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Why should we trust that the NRA isn't mainly interested in helping itself?

This editorial was originally published in Question It! Magazine, the ezine for The Why? Movement, as nascent non-profit educational organization.

The National Rifle Association has a prominent position in American society as a purported champion of people's Second Amendment rights. Gun owners are especially inclined to feel that the NRA has their best interests at heart- that it is a "people's" organization and that it is on their "side". However, evidence strongly seems to suggest that this assumption deserves further scrutiny, and there are several questions that people might want to critically consider.

Question One: Why should people feel confident that National Rifle Association doesn't have an ulterior motive (perhaps, a financial one) for its rhetoric?

The National Rifle Association is a 501c3 organization that, according to publicly available information on, earns nearly $30,000,000 a year in donations. This is not an irrelevant fact, as it establishes that The National Rifle Association has a lucrative business interests that evidently depends on its members' donations.

The fact that the National Rifle Association's business model evidently depends on its members' donations should call into question the underlying financial interests behind its rhetoric. One of the The National Rifle Association's favorite talking points seems to be the dubious assertion that background checks for firearms will lead to gun confiscations (even though they have yet to). The argument that typically follows from this is that gun control is a necessary preconditions of Hitlerseque and Stalinseque fascist dystopias. However, historical evidence seems to significantly contradict this argument; see articles in Salon, Mother Jones, and The University of Chicago's School of Law for further reference.

A recent advertisement (or, what some might cynically- and, perhaps, reasonably- characterize as a piece of propaganda) produced by The National Rifle Association warned viewers that they are "surrounded in a world where madmen are famous and good ones forgotten" and that "Doors are locked and streets have gone silent". The same advertisement reminds its viewers that "killers and con-artists prey upon anyone who still follows the rules". Similarly, the common theme of The National Rifle Association's 2014 convention seems to have been fear. Various speakers, such as Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and Macro Rubio assured audiences that their rights to religion, self-defense, and property are under threat.

Wayne LaPierre, The National Rifle Association's president, has the most explicitly frightening message. He reminds people that

"There are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping-mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all."
Why might Mr. LaPierre feel motivated to cite no less than twelve types of potential psychos in his description of American society (a description that one can reasonably qualify as like that of post-apocalyptic movies such as Mad Max or V for Vendetta)? Likewise, why might he feel motivated to assert that "we are on our own" and that "the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!"? Thinking of V for Vendetta, does it seem uncannily coincidental that the below-cited assertion from Adam Sutler, the film's antagonist (and autocrat), seems remarkably similar to Mr. LaPierre's rhetoric?
"What we need now is a clear message to this country... I want this country to realize that we stand on the edge of oblivion. I want every man, woman, and child to understand how close we are to chaos. I want everyone to remember why they need us!"
Is it possible that Mr. LaPierre, like V for Vendetta's dictator, seeks to remind people why they (should feel that they) need The National Rifle Association? Referring back to the question of the degree to which The National Rifle Association's business model depends on its members' donations, one can reasonable argue that using fear to remind people of how much they need it can inspire said (frightened) people's donations.

In his acclaimed book The Authoritarians, Dr. Bob Altemeyer, an esteemed, retired professor of psychology at The University of Manitoba writes that

"a person’s fear of a dangerous world predicts various kinds of authoritarian aggression better than any other unpleasant feeling"
and that
"When there’s trouble, people generally look to the authorities to fix things...some authorities will gladly amass greater power in times of peril, whether they have any intention of fixing the problem or not."
Might the National Rifle Association be deliberately using manipulative psychological tactics to provoke people's fear that the world is dangerous in order to persuade them to embrace the aggressive solution (purchasing firearms) that it suggests? Likewise, is it possible that The National Rifle Association might be psychologically manipulating people in order to amass it and the gun industry's power in this time of perceived peril, regardless of whether or not they intend to genuinely fix the problem they've frightened people into believing exists?

