This coming August I'll have been a Life member of the National Rifle Association 22 years. If you're not a member yourself, it may surprise you to learn that, by the standards of that organization, born just after the War between the States, this isn't particularly long. I know people who've been in the NRA twice as long as I have, and one or two who've been members three times that number of years.
It is long enough, however, to make me wonder, as one does upon occasion in any long-term relationship, whether, knowing everything I know today, after 22 years, I'd do it again. Lately, the answer seems to be -- and I'm sure the NRA will be devastated to learn this -- that I'd have to think about it.
Knowing everything I know today, I'd want assurances this time that the NRA is willing and able to perform the task that brought me to it. I'd been in Junior NRA as a Scout, but the course of my life had taken me away from shooting (it seems hard to believe now) until just before that surrealistic year of 1968 when, as a newly-fledged handgun owner (we'd had an incident in the neighborhood) I recall sitting in front of the TV watching the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, knowing the proclivity of liberals to blame everyone but the perpetrator, and thinking, "Boy, we're gonna get it now."
And so we did.
And so I joined the NRA, although it took me five more years to get the cash together for Life membership. Since then, we've lost one fight after another until today, the enfringements we deal with -- on an unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right that was supposed to be absolutely guaranteed -- are beyond anything most members of the NRA 22 years ago would have believed.
I was one of a few who saw the ugly future ahead, even then. Four years after I became a Life member, I wrote my first science fiction novel, full of dire predictions. I also wrote letters, not just to politicans, but to editors of gun magazines, even to the NRA's top banana, the guy who looked so much like Nikita Khrushchev, urging them to stop fighting the Battle of the Second Amendment as a holding action, a tactic we have seen was bound for inevitable defeat, and adopt an offensive strategy.
Those editors (with a remarkable exception whose good judgement I'll repay by NOT associating his name with mine) laughed me off as an alarmist. I never heard from the bald guy at the NRA. And why should I? Who was I? Just some nobody, worried over what was about to happen to his unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human rights. For that matter, who am I today? Just a 22-year Life member wondering whether he'd do it all over again, remember?
As I say, I'd want assurances this time, sort of a prenuptial agreement, before I slipped the metaphorical ring on my trigger finger. My 22 years of experience have taught me a few things -- a dozen of them, roughly -- about defending the Second Amendment. For the life of me, I don't understand why they haven't taught the same things to the NRA.
FIRST, I'd want the NRA not to write any more legislation. It's said the NRA leadership wrote the Gun Control Act of 1968 (before my time, if you'll recall). I know they wrote the Maryland Handgun Ban because they were afraid that something worse was in the works. Fear seems to be their principal motivation, not anger or determination. Invariably it steers them toward a submissive, repulsive "strategy" of doing the enemy's work before he can do it himself.
SECOND, I'd want the NRA not to trade away any more rights it "thinks" are less important for those it "thinks" are more so. The leadership would find, if they ever asked, that their membership often disagrees with them. The "cop-killer" bullet fiasco comes to mind, where we got trivial reforms in a devil's bargain -- letting them make some bullets illegal -- that serves our enemies so well today that one particularly repellant and evil Senator has based the sunset of his career on it.
THIRD, I'd want the NRA to stop supporting government activities irrelevant, even harmful, to the Second Amendment. Increasingly, gun owners see that the War on Drugs, to name an example, was meant from the outset as a calculated assault on the Bill of Rights, especially on the Second Amendment. It must end if there's to be anything left of the Constitution in the 21st century. That isn't the NRA's job, but it should butt out of the debate. Its "Operation Crimestrike", celebrating patently illegal incursions against individual rights is nothing more than a sustained, humiliating grovel -- like having to watch another kind of civil rights advocacy crawl up on the verandah and whine, "See Massah, what a good boy Ah is?"
FOURTH, in the same context, I'd want the NRA to disconnect all future discussion of the Second Amendment from the totally unrelated topic of crime. My rights have nothing whatever to do with anything anybody else does, right or wrong. If the crime rate were only 1/10 that of today, my rights would be unaffected. Likewise, if the rate were TEN TIMES what it is, it would have nothing whatever to do with my individual right to own and carry weapons.
FIFTH, I'd want the NRA to reject all future argument about the "sporting use" of weapons -- why look like an imbecile, pushing the AK-47 as a deer rifle, when it meets the Founding Fathers' ACTUAL criteria so elegantly? -- in favor of frank and frequent public reference to the original Constitutional purpose for an armed citizenry, which is to intimidate the government.
