There is no excuse for this one. It’s been universally recognized as a racial slur since its derogatory use during World War II.
Nugent, who is also a spokesman for Outdoor Channel, appeared alongside birther and former Fox News contributor Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Vallely at an August 2 rally hosted by the Big Horn Basin Tea Party. At the end of the event, Nugent and Vallely were deputized by the local sheriff.
During his remarks Nugent described his belief that the government has “turned on us” since the United States defeated the “Japs and Nazis” in World War II, citing his claim of “ranchers being arrested because of gerbils on their range.” The term “Jap” is universally recognized as a racial slur since its derogatory usage during World War II.
Ted Nugent’s recent spate of offensive and racist comments that have sparked protests and canceled shows are damaging his image and could well cripple his income if he continues, according to veteran concert promoters and industry journalists.
In a week when two casinos operated by different Native American tribes canceled three separate Nugent shows set for next month and dozens protested a concert in New Jersey, concert touring experts say the National Rifle Association board member and conservative commentator is doing real damage to his money-earning potential.
"If you’re going to say something political, you’re going to have some backlash, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you say," said Larry Magid, a Philadelphia-based promoter who has handled Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac, and Bette Midler. "Nugent seems to have taken it to extremes. I don’t know that you can blame anyone for not wanting to play him for all of the baggage that he brings."
Magid, who also organized the famed 1985 Live Aid benefit show in Philadelphia, said Nugent was never a huge concert draw, but his declaration earlier this year that President Barack Obama is a "subhuman mongrel"may mark a turning point.
"I don’t know if that is frustration at not being a viable act, but it is stupid," Magid said of Nugent. "If you are a musician, you are trying to bring your music, your art to a broad group of people. It is one thing to take a stance, it is another thing when you are talking about the president of the United States.
"For all of the people enamored with him, there are 20 or 30 or 40 times that who are not enamored with him. To me, it’s not bright. If I’m a promoter I have to think two or three or four times before I take a shot with this performer."
"No one should be surprised by any of this," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar USA, which tracks concert touring receipts. "It’s a free country and Nugent has always had a big mouth. But if he keeps making incendiary statements his future tours may be limited to NRA conventions and Fox News events."
Bongiovanni said the public reaction is not unusual: “Why be surprised if you can’t sell tickets to them after you insult people who are gay, animal rights, or gun control advocates, or just in the majority of people who voted for Obama?”
Although Nugent has long been a hardline conservative and pro-gun advocate, his “subhuman mongrel” comments triggered a massive media firestorm and led prominent Republicans to disassociate themselves from the rocker earlier this year. Nugent’s offensive and racist comments have more recently caused a backlash against his concerts.
Among the results:
Three Nugent concerts scheduled in early August at Native American tribe-owned casinos in Washington and Idaho were canceled this week due to the performer’s commentary. Puyallup Tribe Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud has said Nugent is a “jackass” and will never be booked again.
Earlier this summer controversy surrounded a concert scheduled for an Oshkosh, WI, music festival after a letter to the editor decrying Nugent’s concert received heightened attention. Nugent subsequently described his critics as “unclean vermin.”
"Picket signs lined the street" outside a July 22 concert in New Jersey as Nugent was greeted by “at least 75 protestors.”
While Nugent will perform at The Toledo Blade’s Northwest Ohio Rib-Off festival next month, the paper’s sales director told Media Matters he had received numerous complaints and strongly suggested Nugent would never be booked again.
The City of Longview, TX in March canceled Nugent’s concert at a Fourth of July festival and paid him $16,000 (reportedly half his fee) not to show up.
John Scher of Metropolitan Entertainment Consultants, a longtime New Jersey promoter who has booked Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Billy Joel, said he’s never seen such a public backlash in his 40 years promoting concerts.
"I can’t really, really recall this kind of reaction because of political beliefs," Scher said, later adding, "All in all, I don’t think it can be a plus. Where’s the tipping point? I think he’ll find it will probably shrink to the places where his views are not so contrary to the views of the general population. You might see him doing most of his touring in the south or certain states in the west that are gun-toting conservatives. In the Northeast and in California he is probably not getting booked as much … I don’t see from an overall point of view how he is helping himself."
Michael Maietta, a promoter at Creative Entertainment Group in New York, which has handled the Neville Brothers, John Popper, and George Thorogood, said the financial impact is obvious when a musician offends so many people.
"Of course it will have an effect on how much money Ted will make going forward if he is not getting booked," Maietta said via email. "Soft ticket events, such as fairs and township gigs will get pressure not to book him with public dollars."
Steve Knopper, a Rolling Stone contributing editor who covers the rock concert business, said this is clearly a trend.
