee, the NRA poured a staggering $30+ million into his campaign. It paid off. Trump’s position on gun violence in our schools: “All teachers must be armed and trained.” Trump vowed to defend gun owners’ rights and create a new tax credit to reimburse teachers “for the full cost of a concealed-carry firearm.” He also promised to finance all teachers’ weapons and training courses when he becomes president in 2024.

Meanwhile, primarily driven by fear of gun violence, homeschooling is soaring in America, growing from 2.8 percent in 2019 to 5.4 percent in 2021 to an estimated 11.1% today, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Is it any wonder that Trump drew cheers from the NRA and Pence drew jeers?

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