Perhaps there is also another financial motivation for The National Rifle Association and Mr. La Pierre's rhetoric. Consider Mr. LaPierre's aforereferenced assertion that "the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!". It plainly seems to recommend purchasing a gun as the optimal way of dealing with the host of nightmarish "bad guys" who Mr. LaPierre and The National Rifle Association so passionately warn us against.

Might the estimated 20-53 million dollars The National Rifle Association earns from the gun industry motivate (or, perhaps, incentivize) Mr. LaPierre to encourage its members' firearms purchases? Might the 22 firearms manufacturers who are among The National Rifle Association's corporate patrons do this? Might the funds The National Rifle Association earns directly from the sale of arms and ammunition do this?

Question Two: Why should we feel confident that the National Rifle Association is being honest  and open with people?

Segueing from the question of The National Rifle Association's possibly deliberate use of psychological manipulation to advance its own financial interests, it's important to ask ourselves another question. What if The National Rifle Association and those who speak on its behalf were promoting a dishonest narrative about America being an increasingly dangerous (scary) place to live (as evidence that gun homicides and violence have decreased sharply over the past 20 years might suggest)?

There are clearly not-insignificant questions about The National Rifle Association's honesty. After all, the reality of America's violence trends evidently contradicts The National Rifle Association and Mr. LaPierre's "collapsing society" narrative. Likewise, the previously-cited historical evidence strongly seems to challenge (if not outright contradict) The National Rifle Association's explicit and implicit warnings about fascist risks of background checks (and hypothetical gun seizures).

Which of the National Rifle Association's other assertions might evidence contradict?

It would seem that the most obviously-questionable of The National Rifle Association's assertions is its repeated warnings (especially in 2008 and 2012) that, despite ample evidence to the contrary, President Obama was/issecretly conspiring to take people's guns. However, such a situation has never happened. Despite this counter-historical assertion, one can reasonably infer from the assertions of National Rifle Association insiders like Richard Feldman that it may profit from "fear-buying" by stoking people's fear that, if elected President, Hilary Clinton will come for their guns. The question remains, though: if The National Rifle Association's warning that President Obama will come for people's guns wasn't false, why should people believe its assertion that President (Hillary) Clinton will?

Other than flagrantly ahistorical predictions of gun-seizure, is there a reasonable basis to question the honesty of some of The National Rifle Association's more elementary assertions? Here are some basic questions one might ask.

Why does The National Rifle Association assert, despite evidence to the contrary, that gun control is unconstitutional?

Why does The National Rifle Association continually argue that gun control is contrary to the Founding Fathers' intents when historical evidence clearly suggests the opposite? Why do the Founding Fathers' support for mandatory gun registration not seem to impact The National Rifle Association's confidence that mandatory gun registration contradicts the Founding Fathers' intents?

Why does the National Rifle Association repeatedly insist (or insistently endorse the suggestion) that gun control doesn't work, when evidence strongly suggests that states with the most gun laws have the fewest gun deaths, that states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence, that Canada, Australia, Israel, and Switzerland (all of which have stricter gun control than The United States) also have less gun violence?

Why does The National Rifle Association repeatedly argue that having a gun offers significantly helps women protect themselves from would-be attackers when women are much more likely to be murdered if they own a gun and when there's no clear evidence to suggest that gun ownership reduces a woman’s chances of being killed?

Why does The National Rifle Association continue to argue that criminal will easily find another way to get guns if The United States has stricter (or more) gun control laws when experts within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms strongly assert otherwise?

Why does The National Rifle Association promote the idea that aspiring criminals will easily find "another way" to kill people if they can't get firearms when evidence shows that gun murders happen five times more often than knife murders (and many times more often than murders with other weapons)?

Why does The National Rifle Association stick by its belief that mental illness, not the availability of guns, is the underlying basis for the problem of spree killings whenthere does not seem to be sufficient evidence to suggest that mental illness is nearly as significant a factor in gun violence as it and the gun lobby would have people believe?

Why does The National Rifle Association rail so vehemently against the Federal Government having a national gun registry yet maintain its own huge, secret database of "tens of millions" of gun owners? Likewise, why has this database been built without gun owners' prior consent, and why does The National Rifle Association refuse to disclose its name-gathering methods or its intentions in maintaining this database?