"It does seem like, whether it is a movement or people deciding to be offended by this en masse, it seems like it’s having an impact and that can’t be good," Knopper said. "I don’t know if Ted Nugent’s main source of income is from concerts, but the way right now to make money in the music business is to tour."
Knopper added, “I’m guessing that he needs to tour to make money and if his comments are preventing him from doing that he may well have to rethink how he handles his public image. He has said some incredibly offensive stuff in the past few years, now maybe it is hitting home.”
One morning during the winter weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the gun lobbyist Larry Pratt made the short drive from his offices in Springfield, Virginia, to the Arlington headquarters of the Leadership Institute, a training center for young conservatives. Pratt and the Institute’s founder, Morton Blackwell, share a history in conservative activism going back four decades, and Pratt had spoken there many times, providing legislative updates on the politics of guns. Today, there seemed to be a jauntiness to the oddly boyish-faced 71-year old, who’d found himself at the center of a national media story just beginning to fade. He opened with a joke.
"Piers Morgan sends his regrets he won’t be able to attend," Pratt deadpanned.
The audience chuckled at the reference. On December 18th, 2012, four days after Adam Lanza’s killing spree, the CNN host had invited Pratt to debate gun control, as most major networks have over the years. When Pratt stated that gun-free school zones — and, by extension, gun control advocates like Piers Morgan — were to blame for the tragedy in Newton, Morgan stuttered and seethed. “You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” said the host.
Pratt’s critics have called him many things over the years: extreme, radical, pernicious, creepy, dogged, effective. But no one who’s studied his multi-faceted career could describe him as stupid. On CNN, Pratt was smart enough not to tell Piers Morgan what he really thinks about the Second Amendment. Because what he really thinks resonates deeply with the theocratic tenets of Christian Reconstructionism, which holds that American government should be ordered according to events and dictates found in the Old and New Testaments. Nor is Pratt so stupid as to use his regular access to mainstream media to promote the “active measures” he believes American gun owners will one day be forced to unleash on a secular federal government. As he explained in his 1999 essay, “What does the Bible Say About Gun Control?” Pratt writes, “If Christ is not our King, we shall have a dictator to rule over us, just as Samuel warned.”
Pratt doesn’t talk like this when being interviewed by The New York Times or answering questions on C-SPAN. Instead, he uses the more familiar language of ensuring public safety and respecting constitutional rights. He has employed this two-track communications operation with admirable efficacy and consistency since launching Gun Owners of America as the Beltway’s first “no-compromise” gun-rights lobbying group in 1976. Over 40 years, Pratt has blazed the path and built the model for a gun-rights movement that has transformed the landscape of American gun politics.
Today, Pratt, who declined to be interviewed for this piece, holds the power to derail and delay gun legislation enjoying broad public support, and quickly inject falsehoods and amplify paranoia among a growing network of gun activists. With the rise of the Tea Party scene, Pratt has discovered new constituencies and new platforms for spreading his message of a Biblically mandated rollback of all gun regulation. He has also found new champions in the forms of his favorite senators: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. He believes this November offers a chance to further grow the “Second Amendment Absolutist” bloc in Congress.
Larry Pratt addresses about 500 demonstrators during a rally in support of the Second Amendment in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"Look forward to 2014 as a time when we get involved as never before," Pratt told an audience at the Leadership Institute. "Look for those candidates that deserve our support. The Rand Pauls. The Ted Cruzes. The Steve Stockmans of the House and try to multiply their number … The RINOS [Republicans in Name Only] need to be humiliated. They need to be driven out of public life."
By Pratt’s design, today’s gun movement has little room for RINOS, but accommodates extremists and sometimes adopts their language. As the director of an organization claiming 300,000 members, Pratt understands the gun movement’s role as that of a heavily armed guard, holding a cautionary gun to the head of America’s would-be dictators.
"The Second Amendment is not for hunting, it’s not even for self-defense," Pratt explained in his Leadership Institute talk. Rather, it is "for restraining tyrannical tendencies in government…Especially those in the liberal, tyrannical end of the spectrum. There is some restraint, and even if the voters of Brooklyn don’t hold them back, it may be there are other ways that their impulses are somewhat restrained. That’s the whole idea of the Second Amendment." He reiterated the point this March during an interview with conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham. Speaking of a New York Congresswoman who had expressed fear that one of Pratt’s members wanted to shoot her, Pratt said, "You know, I’m kind of glad that’s in the back of their minds. Hopefully they’ll behave."
