When I first went to college I was a student in the School of International Service at The American University in Washington, D.C. I came to realize, though, that I do not have a taste or the stomach for politics. So, I switched my major to sociology and retreated into the ivory tower where I have happily stayed since.
It is odd, however, that given my aversion to politics I nonetheless find myself continually drawn back to the political dimensions of social and organizational life. To wit: my senior thesis and first book was on the politics of multiculturalism in higher education, and my dissertation and another book were on lobbying by religious groups in state legislatures.
Given this history, I have no idea why I thought I could study gun culture separate from gun politics. Attending the NRA meeting really highlighted for me the connection between the two. Although I was more interested in the material culture of guns that was evident in the exhibit hall, I realized that a lot of that “stuff” was only available because of the political work being done in other parts of the meetings.
For example, one of the more popular exhibitors at the NRA meeting was Magpul Industries, a manufacturer of firearms accessories. Their VW microbus with a Dillon Aerospace M134 minigun mounted on it was a huge hit. Unfortunately for Magpul, they are based in Colorado, which recently pass laws severely limiting ownership of one of their best known products: 30 round polymer magazines (“PMAGs”) for AR-15 style rifles. The stickers below given out at the NRA meeting are part of Magpul’s response to this development.
So, the availability of any particular gun company’s products is heavily dependent on the politics of guns, gun ownership, gun rights, and gun regulation. And so I ended up at the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) Leadership Forum, for which I paid a $10 entry fee to hear an array of conservative politicians (and selected others, as previously noted) speak.
I am not sure why it didn’t occur to me earlier, but the NRA Convention is a huge platform for conservative politicians, especially potential Republican nominees for the Presidential election in 2016. Like Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was introduced by a video of him shooting an AR-15. According to Perry, “In Texas people still believe in the God given right to have peace of mind to defend themselves and their family.” And like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was shown debating Diane Feinstein and who declared that “the Second Amendment is the palladium of our liberties.” And like 2012 Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
Other conservative politicians appearing were Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
Batting clean-up was Sarah Palin, who was distinctively dressed in jeans and an Under Armour “women hunt” t-shirt. She had her usual shtick of self-deprecating humor and criticism of liberals/Democrats, but over three hours into a program that was scheduled for two she did not get anywhere near the “pop” from the crowd that the feisty and energetic Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro got a couple of speakers earlier.
In terms of ideas, Wayne LaPierre opened by declaring the NRA meeting to be a “celebration of our American values” and the country to be involved in “a conversation about the role of government in our lives and the country’s direction.” From his perspective – and that of the thousands assembled, it seemed – “Liberty is a blessing not bestowed by government but by our Creator.”
Rick Santorum sounded a similar theme: “The gun control debate is a debate about who we are as Americans. What makes us Americans? Not ethnicity but values.” What values? The values “found in our founding documents,” especially the individual rights vis-à-vis the government enumerated in the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution.
Many of these speeches can be viewed on-line at the NRA’s website, including Jeanine Pirro’s (also found on YouTube):