There were plenty of agitated and even hysterical reactions to Donald Trump’s election victory, but none more surprising than the one expressed in a direct mail letter I got a couple of days afterward.
“Our worst nightmare is staring us right in the face,” it declared. “The attacks will be hitting everywhere, every day.” It invited me to fill out a survey. “By answering this survey today, you’re drawing a line in the sand – making it clear to politicians across America that you’re not going to stand by while extremists trample our individual liberties.”
Planned Parenthood? The American Civil Liberties Union? The Council on American-Islamic Relations? No, this shriek of terror came from the National Rifle Association.
Apparently, CEO Wayne LaPierre was among the smug, tone-deaf East Coast elitists who confidently anticipated a Hillary Clinton presidency. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain why he would make such a point of proclaiming that the organization is “fighting gun-hating politicians” and “fighting to deny confirmation of judicial nominees who refuse to affirm that the Second Amendment guarantees your individual right to own and use a firearm.”
The NRA endorsed Trump. The letter inviting me to join was obviously written and sent before his victory materialized. But it illuminates a problem that the organization and its allies will have over the next four years: how to sustain the fear and anxiety that have been so useful to them over the past eight.
As a gun owner, recreational shooter, former NRA member and longtime advocate of Second Amendment rights, I like to see cogent criticism of gun control proposals and anti-gun propaganda. But under President Barack Obama, the NRA has occupied itself sowing groundless panic and fighting imaginary villains.
Obama made it plain in his first presidential campaign that gun control was not a hill he was willing to die on. He assured gun owners, “I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won’t take your handgun away.”
He has repeated that position over and over. He has spent more time trying to assuage the concerns of gun owners than he spent wooing Michelle, with far less success.
But in an era in which facts don’t matter, the president should have saved his breath. In 2008, LaPierre dismissed Obama’s promises: “Never in NRA’s history have we faced a presidential candidate ... with such a deep-rooted hatred of firearm freedoms.” The NRA insisted he planned to ban all handguns, ban “use of firearms for home defense,” increase federal taxes on guns and ammunition by 500 percent, and require a federal license to buy a gun.
Obama has had eight years to pursue these sinister goals. We’re still waiting.
He did sign bills allowing people to carry concealed handguns in national parks and check guns on Amtrak, expanding the gun rights of troops on U.S. military bases, and preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from banning lead ammunition. His “anti-gun” proposals amount to ending the manufacture and sale (though not possession) of “assault” weapons, limiting magazines to 10 rounds and requiring background checks for all firearm purchases, not just those from licensed dealers. These changes would have a minimal impact on law-abiding gun owners.
Faced with this record, LaPierre has done the only thing he could do: lie about it. “When I said Barack Obama would come for our guns and do everything in his power to sabotage the Second Amendment, they savaged me,” he said recently. “But every one of those predictions came true.” Sure they did. And Adam Sandler won an Oscar.
The strategy has clearly served to frighten some gun owners and stimulate them to buy more firearms – you know, before Obama could outlaw them. Gun sales have set records under him, and gun companies have prospered. The NRA has found that it can only gain by stoking chronic fear of draconian gun laws.
But how will it be able to do that with President Trump, a Republican Congress, GOP dominance in governorships and legislatures, and a Supreme Court that has given new force to the Second Amendment? The rights of firearm owners are more secure today than the gold in Fort Knox.
The NRA can go on depicting a dystopian nightmare in which gun owners are cruelly deprived of their right to protect themselves. But it’s a Halloween house of horrors, not the real world.