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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From The Volokh Conspiracy, a description of this year's NRA convention by David Kopel, one of their contributors. 72,128 gun nuts wandering past three miles of displays of firearms, hunting gear, and related accessories in Charlotte, North Carolina. If there was ever a better nightmare description of hell I am not sure I want to see it. Chances are good that such a description would incorporate this list of featured speakers at the Friday afternoon "Celebration of American Values" leadership forum: Sarah Palin, John Thune, Haley Barbour, Mike Pence, and North Carolina Democratic Congressman Heath Shuler. (Yeah, the quarterback. Some guys have a rifle for an arm-- ol' Heath apparently just has a rifle.)

"Throughout the meeting, at event after event, the key word was not 'rifle' or 'gun.' In Charlotte, as at every convention for at least the last ten years, the word was 'American.' This is reflected in part in the genuine veneration which the NRA, at all levels, has for the American armed forces. The NRA membership and staff have a high proportion of military veterans, and at any convention event, a call-out to the active duty soldiers typically leads to a standing ovation.

"But more broadly, the NRA considers itself the embodiment of American patriotism, as the direct descendant of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. This isn’t a point about constitutional originalism, but it is a point about four million people who have never thought that it was uncool to be patriotic, and who very much see themselves as carrying forward the sacred flame of liberty that was lit in 1776, was fought for on the beaches at Normandy and Guadalcanal, and which is based on eternal truth.

"Like any social and political movement, the NRA at times defines itself as oppositional-- as resisting 'the anti-gun mainstream media,' or Bill Clinton, or Michael Bloomberg. But the National Rifle Association of America is incapable of being oppositional to America itself, or of imagining itself to be countercultural. Founded in 1871 by Union army officers, and led in its early days by bipartisan Union Generals (such as retired U.S. President U.S. Grant, a Republican; and Winfield Scott Hancock, 'the hero of Gettysburg' and the 1884 Democratic presidential nominee), the NRA has always defined itself as the mainstream of America. Probably the only civic organization whose membership has included more U.S. Presidents than the NRA is the Boy Scouts-- and that’s because the Boy Scouts make every U.S. President into their honorary President. In short, Whig history is alive and well at the NRA, and based on the present and past successes of NRA in shaping American culture as a gun culture, that view of history cannot be said to be inaccurate."

I guess we all have our favorite parts of the Constitution, but making a fetish out of firearms and equating that with patriotism impresses me as profoundly screwy. For what it is worth, saying you are "the mainstream of America" doesn't necessarily make it so. Even though the gun nuts roaming the aisles of the Charlotte Convention Center are probably closer to the mainstream than I am, it seems presumptuous of them to make this claim. And the part about the Boy Scouts is weird and troubling too. The Boy Scouts are a pretty marginalized outfit these days, aren't they? The whole thing conjures an unappealing image to me, a small army full of pedophiles, armed to the teeth. And what's with the Whig stuff? Isn't it pretty much acknowledged that the Whigs were a disaster? Millard Filmore is buried three blocks from my house, but even in my neighborhood we know that the Fugitive Slave Act was a rotten thing.

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