And if they don’t? When speaking before smaller, conservative audiences, Pratt explains that it is necessary to both generate an undercurrent of fear and muster the organization and will to defeat the dictator prophesized in the Book of Samuel. When asked during a 2010 Q&A session, “Do we have the will to stand up to the government when they trample our rights?” Pratt replied, “That is an exceptionally important point to raise. We can have all the guns in the world, and if we don’t have the will to use them [against the government], then they are useless.”
This is the language found etched along the gun-movement’s aqueduct into the dark crosscurrents of the militia movement and the radical right. It is written in Pratt’s voice, because he has personally overseen engineering and construction of this aqueduct while building the larger gun-rights movement. This movement, considered as a whole, is not as conservative as Pratt. It is increasingly flavored with Libertarian ideas and language, building on outreach efforts designed to deflect attention from socially conservative politics that command ever fewer Americans. But it is no less zealous than Pratt on the question of gun reform. The gun-rights movement is distinct from, and often at odds with, the official gun “lobby” that is dominated by the National Rifle Association and its industry allies. The NRA remains the 500-pound gorilla of gun politics, with a budget and membership that dwarfs all other gun groups combined. But it is now surrounded, most heavily on its right, by a growing cluster of so-called “Second Amendment Absolutist” groups, from influential state-level activist networks like the Arizona Citizens Defense League, to ascendant fundraising dynamos like Dudley Brown’s National Association for Gun Rights.
Among the most pedigreed of these purist outfits is Pratt’s Gun Owners of America.
"The NRA describes itself as a religion, and Larry Pratt is the snake handler," says Tom Diaz, a former analyst at the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based gun control group, and author of two books on the gun lobby. "The NRA debates using arguable premises of the American system: What is the meaning of the Second Amendment, of self-defense? Pratt unconnects from all that, and appeals to the least informed, most paranoid people." In parallel with his frequent national media appearances, Pratt aggressively pursues smaller radio audiences to peddle conspiracy theories and recycled John Birch Society propaganda from the 1960s. In recent years he has argued that the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting was an inside job and that the Justice Department was pursuing charges against George Zimmerman to stir up racial animosity, trigger social chaos, and “build their own communist society.”
As the gun-rights movement grows into and with the new century, Pratt is seen as a dinosaur, yet one who still commands respect. “Larry’s a hardcore throwback and a bit of a weirdo — a black helicopter and Trilateral Commission kind of guy — but he has a certain brand and a namehe’s been around forever,” says a staffer in the office of a veteran GOP senator. Indeed, few figures have had a greater impact in the development of the pro-gun movement. Purist groups created on his “no compromise” model now lead the charges in the courts and the states to block new gun-control legislation and chip away at those that exist. Most make the NRA look moderate by comparison.
"The NRA is concerned about its right flank on purity from people like Larry," says Richard Feldman, a former gun industry lobbyist and president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. "He has said things I thought were crazy at the time, but turned out to be right…Activists respect him for getting things done."Adds Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center: "When NRA members stamp their feet over some rumored compromise, Pratt’s who they go to. When he says make the calls, the calls are made, and it has influence on the Hill."
Larry Pratt speaks at a pro-gun rally organised by the ‘Restore the Constitution’ movement in Virginia park near Washington D.C.
Sipa via AP Images
This influence has only recently caught the attention of media that have generally focused on the NRA and ignored the growth of group’s like Pratt’s. When Gun Owners of America helped lead the gun-rights charge against an expansion of background checks, the New York Times discovered this “influential force” capable of both “freezing” and “empowering” senators. This influence may help to explain the reluctance of elected officials and their staffs to discuss Pratt’s lobbying operation. When contacted, several current and former members of Congress and congressional staffers from both parties declined to comment on the experience of being on the receiving end of GOA’s lobbying fire. The list of those who shied away from talking included nine senators and congressman, such as Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as well as Democratic Senators Jon Tester and Mark Begich.
Pratt enters his fifth decade of gun activism with ambitious plans for this influence. At an age when many lobbyists considering retiring, Pratt is working through GOA’s PAC, his membership, his allies, and a small team of fellow lobbyists to do what he’s been trying to do since the 1970s: defeat any Republican who does not share his absolutist understanding of Second Amendment freedom. And it is nothing if not absolute: GOA agitates against background checks, waiting periods, and fines for straw purchases (guns purchased legally for resale on the black market).
In his crusade to rollback every gun law on the books, Pratt likes his allies unalloyed with records and habits of compromise. Many of Pratt’s current targets in the primaries enjoy high or perfect ratings from the NRA. Some of them, like Mitch McConnell, have long enjoyed “B” or higher grades from the GOA. But only perfect grades like Rand Paul’s “A+” are truly acceptable in Pratt’s purist world. Unlike the NRA’s system, GOA counts votes on any bill that tangentially touches on gun rights as a “gun vote.” Sometimes no vote is required at all to arouse Pratt’s displeasure, merely inaction. In explaining GOA’s support for Mitch McConnell’s challenger, Matt Bevin, the group cites the senator’s failure to vigorously oppose The Affordable Care Act.
