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school-massacre

A young girl cries outside the Willie de Leon Civic Center, where grief counseling will be offered after 19 students and two teachers were slaughtered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022. (Photo: Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images)

US Gun Violence: 'Why Does This Only Happen in Your Country?'

The NRA and the GOP are coalescing around gun rights in Houston, as the United States normalizes racist and random shootings nationwide.

Frank Smyth

 by The Progressive

This weekend in Houston, Texas, days after the nation's deadliest school shooting in a decade, the National Rifle Association shows no signs of halting its first convention since the pandemic.

The massacre inside Robb Elementary in nearby Uvalde, Texas, has already cost the NRA its top billing musician, Don McLean. (His 1970s-era hit "American Pie," remains a memorable anthem). The singer pulled out to avoid being "disrespectful and hurtful," McLean said in a statement. But a bigger defection and fight over power awaits the NRA leadership in Houston.

This apocalyptic fear is far stronger than most advocates for gun reform seem to be able to imagine, and it has only grown stronger since the rise of Trump.

The mass shooting in Uvalde, less than a five-hour drive from Houston, took the lives of nineteen children—mostly nine- and ten-year-old fourth graders—and two teachers. A decade ago, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, it was twenty six- and seven-year old first graders. One pediatric trauma surgeon, Lillian Liao, told CNN that the hardest part was knowing how many child casualties "we did not receive." The shooter used two AR-15-style rifles that he had recently bought for his eighteenth birthday. The damage to his victims was so great that DNA testing was needed to confirm some of their identities.

This year's NRA annual meeting will celebrate an unfettered vision of gun rights, as it has done for the past forty-five years, that has long sought to normalize the idea of maintaining easy or unrestricted access to firearms. For the gun lobby, including the NRA since its own internal revolt in 1977, this vision has embraced semi-automatic pistols and rifles with high-capacity magazines that fire high-velocity rounds designed to do maximum damage to flesh and bone.

Republican Party leaders such as former President Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz are expected to speak, and Texas governor Gregg Abbott is scheduled to deliver a video message at the NRA's leadership forum on Friday. In case anyone's expecting any soul-searching this weekend, Senator Cruz's response to reporter Martin Stone—of the British network Sky News, owned by media giant Rupert Murdoch—on Thursday might be telling. Stone asked Cruz a litany of questions, each of which he deflected: "Why does this only happen in your country?," "Why is this American exceptionalism so awful?," and "Why do you think that guns are not the problem?"

Cruz accused Stone of hating American exceptionalism, and replied, "Why is it that people come from all over the world to America? Because it's the freest, most prosperous, safest country on Earth. Stop being a propagandist."

But Stone's questions deserve a real answer. The reason we can't do anything about ongoing, ever increasing mass shootings, by now, is not due to the NRA or the gun lobby's money,  despite the fact they funded  fabulist or propagandistic "pro-gun" messaging for decades. It has more to do with the ideology of what might be called the creed of gun rights. This is the belief, held by tens of millions of Americans, that guns in their hands are the only way that the United States will ever prevent a takeover leading to tyranny, if not genocide. 

This apocalyptic fear is far stronger than most advocates for gun reform seem to be able to imagine, and it has only grown stronger since the rise of Trump. His tenure in the presidency saw the acceptance of white nationalist ideologies like replacement theory within the Republican Party go from fringe to mainstream. It was at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016, the same one that nominated Trump, that the first-ever NRA representative was given the floor at a major party's national convention. 

The racial tension of our era, combined with growing paranoia sparked during pandemic measures and isolation, helped bring white power groups into the fold of what's been coined Trumpism or the ongoing Trump-leaning coalition. Mass shootings at Pittsburgh's "Tree of Life" Synagogue, the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York were all motivated by a global, racist vision shared by the New Zealand shooter in Christchurch. White power groups are a part of the United States' pro-gun coalition.

One thing about the ongoing struggle for power inside the leadership of the NRA, today, is that there are no deviations on gun rights whatsoever between any of the protagonists in this fight. Later this year, the NRA's longtime CEO, Wayne LaPierre, and his former executive staff, along with the NRA itself, all face a civil lawsuit brought by the attorney general of New York State, Leticia James, that could well eviscerate LaPierre and his men along with the organization as a whole.

The whistleblower, cited as "Dissident No. 1" in the attorney general's complaint against the NRA, is Oliver North, the Reagan-era White house official known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair. North has impeccable pro-gun and rightwing credentials, and he was elected by the board to be the NRA president to give the group a "strong voice" for gun rights after the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. His charges of embezzlement against LaPierre sparked a struggle for power within the NRA that continues in Houston.

A few other prominent directors on the NRA's board backed North in accusing LaPierre of embezzlement. One was Allen West, a veteran and former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. During his second war in Iraq, West presided over the mock execution of an Iraqi policeman. He was sanctioned but not court martialed and kept his rank. That he had been sanctioned at all became an issue that helped elect him to Congress from Florida before losing his seat in a redistricting. 

In 2019, West, who first got elected to the NRA board in 2016, had already been chosen to preside over a memorial ceremony in Indianapolis that brought together both civil rights and gun rights. West later moved to Texas where he served for a year as Chairman of the Texas Republican Party. He introduced the inclusion of the QAnon phrase, "We are the storm," on Texas GOP mailings and merchandise. 

He also ran a failed campaign for governor, trying to outflank Governor Greg Abbott from the right on the issue of gun rights. West even attempted to paint the NRA as antiracist crusaders after the Civil War, as when he wrote this on on the Christian News Service website:

As an American Black man, the history of the National Rifle Association has a special meaning for me, and I often reflect upon it. At a time when recently freed slaves were transitioning to being American citizens, they came under assault during the Reconstruction Era. When faced with the threats, coercion, intimidation, and yes, violence of an organization called the Ku Klux Klan, it was the NRA that stood with and defended the rights of blacks to the Second Amendment.

He repeated this claim a year later before NRA members meeting in Indianapolis saying that "The NRA, this organization, stood with freed slaves to make sure they had their Second Amendment rights." (This statement drew a strong round of applause.) At the same meeting, West joined North and turned against LaPierre, accusing him of embezzlement and seconding North's call for him to resign.

Not a word of this "we-the-NRA-saved-freed-slaves" story, by the way, is true. The NRA couldn't get out of New York during Reconstruction, as one of its own co-founders wrote repeatedly in his own Army and Navy Journal. The longest trip the NRA took during Reconstruction was on a steamer across the Atlantic to compete against Irish riflemen. They beat them, again, and later the Imperial Rifle Team as well to become the undisputed champions of the world.

But nothing true about the past stopped either West or LaPIerre from promoting this Big Gun Lie and distorting the history of race and guns in America. Now a group of board members led by a Kansas state judge, Phil Journey, are backing West to replace LaPierre.

These two former-allies-turned-rivals, like every other pro-gun leader in Houston, are likely to sidestep these latest gun tragedies, along with the calls for reform, as LaPierre and West set their sights on each other. 

Meanwhile, the price of the tall tales they've told—about everything from Reconstruction to gun reform—is being paid by the murdered children and their parents along with other victims and survivors of gun violence.


© 2021 The Progressive

Frank Smyth

Frank Smyth is the author of the book The NRA: The Unauthorized History (Flatiron Books).

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