An Open Letter to Progressive Gun Owners
Dear progressive gun owners (and other assorted armed leftists),
I get it. I do. Really. We are living in scary times. The Trump administration is the most authoritarian in United States history (by a long shot) and has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for democratic institutions. We have a president who openly encourages “Second Amendment people” to engage in violence against his political opponents on the left. The federal government, which has stepped in so often in the past to vindicate the civil rights of Americans under attack by state governments, cannot be counted on in this era of corrupt, treasonous government by the Republican Party.
Heck, I’m a white guy — Mr. Privilege — and my stress level is through the roof with our democratic republic hanging in the balance. I can’t imagine what people of color, or Muslims, or disabled Americans must feel like in this moment.
That said, if you have responded to the very legitimate fear you are feeling by buying a gun — or if you are now considering whether or not to buy a gun — I want to respectfully ask you to reconsider for two important reasons.
Oh, and don’t worry, I am not writing this to ask you to commit to nonviolence. If you believe violence can be conquered with violence, so be it. I won’t bore you with some of my favorite quotes by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“I was much more afraid in Montgomery when I had a gun in my house … Had we become distracted by the question of my safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppressors.”).
That said, that gun you are buying to make you safer and repel the forces of white supremacy is probably going to have the exact opposite effect, and here’s why…
For starters, contrary to popular myth, owning a gun does not make you safer. Instead, it puts you and those around you at significantly higher risk of violent death.
Research has shown that firearms are dangerous and ineffective as a method of self-defense. A 2014 meta-analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “access to firearms is associated with risk for completed suicide and being the victim of homicide.” Specifically, the authors looked at 16 different observational studies and concluded that a gun in the home doubles the risk of homicide and triples the risk of suicide. The evidence documenting the dangers of gun ownership is as deep and legitimate as the empirical research supporting climate change.
Sure, that handgun you bought could theoretically help you in a battle with pro-Trump vigilantes (eat your heart out, John McClane). But the chance of such a battle ever occurring is slim, and every day that passes without it occurring, you are subjecting yourself and the people you love the most to significant, heightened risk.
That brings me to my second point. You cannot buy guns and ammunition without supporting the National Rifle Association and its white supremacist, homophobic agenda.
Every time you buy a firearm, ammunition, or some other product made by a gun company, you are helping the NRA’s bottom line. Let me explain how…
The NRA has a “Corporate Partners Program” that is part of its larger “Ring of Freedom” program, which acknowledges the organization’s top individual donors. The Corporate Partners Program was designed to raise money directly from the gun industry. As NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre stated in a 2011 brochure, “[the] National Rifle Association’s newly expanded Corporate Partners Program is an opportunity for corporations to partner with the NRA … This program is geared toward your company’s corporate interests.” Many of these corporate partners are gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson; Sturm, Ruger & Co.; Cabela’s; Benelli USA; Glock, Inc.; etc., etc. Ammo sellers like Midway USA are also well represented. Every year, these companies give the NRA millions of dollars in direct corporate contributions. These contributions go to the organization’s lobbying arm, the NRA’s Institute of Legislative Action.
So the NRA has a vested interest in the gun industry selling more product to folks like you. Because when gun companies are flush with your cash, the NRA is likely to get bigger checks from them.
Recently, I saw Liberal Gun Club executive director Ed Gardner mock the NRA’s disturbing new membership video (“The Violence of Lies”) by writing, “Hey, that NRA salary and retirement package for Wayne [LaPierre] isn’t going to pay for itself … And nothing whips up cash like fanning the culture wars, amiright?” He did this with no sense of recognition or irony whatsoever regarding his own complicity in funding the NRA.
Ditto for Philip Smith, president of the National African-American Gun Association (NAAGA), who told CNN that NAAGA’s membership numbers have “jumped off the roof” because of the threat that Donald Trump poses to people of color. “I think the main thing that has really changed is that two years ago, fringe groups were just that: fringe groups,” he said. “But now those fringe groups are kind of like, ‘It’s cool to be racist’” because of Trump’s success in mainstream politics. But Smith appeared totally unaware (or unconcerned?) that the NRA spent a whopping $30 million to elect Trump president, and that by urging POC to purchase firearms/ammo, he is helping to ensure the NRA’s campaign coffers remain full for similar racist politicians in the future.
The NRA also spent $1 million to help confirm ultra-right wing Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who will do unimaginable damage to progressive causes in the decades to come.
And the Ring of Freedom program is only one example of how gun owners on the political left might be contributing to the NRA’s bottom line.
For example, do you practice at a shooting range? If so, you might want to ask the range if they are affiliated with the NRA. Many ranges give a cut of their profits to the NRA in return for free targets, a listing in the NRA’s shooting range guide, the opportunity to host regional shooting matches, etc.
Also, have you ever been asked if you would like to “Round Up” your firearm and/or ammo purchases to the nearest dollar? Keep in mind that your extra change goes directly to the NRA.
The NRA’s financial ties to the gun industry are so deep and symbiotic at this point, that it’s probably impossible to reverse them. If there’s a way to be a gun industry customer without feeding racism, homophobia and regressive politics in this country, I don’t know what it is. You simply can’t be a racial justice advocate, or an LGBTQ rights activist, or a dye-in-the-wool progressive and say that your gun/ammo purchases do nothing to detract from the America you are trying to build.
That might be an Inconvenient Truth, but it’s the truth nonetheless. If you want real, meaningful change, it’s time to starve the beast, not feed it.
A gun is not the only option available for those feeling unsafe in these uncertain times. Home safety can be ensured by installing deadbolt locks on doors, purchasing a home alarm system, adopting a dog, securing sliding doors and windows, participating in a Neighborhood Watch Program, or getting a free home security evaluation from your local police department, to name just a few options. Safety in public can be ensured by carrying a cell phone with you at all times, parking only in well-lit areas, avoiding ATMs at night, eschewing the use of headphones, taking a self-defense class in martial arts, etc.
Think about it. Your life, and the lives of those you care about, could be at stake.
A Fellow Lefty