"Obamacare is allowing the medical profession to use information that people give their doctor against them, to take their guns," says Tim Macy, vice chairman of GOA. "McConnell hasn’t stopped it so far, and he’s been in a position to help stop it."
For much of today’s gun movement, the NRA’s more myopic rating system has never had much credibility. To understand why, it’s necessary to go back in time to the era of GOA’s founding, and imagine that the NRA has announced plans to sell it’s D.C.-area offices, abandon politics, move to New Mexico, and re-open as a crunchy nonprofit devoted to conservation and hiking.
What sounds like a piece of alternate-history science fiction is the starting point for understanding the rise of Larry Pratt and the current configuration of forces in the gun debate.
Among the many social convulsions of the 1960s was a public opinion turn in favor of gun control. The legislative expression of this turn, the 1968 Gun Control Act, established today’s regulatory framework for firearms, including a federal licensing system for dealers. It was the first major gun law since Prohibition-era violence and the advent of the “getaway car” transformed crime and led to the 1934 National Firearms Act, which brought machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers under strict government regulation. Another federal law soon followed: the National Firearms Act of 1938, which required the licensing of interstate gun dealers.
In both the thirties and 1968, the NRA either accepted or collaborated in the writing and passing of the law. For the group’s hardline members, this was one compromise too many. Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Gun Control Act deepened a longstanding fissure inside the organization that widened into a full breach five years later. In 1973, the NRA board put its finger in the air and determined that its future depended on pivoting away from guns and toward conservation and outdoor sports. Plans were put in motion to sell its D.C. headquarters, relocate to Colorado Springs, and build a “National Outdoor Center” in New Mexico, where backpacking, hiking and wilderness survival classes would be taught alongside shooting sports. To help figure out how to finance the overhaul, the NRA commissioned the liberal New York consultant Harold Oram, whose clients included Greenpeace, McGovern for President, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Oram’s report, issued in the summer of 1976, concluded that raising the $30 million needed for the NRA’s Outdoor Center would require de-emphasizing its past opposition to gun control and avoiding all mention of gun politics in NRA publications. If it renounced its past and promised to stay out of politics, Oram advised, foundations like Rockefeller, then and now a major source of non-profit grants, could be counted on for financing.
During the years of the NRA’s slow careen left in search of Rockefeller money, Larry Pratt was making a name for himself in a movement where the Rockefeller name was synonymous with liberal Republicanism — and nearly synonymous with the Devil himself. In 1970, the 28-year-old Pratt became executive director of the American Conservative Union, founded six years prior by William F. Buckley to carry forward the flame of Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential campaign. It was in this capacity that Pratt attended the 1972 GOP Republican Convention in Miami Beach, where he joined fellow conservatives in battles over Nixon’s reelection platform. In Miami, Pratt forged a friendship with another young religious conservative on the make, Paul Weyrich. The two men were so similar, politically and physically, that they looked like a mirror image when they were talking to each other. At the time, Weyrich was raising funds for what would soon become the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. One of the men in Weyrich’s growing network was H.L. Richardson, a frustrated NRA board member, California State Senator, and member of the far-right John Birch Society. Weyrich introduced Pratt and Richardson, who became fast friends.
In 1975, Richardson founded Gun Owners of America on the model of his first group, Gun Owners of California, established earlier that year to (successfully) oppose a state handgun ban and (less successfully) the extension of ownership waiting periods from five to 15 days. That year also saw the establishment of one of the country’s first national gun control groups, the National Council to Control Handguns. Richardson wanted a full-time lobbyist near Washington and tapped Pratt to lead the group’s Northern Virginia office. In the fight against gun control, GOA would pick up the slack created by NRA drift.
"In 1975, we were the first folks on the street looking at races and the lobbying side," says Tim Macy, GOA’s vice chairman. "There was a lot of talk about gun legislation, in California and nationally. When we started, the NRA did not have a political arm."
Pratt had grown up in suburban Indiana and was relatively new to guns when he took GOA’s helm. He’d purchased his first firearm during the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. “There were some racial difficulties,” Pratt later recalled. “I heard on the radio that the police weren’t sure they could control the rioters coming north on 16th Street, so I went out and bought a shotgun.”
