Notably absent from the Second Amendment Foundation’s Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC) — a conference dedicated to the political, legal, and cultural battle for gun rights in American – is the National Rifle Association. So many major figures and organizations are represented at GRPC — including Gun Owners of America, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), and the Sporting Arms & Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) — that this absence is initially notable. But it makes sense if you understand that the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and the Citizen’s Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms pursue an alternative, some might say more aggressive, strategy than the NRA. These differences are well-known to those inside and outside the gun rights movement.
I previously described the NRA as a Christian organization, based on my observations at the 2013 annual meeting. When the GRPC began with a prayer in which Missionary Dennis Cox invoked the name of Jesus Christ, I thought here we go again. At the NRA meeting, I actually thought about Alan Gottlieb (the founder of the SAF) specifically when keynote speaker Glenn Beck declared “Christian is a badge to wear proudly – the only thing that will save us.”
When the GRPC began in Jesus’s name, I again thought of Gottlieb, who this time was sitting to the left of the podium, and also to Charles Heller, former executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (which has recently “merged” with – or, more accurately, been acquired by, the SAF). Heller was sitting near me and running the audio for the conference.
Beyond the opening prayer, however, the rest of the conference steered clear of the “God Bless America” refrains that dominated the NRA meetings.
Although there is some strong culture war language invoked (e.g., frequent references to “enemies”), most presenters are content to stick to the practical law and politics of the Second Amendment work to be done.
A couple of speakers giving state level legislative updates spoke specifically about disentangling the gun rights issue from broader issues central to the ongoing (religiously-based) culture wars. For example, Tony Montanarella, board member and past president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said they are all about guns and not other cultural issues. In his words, “If you’re gay and you want to get married, you’re welcome to be miserable like the rest of us.”
Similarly, Andrew Rothman,
vice president of Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance (MN), cautioned gun rights activists that if they talk about Jesus or common core or gay rights, they are going to lose people. In Minnesota they take the opposite approach, he said. “We talk to everyone. We don’t brand people as enemies. If they are for our firearms freedoms, we want them.” Among them he included socialists, communists, fascists, anarchists.
Of course this does highlight the difference between gun rights proponents who are culturally conservative and those who are libertarian.