The NRA and the Culture of Guns

Army Surplus

Army Surplus Store, Mountain City, Tennessee. Photo by Callen Harty.

Nine days have passed since the mass murder of concertgoers in Las Vegas and we’re still not talking about guns, gun control, the number of gun murders in this country, what to do about the constant gun violence, or anything of substance about the violent nature of our society and the weapons that contribute to it.

Apparently, it’s still too early to talk about guns, and as soon as it’s no longer too early it will be too late.

So let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about the National Rifle Association (NRA) and what that organization does to promote the violent gun culture in which we live.

According to their own website, the NRA claims to be the nation’s oldest continuous civil rights organization. Although the current bylaws stress the second amendment, it was not founded to fight for the right of citizens to bear arms. It was founded in 1871 simply to promote better rifle marksmanship and in its early years hosted shooting competitions and not much of anything else. It took more than sixty years for the NRA to form their Legislative Affairs Division to inform members about pending legislation. Even then, they left it up to members to take action on their own. In 1949 the NRA and New York started a hunter education program and the focus of the NRA seemed to shift from competitive marksmanship to hunting and training on gun safety. They still host marksmanship competitions, but it is clearly not the sole focus of the association any more. The organization did not involve itself in direct lobbying until 1975, more than one hundred years after it was founded. So to claim the mantle as the oldest civil rights organization in the country is a little bit deceptive.

Since 1975 the NRA has worked tirelessly against pretty much any law that limits the availability of guns and for any law that opens up more weaponry with more power to more citizens. While many peaceful citizens who don’t like guns support the right of others to own them, the NRA has through its lobbying arm and political donations made cowards of legislators who might otherwise enact common sense laws that would protect everyone.

While still giving lip service to these things, somewhere along the line the organization stopped caring so much about marksmanship, hunting, and even its diligent protection of the right to bear arms, and sold itself out to the gun manufacturing industry. Yes, they still hold competitions, they train millions of people in gun safety, and they publish hunting magazines, all worthwhile endeavors. But anyone who truly believes that the NRA cares more about hunting, gun collecting, or their members and families as much as they care about the industrialists making money off of the fear that is sold to us online and on television has completely deluded themselves. Simply put, the NRA is not there to protect anyone’s rights as a citizen. It is there to safeguard, promote, and increase the income of weapons manufacturers.

Business Insider magazine article from January 16, 2013 claimed that more than half of the NRA’s funding now comes from weapons manufacturers through direct contributions, money made from corporate advertising, and donations from the sale of guns. Several gun manufacturers give a percentage of their sales to the NRA as a donation. The NRA also donates money to others. It gives large sums of money to legislators who support their agenda. A New York Times article last week (10/4/17) noted the national legislators who have received the most money from the NRA in their careers. The numbers included direct contributions and money spent on behalf of candidates. Top of the list in the Senate was John McCain of Arizona at $7,740,521. Almost eight million dollars to just one senator. Number ten in the Senate, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, raked in just under $3,000,000 ($2,861,047 to be exact). Tops in the House was French Hill from Arkansas at just over one million dollars. And if there is anyone who doesn’t believe the NRA expects votes in return . . . well, it would be pointless to even try to break through a head that thick.

The thing is all of our amendments are important. Most Americans do believe in the right to bear arms and to protect oneself and one’s family. But most Americans also do not believe that citizens should have the right to own nuclear weapons, tanks, or assault weapons that are designed solely for the purpose of killing large amounts of people at one time. They certainly aren’t designed to kill large amounts of animals at one time because there are bag limits and laws regulating a hunter’s take.

The reality is this: the more types of guns, ammunition, and weaponry that are allowed by the country’s laws, the more money weapons manufacturers make. The more they make, the more they donate to the NRA to make sure the cash flow continues. The more money the NRA makes from the weapons manufacturers the more they can give to advance their agenda. At the same time, the higher the percentage of their income is from corporations the less they have to make from membership fees and regular citizens. The less they make from citizen supporters and the more they make from industrialists the less they have to concern themselves with the rights of citizens and the more they have to bend to the will of the moneymakers. It really is as simple as that.

The NRA will continue to couch its battles for guns as a second amendment issue, but it is no more a second amendment issue than Citizens United is a free speech issue. It is all about the corporate money and the rights of corporations to continue to earn more and more while Americans make less and have less of everything, including individual rights like the right to free speech. The second amendment is under no threat as long as there is money to be made from the selling of the arms we have the right to bear.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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