In his adult arrival to the world of guns, Pratt resembled another rising star emerging from the 1960s conservative firmament, one who would go on to rival Pratt’s influence in national gun politics. In 1971, Alan Gottlieb, a 24-year-old organizer for Young Americans for Freedom (another Buckley-founded group) founded the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Gottlieb nurtured the group on two key resources: mailing lists, and seed money from William Loeb, the conservative publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. Like GOA’s founder Richardson, Loeb sat on the NRA board. Sidelined by the liberal majority, he’d spent recent years fuming over the group’s direction and was eager to help nurture a new player.
Loeb and Richardson weren’t the only conservatives on the board, but it took a dramatic member insurgency for them to wrest power from the liberals. At the group’s 1977 annual meeting in Cincinnati, hundreds of rank-and-file from around the country staged what has become known in gun culture lore as “The Cincinnati Revolt.” During a long night of speeches and politicking, the membership voted in a new board drawn from the NRA’s fledgling lobbying division, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), and changed the by-laws in favor of strong political engagement and tighter member control. By morning, the NRA was controlled by a group of rough-edged conservatives committed to fierce political engagement. The NRA returned to Washington to find it was no longer the only gun game in town. There were now two young upstarts on the scene, Alan Gottlieb and Larry Pratt. Since Gottlieb was based in Seattle, and focused his work on direct mail, education and the courts, this left Pratt and the Gun Owners of America as the leading alternative to the NRA.
In the many legislative battle to come — handgun bans, armor-piercing bullets, background checks — the NRA would have to contend with GOA and its leader, who was neither temperamentally nor politically inclined to yield to an establishment power that had collaborated with the 1934 and 1968 gun control bills. The NRA may have undergone a radical course correction, but it was still a large institution with a deep sense of entitlement and turf.
"They’ve always wanted to be the only kid on the block," says Alan Gottlieb. "The NRA didn’t appreciate the growth of a gun rights movement, because a movement is much harder to control. What started in the mid-1970s with my group and GOA has flowered. Now there is all this pressure from the local and state grassroots level that the NRA has to deal with."
When the NRA re-launched its lobbying machine in 1977, it attempted to accommodate Pratt’s presence in D.C. by developing a good-cop, bad-cop routine.
"Where the NRA played an ‘inside game’, the GOA was about confrontational politics, more stick, less carrot," says Jeff Knox, director of the Firearms Coalition and a prominent gun journalist whose father, Neal Knox, headed the NRA’s lobbying arm between 1978 and 1982. "When dad was at ILA, he saw the GOA as an extension of his tool box. They were useful to him when he could point to a GOA mailing and tell [politicians], ‘See, we’re being reasonable, and if you don’t want us to go there, then you need to deal with us, or you’re going to have to deal with them.’ The relationship between the NRA and GOA has been a weird one over the years, at different times flourishing and failing. Now [they’re] dramatically butting heads." (The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.)
The most recent clash between GOA and the NRA occurred last winter, over the latter’s initial, qualified support for a bipartisan Senate bill that would have shored up the country’s background check system, while also relaxing restrictions on interstate gun sales. The gun community was split on the measure sponsored by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), with even some purist leaders like Gottlieb calling the bill “more gains than anything.” But Pratt has never seen victory in anything that required giving an inch — especially an inch involving handing information to the federal government. The GOA sent out mailers claiming, “If your private gun transaction is covered by Toomey-Schumer-Manchin (and virtually all will be) … you can assume you will be part of a national gun registry.”
This was a lie. The text of the bill not only reiterated existing laws against the compiling of a national gun database, it went so far as to threaten a jail sentence of “up to 15 years” for breaking them. But the lie worked. There is a consensus that a grassroots backlash against the bill, sparked and sustained by GOA and other purist groups, forced the NRA to drop its support for the bill, helping doom it at the last hour.
Jeff Knox says the GOA played an important role, but that it was part of a swarm of limited power. “Something like 34 groups came together prior to the April vote on Manchin-Toomey. We did have an impact on NRA’s decision. But the bottom line is that all of us could swarm Congress, but if [NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris] Cox walked in and gave a wink and a nod, they’d go against us. NRA is the big dog. They are the ones with the direct, immediate clout, they have the politicians’ ears. That’s why we have to be members [of NRA] and keep them on the straight and narrow.”
According to Knox, Pratt’s biggest strength is being “right on top of what’s going on. The GOA is just faster. The NRA is hidebound and not on top of the news cycle at all. It takes them a week to respond to new information. After Newtown they waited too long, then delivered a tepid response. GOA sees the threats that others often miss.”
