Guns Down Guns Down

On The Women’s March And The NRA

July 14, 2017
By Sarah Clements
When groups fighting to end gun violence say that the, “NRA used to actually be about safety and hunting,” it sounds like a talking point. But it’s true: for decades, the National Rifle Association was known as a group that represented hunters and gun owners alike. They supported the ban on automatic weapons in the beginning of the 20th century, and later they rallied behind magazine limits and other common sense measures. Yet for most of its history, the group that is now most (in)famous for lobbying and acting as a political organization was not political at all. They promoted safe storage, keeping guns out of the hands of children and minors, etc. All of this is not to glorify the NRA of past or present, but it is to provide context for what has become one of the most toxic, extreme, and dangerous organizations in the U.S. in our time. 
What changed for the NRA? 
If I told you that they were overthrown in an internal leadership coup at a national convening in the 1970s, would you believe me? It sounds like something out of a movie, or better yet, out of House of Cards. But it’s true: in 1977, a grassroots push occurred within upper-NRA leadership to overthrow the Old Guard, who were deemed too politically soft. The head of the efforts, a man by the name of Harlon Carter, founded the political arm of the NRA which still exists today, the NRA-ILA, and as the group charged into the Reagan era, they never looked back. Since then, the organization has gotten more and more political, focusing more funds on elections, campaigns, lobbying, and political propaganda on and offline. 
Most recently, they released a paranoid, doomsday-esque short video full of racist dogwhistles, pitting their target audience of mainly white far-right Americans against “they.” Who is “they” in the video? People of color, protestors, folks who voted for Hillary Clinton, millennial activists, the Women’s March. The video quickly becomes a manifestation of everything the NRA wants its followers to fear — and then becomes a call-to-action to push back against all of the individuals mentioned before and the values they represent. The NRA of today is a political machine working solely for the gun industry, soaring on the fear and rage of its members and of anyone who purchases a gun and gives more money to manufacturers. 
As the Women’s March was directly targeted and referenced in the video, their leadership — three powerful women of color and seasoned  organizers — punched back with a sign-on letter, denouncements, and actions to resist the lobby. One of those actions is the #NRAtoDOJ March that will occur on Friday and Saturday this week. In an interview, Tamika Mallory, one of the organizers and co-founders who has been fighting gun violence for decades, said that even if five people show up, we will have those voices heard. The march will be catalyzed by the video released, but it will raise larger awareness around gun violence, police brutality, ultra-militarization, and various disgraces of our criminal justice system, as all of these issues are linked. 
This is a political moment during which we must do two things on the left: show up and fight for our ideal vision of America. I fear that in the Trump era, the left has lost sight of the vision that was so clear and so close to many of us during the Obama Administration; a vision of a better, safer, justice-filled, sustainable, equal society that we were building together. Today, it is an act of resistance and activism to still believe in that vision, to believe that there will come a time, through all of this protesting and fighting back and critiquing and leading, when we will be proud of what we created for the next generations. 
That vision in the case of gun violence prevention looks like universal background checks, a fixed criminal justice system, and yes, fewer guns. What is the society we want to create for the next 10 years? 50 years? 100 years? Imagining lowering the number of guns in the U.S. when we have 300 million guns in circulation today seems impossible and absurd. But push yourself to imagine what that could look like and how we can get there. The fact is, fewer guns means fewer gun deaths, injuries, and trauma. That is what I am committed to fighting for. 
Today, tomorrow, this weekend we will push back against the dangerous NRA that has fought for too long for legislation that puts our friends and families in the line of fire. And for too long they have upheld a racist, machismo, militarized citizen gun culture that has permeated our everyday experiences — in the grocery store, on college campuses, in the streets. Make no mistake: this video and this fight are about more than politics… this is about values, culture, and vision. March with the Women’s March and partnering organizations, and commit to radically enduring this moment we’re in, always imagining a society in the future for which you’re willing to put everything on the line.