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The Long Arm of the NRA

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This past weekend, the annual convention of the National Rifle Association was held in Indianapolis, a panoply of fearmongering speeches and fearsome weapons for sale—otherwise known as “9 acres of guns and gear.” This year’s convention featured Sarah Palin telling the audience not to waste valuable ammo on “warning shots” when facing a threat, newborn babies who were already NRA members, and a class on “advanced sausage processing” to boot. What’s not to love?

“What was hard to not notice was the look of glee on so many men’s faces—white men, for the most part, generally of less than athletic appearance—whose communal id had been unleashed. They looked like kids in a candy store, boys with toys, with a type of porn their political ideology can get behind,” wrote Cliff Schecter in his dispatch for The Daily Beast. And, of course, Wayne LaPierre’s speech included a now-familiar rallying cry:

We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all.

None of this should be suprising, of course. The culture of the NRA remains constant. Back in 2001, for Issue 14 of The Baffler, Mike Newirth wrote about the history of the organization. His piece takes readers from its origins in public rifle-skill classes following post-Civil War riots, to the fully commercialized cult of gun nuts it is today; he also examines the NRA’s codependency with major weapons manufacturers and law enforcement culture. Here’s an excerpt:

For while it’s impossible to imagine the permanent gun culture without it, today’s NRA is so bereft and so hungry for that good direct-mail cash that it has evolved all sorts of convertible-bed and Ginsu methods: shooting out thick info packs, desperate “threats to your rights!” mailings, and pre-approved “membership” cards. And lost among these appeals, among the NRA’s “Get tough on crime! Enforce existing laws!” party line, are the origins of the current epidemic of violence. As recently as the early nineties, the NRA was able to convince many that violent career criminals, pampered by soft-hearted liberal judges, justified unregulated arms for self-defense. But the population of shooters we live among now—Harris & Klebold, Barton, Baumhammers, Smith—are essentially the NRA’s own creation: Noncriminals steeped in the muck of mainstream revenge culture, they are the vicious product of thirty years of right-wing resentment. This shift from economic criminality to a cultural wellspring of rage—remember in this regard the scapegoating futility enunciated by Mark Barton, the murderous day-trader—can be tracked, like many elements of the contemporary rightist backlash, to the late sixties.

Read the entire piece here: “Death Travels West, Watch Him Go.”