GOA has used similarly aggressive and dishonest tactics at the state level to defeat bills it does not like. In New Hampshire this winter, a group called Pro-Gun New Hampshire is backing a state bill that would create pathways for restoring gun rights to people disqualified by federal laws related to mental health problems. From his perch in Springfield, Pratt saw the bill as too weak, and attacked. Soon thousands of New Hampshire voters received anti-bill mailers with the words, “See a shrink, lose your guns” printed in red ink on the envelope. The letter attacked local groups supporting the bill as “anti-gun” — a funeral-serious charge in gun circles usually reserved for likes of Chuck Schumer.
Pro-Gun New Hampshire did not appreciate the epitaph, or Pratt’s meddling, which it described as either ignorant or mendacious.
"Pratt sent out this B.S. propaganda that falsely claimed the bill will disqualify gun buyers if they see a shrink," says the group’s vice president, Sam Cohen. "GOA and groups like it want to promote themselves as the premiere guardian of your rights. They feel in a competitive position with each other to be the ‘no compromise’ group and get members. It’s particularly egregious in this case because if you carefully read the law, you know they’re wrong."
In the months leading up to the 1977 “Revolt in Cincinnati,” Pratt, then 34, announced an insurgent candidacy to represent the suburbs of southern Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates. Pratt was part of a slate of conservatives seeking to knock off the moderate Republicans that dominated the local party. Typical of this old guard was five-term Republican Warren E. Barry, who supported a proposed national ban on the cheap revolvers known as “Saturday Night Specials.” In announcing his candidacy, The Washington Post described Pratt as “a Washington representative for Gun Owners of America and an Amway distributor.”
Pratt lost the local race, but could comfort himself with a growing national reputation. Early the following year, the Post featured Pratt in a piece on “The New Right Network” that gathered weekly at the Capitol Hill Club to debate strategy and hatch initiatives. Among more than a dozen names listed in the paper’s group profile, Pratt is one of the last still active in public life. Sometimes these initiatives impacted gun rights; other times, Pratt found a gun angle to justify using GOA resources. In 1979, he devised a plan, in cooperation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, which he helped found, to throw up constitutional roadblocks to D.C. statehood. “The amendment would bring in two senators who would probably be minority, and would definitely be liberal on gun control,” Pratt said.
Pratt again contested a seat in the House of Delegates in 1979. Boosted by financing from his friend Jerry Falwell, the Lynchburg evangelist, and ties to what the Post called “Joseph Coors’ Heritage Foundation,” Pratt outspent other candidates nearly two to one. He won in a local GOP tide. But his colleagues in Richmond had never seen his breed of Republican before. “Larry was part of a small group of far-right ideologues who thought it was apostasy to vote for an MLK holiday,” remembers Wiley Mitchell, Republican floor leader in the Virginia Senate from 1976 to 1988. “He was strongly opposed to women’s rights. He was against everything.”
Pratt proved a divisive and an ineffectual politician. Seven of eight bills Pratt introduced his first year were defeated, including a ban on nude images on motor vehicles. (If passed, the law would have required modifying the Virginia state seal, anticipating by decades the order by Pratt’s friend John Ashcroft to cover the breast of a statue in the Department of Justice.) His one victory concerned a housekeeping procedural change. The national media noticed him just once, when he declared a war on bongs and fought to ban the sale of drug paraphernalia in Virginia.
The bong battle failed to win him many friends. On the eve of losing his reelection bid, a Norfolk Virginian-Pilot poll ranked Pratt “the least effective member of the House of Delegates.”
Elsewhere in the country, more conservative districts than Fairfax were electing social and religious conservatives like Pratt. What’s more, GOA, which Pratt claimed at the time was approaching 100,000 members, was in a position to help them. The year Ronald Reagan moved into the White House, Pratt told reporters his PAC was spending almost $1 million annually in support of pro-gun candidates. Closer to home, Pratt’s friends were taking over the reigns of government. The August 1981 issue of Life magazine included Pratt among the ten most influential “Young Turks of the Radical Right.” The spread featured a photo of Pratt cradling his first gun, the 12 gauge purchased during the 1968 riots, like a baby.
The defining gun battle of Reagan’s first term didn’t involve gunshot, but a new breed of armor-piercing bullet. It was a fight that would pit the GOA against the NRA, and in the process illuminate the radical anti-statism at the heart of Pratt’s worldview.
“A fraud on the American public.” That’s how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an unfettered individual right to a gun. When he spoke these words to PBS in 1990, the rock-ribbed conservative appointed by Richard Nixon was expressing the longtime consensus of historians and judges…
The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun. Today, millions believe they did. Here’s how it happened.
“A fraud on the American public.” That’s how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an unfettered individual right to a gun. When he spoke these words to PBS in 1990, the rock-ribbed conservative appointed by Richard Nixon was expressing the longtime consensus of historians and judges across the political spectrum.
