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Does NRA's 'Enemy List ' Make Them A Hate Group?

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Published on Feb 4, 2013

Candlelight vigils in the wake of our all-too frequent mass killings are just the first baby step of a thousand-mile journey. This must be a radical movement -- brave Americans willing to take direct action to get in the face of the extremists who run the NRA... every single day. Politicians who've accepted money from the NRA and done its bidding should be shamed, and then defeated, regardless of their party, and the cities that agree to host its convention should be embarrassed, even boycotted.
It must be shameful to have your name linked to the NRA. That's radical. But that's what it takes.
It didn't have to be this way. The overwhelming majority of Americans -- regardless of ideology -- support reasonable, well-regulated (in the language of the 2nd Amendment) gun ownership, and there was a time when the National Rifle Association served the interests of its members well. It's hard to believe now, but the NRA -- in addition to supporting gun safety and proper training -- actually endorsed the common-sense, limited gun control measures enacted in 1934 and again in 1968, the year that Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated.
In a fundraising letter last spring, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre charged that, "all of our freedoms, all of our rights, all of our values ... All of them will be lost if Barack Obama is reelected." In an October column in the NRA's flagship publication, "First Freedom," LaPierre wrote: "With four more years of Obama, your firearms freedoms are gone. And we'll spend the rest of our lives mourning the freedoms we've lost... Every freedom we cherish as Americans is endangered by Obama. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The NRA has created an un-virtuous cycle. Its fear mongering over the non-existent threat of government gun confiscation has caused gun sales -- and donations from members -- to soar, enriching the gun manufacturers who return some of those profits back to the NRA and its political arms. In recent election cycles, the NRA has outspent the overwhelmed gun-control groups in both donations to politicians and in lobbying by ratios as high as 25-1. That's created the current climate, where even an assassination attempt on a U.S. congresswoman did not spur her colleagues to action, where even a tepid gun-control commentary like the one from NBC sportscaster Bob Costas provokes an outburst of hateful scorn. In July, an unnamed Democratic congressional staffer said of the NRA to GQ: "We do absolutely anything they ask."
The irony is that the leadership of the NRA has grown so extreme that it no longer represents its own members. Most Americans don't even realize that even before Newtown, some 74 percent of NRA members said they support background checks for all weapons purchases, and most support other reasonable regulations. And yet we've allowed the NRA's highly paid cadre of extremist leaders and its most radical supporters, who flood the airways and newspaper comment sections, to control the debate.
Today, in the wake of Newtown, the decent majority Americans will have to reassert themselves. with numbers -- and with dollars. It will be hard work, and time consuming. When the NRA gets its most fanatical 60,000 to show up in Houston in May for its convention, the gun sanity folks should ring the building with 70,000 people. The gun sanity movement should outspend the NRA 25-1 instead of the other way around. And it will mean difficult political choices, backing gun sanity candidates not just against Tea Party Republicans but in primaries against Democratic enablers.
When I started researching this piece, I wondered if it was fair and appropriate for society to label the NRA as a hate group. That's probably not the right term -- the traditional definition of a hate group is one that targets a defined racial or religious minority. But then the reality is that when a group will so callously fan the flames of fear and intolerance and promote societal inaction while gun violence claims so many U.S. lives, it doesn't really matter what we call them. What matters is that we push the leadership of the NRA off to the far sidelines of the American playing field, while the rest of us fight for our better future.

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