SIXTH -- and this may be the most important point I'll make, so pay attention -- I'd want the NRA to adopt as its principal and publicly-acknowledged objective the repeal or nullification of every weapons law, at every level of government in America. The Second Amendment is explicit about this and requires no esoteric legal interpretation. Check the dictionary meaning of "enfringe" if you doubt my word.
SEVENTH, in support of that objective, I'd want the NRA to print ads, half a page in every issue, in all its periodicals, reminding members of the duty and power of an American jury to nullify any law it believes unjust or unconstitutional. Alcohol prohibition died this way. Gun prohibition could, as well. All it takes is eight and a third percent of the population, one twelfth, to carry it off.
EIGHTH, I'd want the NRA to establish programs to educate the police in their absolute obligation (given the Nuremburg trials after World War II) to enforce only those statutes -- and obey only those commands -- that are lawful, i.e., constitutional. For many decades, the NRA has spent a lot of resources in what can only be described as sucking up disgustingly to the military and the cops; it's past time we got something out of it. (I'm an ex-reservist, my brother's a deputy, and we both grew up in the Air Force, so don't give me a hard time -- this is the truth, and we all know it.)
NINTH, I'd want the NRA to give up the self-defeating notion that you can keep guns OUT of the hands of the "wrong" folks, while simultaneously and miraculously keeping them IN the hands of the "right" folks. Each of us is somebody else's badguy. In the last century, laws were passed to keep guns from Italians and the Irish. Earlier this century it was blacks and now it's those who believe in the Bill of Rights. Get it straight: the latter could never have happened if the former hadn't been possible. No more background checks, NRA, no more prior restraint. History, ancient and recent, clearly shows that if the badguys have guns, the only way to handle it is to make sure as many goodguys have guns as possible.
TENTH, while we're on the subject of prior restraint, I'd want the NRA to abandon its strategically idiotic enthusiasm for government-controlled concealed carry -- illegal under the Second Amendment -- in favor of uncontrolled and legal "Vermont Carry". If it won't, I guarantee that in years to come, someone will say: the NRA wants your name on this piece of paper BEFORE you'll be allowed to exercise your unalienable individual, Constitutional, civil, and human rights. The NRA wants your age, address, phone, sex, race, social security number, photograph, and fingerprints as a cost of doing what the Framers meant you to do without all that. In short, it wants to impose the very system of gun and owner registration we've been fighting more than 60 years!
Huey Long, virtual dictator of Louisiana in the 1930s when Mussolini was making the trains run on time, was asked by the press, "Will we ever have fascism in America?" "Yes," Long replied with a grin, "but we'll call it ANTIfascism." I can guarantee that someone will say all of this, because if nobody else does, I will. And to the advocates of licensed carry, I say now: don't you realize how pathetic you look, lying there with your OWN foot on your neck?
ELEVENTH, I'd want the NRA to make endorsements based on the candidate's respect for the Second Amendment, regardless of his affiliation or its estimate of his chances. It's suicidal -- if only because it denies us leverage we'd otherwise possess over the Republicans -- to say a third party candidate can't win, and on that self-fulfilling basis, withhold endorsement that could give him, and us, a victory. If "NRA" stands for "National Republican Association" let it be said plainly and stop what amounts to a consumer fraud. If not, then if a candidate's unwilling to be photographed for public consumption firing a machine gun, a semiautomatic rifle with a long, curved magazine, or a pistol with a fat, two-column grip, he can't be trusted whatever his affiliation, and shouldn't be endorsed.
TWELFTH, I'd want the NRA to reduce its Board of Directors to no more than 20, so they can lead instead of turning things over to a tiny, often misguided elite. One director I know told me the NRA is in trouble precisely because its huge, unwieldy board flounders helplessly, leaving policy in the hands of a "troika" with its own agenda. It's time for that to end.
In general, I'd give the NRA the same advice I give everybody else. Never let anybody keep you from enjoying your rights to the fullest, not for a day, not for a minute. Never let anybody stand in your way. Never accept even the most reasonable-sounding excuse for why you can't have everything you deserve. Never accept compromise.
Worse than thieves, murderers, or cannibals, those who offer compromise slow you and sap your vitality while pretending to be your friends. They are not your friends. Compromisers are the enemies of all humanity, the enemies of life itself. Compromisers are the enemies of everything important, sacred, and true.
So, would I join the NRA all over again, after 22 years, knowing everything I know today? I guess I'm still thinking about it.
Give me a reason, NRA.
L. Neil Smith is the award-winning author of 19 books including The Probability Broach, The Crystal Empire, Henry Martyn, The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Pallas, and (forthcoming) Bretta Martyn and Lever Action. An NRA Life Member and founder of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus, he has been active in the Libertarian movement for 34 years and is its most prolific and widely-published living novelist.
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