Twenty-five years later, Burger’s seems as quaint as a powdered wig. Not only is an individual right to a firearm widely accepted, but increasingly states are also passing laws to legalize carrying weapons on streets, in parks, in bars—even in churches.
Many are startled to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t rule that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008, when District of Columbia v. Heller struck down the capital’s law effectively banning handguns in the home. In fact, every other time the court had ruled previously, it had ruled otherwise. Why such a head-snapping turnaround? Don’t look for answers in dusty law books or the arcane reaches of theory.
So how does legal change happen in America? We’ve seen some remarkably successful drives in recent years—think of the push for marriage equality, or to undo campaign finance laws. Law students might be taught that the court is moved by powerhouse legal arguments or subtle shifts in doctrine. The National Rifle Association’s long crusade to bring its interpretation of the Constitution into the mainstream teaches a different lesson: Constitutional change is the product of public argument and political maneuvering. The pro-gun movement may have started with scholarship, but then it targeted public opinion and shifted the organs of government. By the time the issue reached the Supreme Court, the desired new doctrine fell like a ripe apple from a tree.
The Second Amendment consists of just one sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today, scholars debate its bizarre comma placement, trying to make sense of the various clauses, and politicians routinely declare themselves to be its “strong supporters.” But in the grand sweep of American history, this sentence has never been among the most prominent constitutional provisions. In fact, for two centuries it was largely ignored.
The amendment grew out of the political tumult surrounding the drafting of the Constitution, which was done in secret by a group of mostly young men, many of whom had served together in the Continental Army. Having seen the chaos and mob violence that followed the Revolution, these “Federalists” feared the consequences of a weak central authority. They produced a charter that shifted power—at the time in the hands of the states—to a new national government.
“Anti-Federalists” opposed this new Constitution. The foes worried, among other things, that the new government would establish a “standing army” of professional soldiers and would disarm the 13 state militias, made up of part-time citizen-soldiers and revered as bulwarks against tyranny. These militias were the product of a world of civic duty and governmental compulsion utterly alien to us today. Every white man age 16 to 60 was enrolled. He was actually required to own—and bring—a musket or other military weapon.
On June 8, 1789, James Madison—an ardent Federalist who had won election to Congress only after agreeing to push for changes to the newly ratified Constitution—proposed 17 amendments on topics ranging from the size of congressional districts to legislative pay to the right to religious freedom. One addressed the “well regulated militia” and the right “to keep and bear arms.” We don’t really know what he meant by it. At the time, Americans expected to be able to own , a legacy of English common law and rights. But the overwhelming use of the phrase “bear arms” in those days referred to military activities.
There is not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation in Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the records of the ratification debates in the states. Nor did the U.S. House of Representatives discuss the topic as it marked up the Bill of Rights. In fact, the original version passed by the House included a conscientious objector provision. “A well regulated militia,” it explained, “composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Though state militias eventually dissolved, for two centuries we had guns (plenty!) and we had gun laws in towns and states, governing everything from where gunpowder could be stored to who could carry a weapon—and courts overwhelmingly upheld these restrictions. Gun rights and gun control were seen as going hand in hand. Four times between 1876 and 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership outside the context of a militia. As the Tennessee Supreme Court put it in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”
Cue the National Rifle Association. We all know of the organization’s considerable power over the ballot box and legislation. Bill Clinton groused in 1994 after the Democrats lost their congressional majority, “The NRA is the reason the Republicans control the House.” Just last year, it managed to foster a successful filibuster of even a modest background-check proposal in the U.S. Senate, despite 90 percent public approval of the measure.
What is less known—and perhaps more significant—is its rising sway over constitutional law.
The NRA was founded by a group of Union officers after the Civil War who, perturbed by their troops’ poor marksmanship, wanted a way to sponsor shooting training and competitions. The group testified in support of the first federal gun law in 1934, which cracked down on the machine guns beloved by Bonnie and Clyde and other bank robbers. When a lawmaker asked whether the proposal violated the Constitution, the NRA witness responded, “I have not given it any study from that point of view.” The group lobbied quietly against the most stringent regulations, but its principal focus was hunting and sportsmanship: bagging deer, not blocking laws. In the late 1950s, it opened a new headquarters to house its hundreds of employees. Metal letters on the facade spelled out its purpose: firearms safety education, marksmanship training, shooting for recreation.
