Friendly Fire: The Unexpected Family History of the NRA’s Spokesperson

As spokeswoman for the NRA, Dana (Eaton) Loesch has become a master of its special brand of upside down logic. Eschewing degrees of subtlety, she goes directly for the 180. In her world, Trump and the NRA are victims, journalists are a threat, and we’d all be safer if we did away with those pesky gun free zones. And just for good measure, gun control activists are “tragedy dry-humping whores.”

For someone who seems laser-focused on maximizing guns per capita in the U.S. with a secondary interest in mocking progressives, Loesch tweets about her family history more than you might expect. For instance, sprinkled among her posts are comments like this:

After the attack on Pearl Harbor my grandfather lied about his age to enlist early and fight. He shipped out on USS Alabama.”

A little research shows that this is mostly true. Her grandfather joined the Navy in World War II, and did indeed serve on the USS Alabama, but he was already 19 when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941 and didn’t enlist until February 22, 1944 when he was 21 years old. So no, he didn’t enlist underage, though it’s easy to see why one might believe this as it wasn’t hard to do at the time, so was more common than some realize today.

But this was the family history tweet that grabbed my attention:

My grandfather was shot and killed and I also had my life as a child protected by a gun.”

I’ve said a thousand times that there’s no such thing as a boring family, but not many of us have a grandfather who was shot and killed — much less someone who’s the national spokesperson for a gun lobby. I decided to take a closer look.

“My grandfather was shot and killed”

The first thing that jumps out you when you delve into Loesch’s family tree is how remarkably uniform it is. Not only were all four of her grandparents born in Missouri, but all eight of her great-grandparents and ten of her 16 great-great-grandparents were born there as well. For those who might want to know, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and Kentucky account for the others. So these are the basics, but I was curious about that grandfather.

The grandfather who served in the Navy during WWII lived a long life, so I knew to turn my attention to the other one. As it happens, he also served in WWII, but in the Army, and it didn’t take long to find his death certificate. Sure enough, he had been killed by a single shot while working in the tavern he owned.

Joplin Globe, January 10, 1954 (Newspapers.com)

Newspaper accounts of the murder explained that a disgruntled customer fired through a window in his bar. This detail immediately made me think of the Capital Gazette mass shooting which started with a disgruntled man blasting his way through the newspaper office’s glass door.

Loesch’s grandfather, age 38, left a widow and four small children, including her then five-year-old father. So the first part of her statement is true — as well as incredibly sad.

“I also had my life as a child protected by a gun”

So what about the second bit of her tweet?

In one of her books, Loesch shares a scary story from her childhood in which she was staying with her grandparents when one of her aunts — beaten and pursued by her abusive husband — came running and screaming through the night to her parents’ house, trying to escape her spouse who was coming after her with a gun. In the tale, Loesch’s grandfather calmly saved the day by sitting vigil on the front porch with his shotgun.

You’d think this would be easier to substantiate than something that happened in the 1950s, but without specifics such as a name, that’s not the case. That said, I believe it’s credible because Loesch has an uncle by marriage with an extensive criminal record including assault of a law enforcement officer. And I think most will agree that the kind of person who will attack police won’t think twice about doing the same to his wife or girlfriend.

What’s eerie, though, is how similar this is to something that had happened in the family a generation earlier — a drama that ended very differently.

Déjà vu

When the same grandmother who would have been the spouse of the unruffled porch-sitter in the previous vignette was only ten years old, she lived through another terrifying ordeal, but this one involved her parents.

After almost a dozen years of marriage, her mother, Edith, decided to leave her father, Louis (aka Louie). The final straw was a Saturday night argument that prompted Edith to take their children to her parents’ house. The following Wednesday, Louis showed up at her parents’ home at 10:30 p.m. He was met by his wife and father-in-law at the front door.

Louis tried to talk Edith into reconciling, but she refused. He then asked if he could at least have a “parting kiss.” The moment she agreed, he pulled out a revolver. She slammed the door and ran into the house, while he swiftly skirted around the side and broke in through another door to take a shot at her in the dark. Panic-stricken, Edith ran from the house in her nightgown to her sister’s, just a few houses away.

St. Louis Star and Times, May 20, 1937 (Newspapers.com)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 20, 1937 (Newspapers.com)

Louis didn’t chase her. Instead, he went into her parents’ kitchen and shot himself in the head. He lingered for two hours before dying.

The settings were different — Ozarks vs. St. Louis — but the elements were the same — an angry man, a domestic dispute, parents’ homes, and a gun.

The Tally

To summarize, research shows that Loesch’s:

· father lost his father to gun violence

· paternal grandmother lost her husband to gun violence

· maternal grandmother lost her father to gun violence and almost lost her mother

· maternal great-grandmother lost her husband to gun violence after surviving his attempt to shoot her

This doesn’t include Loesch’s own account of her aunt who narrowly escaped being shot by her husband. And all of this was essentially friendly fire in the sense that every incident occurred on home turf and involved family members and patrons.

Topsy-Turvy

Normally, looking into someone’s past helps me understand them better. I can appreciate why they might be a bookworm, crave attention, or love to travel, but this is a rare exception. With this not-so-distant history, choosing to represent the NRA seems an odd choice. It’s as if someone whose family tree is riddled with lung cancer decided to represent the tobacco industry to ensure that cigarettes become as widely available as possible.

Similarly, I would think the NRA would prefer a spokesperson whose family history isn’t quite so effective in underscoring the dangers of the product its organization promotes, but then again, maybe it’s just another example of that upside down logic.