Why did The National Rifle Association support gun control when The Black Panther Party asserted its Second Amendment Right to armed self-defense, yet start opposing gun control after this political party's demise? Why would The National Rifle Association's support for gun control be contingent on whether or not black people are critically-conscious, politically-organized, and desire the Second Amendment right to protect themselves?

The National Rifle Association continuously claims to be a 501(c)(3) organization in order to qualify for tax-exempt status. As the type of organization it claims to be, it is legally required to "show that it is organized and operated for purposes that are beneficial to the public interest".  If the National Rifle Association is genuinely organized for the purpose of benefiting the public interest, why has it specifically lobbied to curtail research into the health risks of gun possession, and why has it ensured that firearms have been exempted from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission since said organization's inception? Why wouldn't the public benefit from having an informed opinion about gun possession's health risks? Why wouldn't the public benefit from having the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulate firearms?

Question Three: Why should we feel confident that The National Rifle Association isn't deliberately gaming the status quo in its own favor?

The National Rifle Association repeatedly argues that The United States' focus should be on enforcing existing laws instead of creating new ones. That sounds nice in principle, but how confident should we be that The National Rifle Association is not deliberately undermining or weakening these (existing) laws?

As an evident result of The National Rifle Association's lobbying efforts, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) cannotinspect gun dealers more than once a year, request or require that they submit their inventory, or keep them from destroying records of background checks within 24 hours. Likewise, it has thus far been unable to attain a permanent director (secondary and tertiary sources here and here, respectively). Given these facts, why is not reasonable to conclude that, thanks to the National Rifle Association, the ATF has effectively been rendered incapable of keeping guns from being sold on the black market?

Likewise, The National Rifle Association has steadfastly opposed other efforts that would help negate the status quo. For example, because of its lobbying efforts, it's illegal to have any national gun registry. Such a gun registry, like enforcement of laws designed to help the ATF prevent the black-market sale of guns, would greatly help reduce gun violence in The United States.

The National Association's role in enabling the black market sale of illegal firearms seems to run contrary to its assertion that it's allegedly "frustrated" about the lack of follow-up regarding the cases in which criminals have purchased guns. After all, it seems difficult to followup on the illegal purchase of guns if, due to The National Rifle Association's own lobbying efforts, gun stores can't be required to submit their inventory for inspection or retain records of background checks for longer than 24 hours. Does this explain why the majority of people who lie on background checks are never prosecuted?

If, as evidence strongly seems to suggest, The National Rifle Association is deliberately enabling the black market sale of guns to people who shouldn't have them (in other words, if it's deliberately enabling irresponsible gun ownership), why shouldn't people view Wayne LaPierre's assertion that "the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!" in a more skeptical light?

Why shouldn't it arouse suspicion that The National Rifle Association, an organization financed by the gun industry and the donations of the people whose fear it provokes, evidently enables "bad guys" to get guns while also insisting that "good guys" get guns to protect themselves from the bad guys whom they've enable to get guns?

History is replete if instances of people, organizations, or companies profiting from the sale of weapons to both sides of an armed conflict. This criminal practice is known as "war profiteering". Why should people be confident that The National Rifle Association isn't enabling the sale of guns to both criminals and non-criminals in order to increase its and the gun industry's profits?

Otherwise put, why should we have any confidence that The National Rifle Association isn't deliberately helping to create the violence that it tells people they need it (and guns) to protect themselves from?

Closing thoughts:

It seems well-established that The National Rifle Association has a questionable relationship with the truth. However, it need not follow that one should abandon any and all of one's beliefs about guns and gun rights. There are reasonable arguments for responsible gun ownership, and despite whatever The National Rifle Association might suggest to the contrary, there is evidently not a significant interest in complete gun bans.

This said, as a non-profit organization that purports to benefit the public good and represent gun owners, it's curious that it insistently opposes measures that both the public and its gun-owning members support. Given this, one might want to consider this final question: why should we trust that The National Rifle Association really cares about anything but its own interests?


Should we trust the National Rifle Association?

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