You might care about the environment. You might be an activist on women's issues. Maybe your passion is for LGBT rights, or labor issues, or K-12 education. And maybe you are sympathetic to those who suffer from gun violence in America... but feel the issue is simply too tough to take up. "The National Rifle Association is a powerful special interest," you think, "Why poke the beast? Let gun violence victims fight that battle." You wish them luck, but don't want to stick your neck out for fear that the NRA might retaliate and do damage to your cause if you do.
There was a time when that logic might have been sound, but it has long since passed. NRA President David Keene made it patently clear at Friday's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Chicago that guns are just one element of a broad, right-wing agenda that his organization is pushing, and pushing aggressively. Stay out of their sights? Not when they are actively gunning for any American seeking forward progress in our democracy.
The NRA is no longer about hunting or sport shooting. It is about a "Shoot First" vision of society, but that's not all. Under the leadership of Keene, the NRA speaks out on a range of issues that have absolutely nothing to do with guns or the Second Amendment. Keene, of course, used to host CPAC each year as the former chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), and elevated it to its current status as the premier gathering of movement conservatives. The NRA hosted two panels at CPAC's regional event in Chicago on June 8, and was a sponsor of the entire event. That should be the first clue that the NRA has a stake in the broader conservative agenda.
The second clue would be Keene's endorsement of voter suppression laws during his moderation of a CPAC Chicago panel entitled "President Obama's Fast and Furious Disregard for the Rule of Law." Attacking the Obama administration, Keene gave a vigorous defense of Republican Governor Rick Scott's effort to purge voters from the rolls in Florida: "It goes far beyond gun questions," Keene said. "Consider their current assault on the various states' attempts to protect the integrity of the democratic process itself. I think we'll have some discussion of what's going on in Florida right now where the Justice Department, without any basis that most experts can see, are trying to stop the state of Florida from purging non-citizens and the dead and others from their voting rolls prior to the next election on the ground that it's unfair I guess to the dead and the non-eligible voters." Keene did not seem to care that, one week prior to his panel, 67 Florida election supervisors stated they were going to stop removing names from county rolls because the state's data is flawed -- and because the U.S. Department of Justice says the process violates federal voting laws.
Keene also got in a dig on the administration's support for the "DISCLOSE Act," observing, "Consider the president's personal disdain for the democratic process. While spending more than any of his predecessors on fundraising and bragging that he's going to have a billion dollars in the upcoming campaign to bury his opponents, he publicly attacks his opponents because they spend money to get their message out to the public." The NRA has been a vocal supporter of the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision, calling it "a defeat for arrogant elitists who wanted to carve out free speech as a privilege for themselves and deny it to the rest of us; and for those who believed that speech had a dollar value and should be treated and regulated like currency, and not a freedom."
While introducing panelist Maureen Martin of the anti-environment Heartland Institute, Keene stood up for Big Oil, saying, "The government's picking of favorites doesn't just take place on Second Amendment questions. Maureen must have been a little taken aback when the government went after some oil companies because they said that two ducks died only to see a few weeks later the attempt by the government to publish rules which would allow people that produce wind power to be exempt from the laws that make it illegal to kill bald eagles. So that if you produce wind power, you can allow your machinery to eat up endangered species or threatened species or national symbols, but if you're an evil oil company you better be careful that a bird doesn't get sick anywhere within your area." It might seem odd that an organization that claims to represent hunters and sportsmen would be so quick to give energy companies free reign to destroy the habitat critical to those pastimes. But this just shows where the NRA's real priorities lie.
In the second panel Keene moderated at CPAC Chicago, "Defending Self-Defense: The Liberal's Shadow War on the Second Amendment," the multi-issue approach of the NRA came into even greater relief. Kim Simac, panelist and author of the children's book, With My Rifle by My Side: A Second Amendment Lesson, told those in attendance that kids are being indoctrinated by public schools. "So how do you change a culture, how do you obtain your objectives, if you've been unable to be successful through the normal channels of law?" she said. "If you're patient, disciplined, you have cause, you're determined, you change a culture by changing the youth and ladies and gentlemen that is exactly what is going on in this country right now in our public school systems. They go after our core family structure, our faith, our tradition, our values, and that's their battle plan of the liberal agenda and it's being waged very effectively. Our history books are being rewritten, our Constitution classes are overlooked, 'God' is a forbidden word replaced by 'tolerance,' 'acceptance,' all in any type of family structure, lifestyles, stripping our children of traditional values and knowledge of what freedom is and why freedom is even important. In Wisconsin, it's mandatory to teach about the history of collective bargaining, but the Second Amendment is taboo... Planned Parenthood is moving in." Simac added, "Why is this happening? Because we're letting it happen. You know, you can't keep calling 'foul' from the sideline forever. You have to get in the game and we got in the game in Wisconsin and look what we did. We beat them at their ground game possibly for the first time ever. One instance was we partnered with True the Vote and we attacked the voter fraud that we know is rampant in the state." If you parse the barely coded language used by Simac, it is clear that she sees guns as but one indicia of a "better" time when two dads or two moms were forbidden from forming a family and people of color were persecuted for exercising their right to vote.
Keene, by the way, was also giddy about the results of the recent recall election in Wisconsin. "We probably should have begun at the beginning of this by celebrating what happened in Wisconsin," he declared at the end of the first panel. "There were a lot of reasons to return [Governor] Scott Walker to office." Keene also painted an interesting conspiracy, claiming that "prosecutor's offices investigating the incumbent governor have teams of investigators all of whom had signed recall petitions and many of whom had contributed to his opponent, and had those cases referred to judges who had also signed recall petitions and were then asked to decide on questions involving the governor who they wanted to almost extralegally throw out of office."
The NRA is not just for the dangerous idea that anyone who wants guns should have them -- even when gun buyers have violent backgrounds or serious mental health issues (all gun sales are created equal, right?). That's scary enough, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. The NRA is also working to return America to a time when political equality was a distant dream, when big corporations could despoil the landscape with no consequences, and when innocent until proven guilty and the rule of law was a right for only the privileged classes.
Ignoring one of the biggest mouthpieces of the Conservative Movement because they happen to have the word "Rifle" in their name allows the NRA to turn the clock back on a host of important issues without accountability or challenge. It's time that progressives understand that and fight back.