Viewpoint

The NRA shows its colors in Nashville

An attendee sights a rifle on the exhibition floor of the NRA convention last week.
An attendee sights a rifle on the exhibition floor of the NRA convention last week. BLOOMBERG

Last weekend’s National Rifle Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., had something for everyone. For mainstream NRA members, there were guns aplenty. For the gullible, there was a discussion of “no-go zones” – U.S. neighborhoods living under the iron hijab of sharia law. For liberals and gun-regulation advocates, there was seemingly endless fodder for snark.

There may even have been an answer to a crucial question: Why are gun-industry sales so robust, and the gun movement so militant, at this particular moment? Sure, the Supreme Court emboldened the movement with its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which for the first time established an unambiguous individual right to bear arms outside a well-regulated militia. But that hardly explains years of record gun sales or the wave of maximalist gun legislation sweeping the South and much of the West.

The gun movement’s lunar phase, and the embrace of its most radical aims by conservative legislators, follows a two-decade plummet in violent crime, a decline in household gun ownership and a decline in hunting. In effect, while leading cultural indicators point in one direction, the gun movement and its political allies are a red-hot vector racing in the opposite one.

On one hand we have a rise in gun purchases, a rise in “guns everywhere” legislation, a rise in guns deliberately suited to war zones and a rise in seriously spooky talk from the likes of NRA front-man Wayne LaPierre, who portrays a nation under violent siege.

On the other hand, we live in a significantly safer country than we did a few years ago.

In Nashville, LaPierre supplied a way to understand these starkly disjointed developments.

“For nearly seven years now,” LaPierre said, “the president has forced his transformation down America’s throat, and our nation is choking on it. As he prepares to leave office, there’s no telling how far President Obama will go to dismantle our freedoms and reshape America into an America that you and I will not even recognize.”

LaPierre expressed alarm about the prospects of a transition from the nightmare of Barack Obama to the horror of Hillary Clinton.

“I have to tell you,” LaPierre said, “eight years of one demographically-symbolic president is enough.”

Race has had enormous explanatory power throughout American history. It still does. In Wayne’s world, only white men are the real McCoy. The gun movement is largely conservative, white and male.

If your vision of America is a place where white men rightfully run the show and women and racial minorities are bit players, and if you’re fearful of the changes that are inexorably undermining that vision, well, then, it may make some kind of sense to carry a gun to the grocery store.

Most places in America are significantly safer than they were two decades ago. But time, demographics and change are more dangerous than ever.

Francis Wilkinson writes on politics and domestic policy for Bloomberg View.

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