A segment during the June 15 edition of Noir opened with a black-and-white scene of a stylishly-dressed woman standing in an alley. Doing voice-over work, Noir appeared to describe the woman, ranging from her clothing (“Her Jimmy Choo’s can’t be comfortable, but you’d never know it”), to her intellect (“Chess, yeah it’s a men’s game, but when she plays, men pay”), to her actions (“Flirts more than you can handle too. She’s the kind to tell the bartender how to make her drink”).
NOIR: Why is she alone on this dark street? On this cold night? You care, but she doesn’t. Her Jimmy Choo’s can’t be comfortable, but you’d never know it. Unaffected elegance. Too cool elegance. Not for you elegance, you say. There’s got to be something wrong with her; that attitude, high maintenance, hiding something. She’s taller than you can handle. Flirts more than you can handle too. She’s the kind to tell the bartender how to make her drink. And Chess, yeah it’s a men’s game, but when she plays, men pay. Say you don’t like her, until she looks your way. She’s not easy and she’s not flawless. But she’s never wasted her time thinking about it. She is the HK MR556.
As Noir explained in the following segment, “It’s like the words really do mean what I’m saying in the video. The HK MR556 is that gun that if — it’s like that girl who’s unbelievably attractive, she has this presence about her that seems untouchable and she’s not apologetic about her beauty. But because of that it’s easy to — and she’s largely out of a lot of people’s leagues.” One of his guests took the comparison further, responding to Noir’s description of the “heavy” and “expensive as hell” gun by saying, “sounds like some of my recent experiences in Vegas like this past weekend … you still want to have fun with them and they’re a little dangerous.” Noir’s co-host Amy Robbins laughed, saying “Oh my god.”
Earlier this season Noir used a similar format of objectifying women by reducing them to descriptions of assault weapons in an advertisement for manufacturer Daniel Defense. Gun manufacturer Mossberg and Daniel Defense are the two primary sponsors of NRA Freestyle, which airs Noir and other NRA web series and is the home of the NRA’s lifestyle blog NRA Sharp.
The Daniel Defense advertisement, which aired during Noir earlier this season, also features a voice-over of Noir as he seems to describe a woman. At the end of the ad, however, it is revealed that Noir was instead describing the M4-A1 assault weapon:
Hey, hip cool millennial hipsters! Noir, the NRA’s hip cool new web series for the Youngs, is going all Lifestyles of the Sleek and Carefully Waxed in this exciting ad touting the merits of a Perfect Companion:
She knows that she’s made it… comfortable alone, steady among others… she leaves you sad for all of the moments you missed, but grateful for the thrills ahead … because hidden underneath, is an adventure. She is: the Daniel Defense M4-A1
Hahaha, you think he is talking about a LADY, but he is actually talking about a GUN! Seems pretty classy, just a few days after a guy used a gun to get revenge on women who he treated as objects.
Dana Loesch is no stranger to controversy. She’s the extreme right conservative that applauded the desecration of enemy bodies overseas (urination on the bodies by American soldiers, in case everyone’s forgotten). She’s the Tea Party conservative that defendedArizona’s SB1062, a piece of legislation that would bring back a new era of Jim Crow public accommodation discrimination (which didn’t come as a surprise since Loesch supports Jim Crow in general). Loesch is the extremist that sided with Cliven Bundy even after he made (and doubled down on) egregiously racist statements in the course of his ‘sovereign citizen’ spiel. In her latest shock-jock stunt to generate publicity (and money), Loesch posed for the cover of her new book “Hands Off My Gun" (due out in October) with the same weapon used in both the Sandy Hook massacre and the Oregon high school shooting this week.
Furthermore, Loesch’s intentional use of that particular firearm - a firearm now nationally associated with one of the worst school shooting tragedies in modern history - doesn’t just work to incense the gun regulation crowd; rather, it serves as a snub (perhaps even a rude gesture) to those families who lost family members in both Sandy Hook and the Oregon shooting. And Loesch knows this. To say anything otherwise would be disingenuous.
This is typical crass moronic behavior we’ve come to expect from Loesch.
More on Loesch’s idiocy and falsehoods on Guns and the 2nd Amendment:
In an unsigned statement published online on Friday, the NRA’s lobbying arm sharply criticized the activists, denouncing their tactics as as “weird” and “scary.” The activists responded by demanding that the NRA retract the statement, and threatening to withdraw its support of the NRA. That’s essentially what happened on Tuesday, when Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, gave an interview in which he blamed Friday’s statement on a lone staff member and apologized for “any confusion” the statement caused.
So much for the NRA looking reasonable; the group is no different than the extremist nutjobs that comprise Open Carry. They all share the same radical agenda.
The nation’s staunchest defender of the Second Amendment has told gun activists in Texas who insist on carrying assault-style rifles in public places to knock it off. In a statement issued late last week, the National Rifle Association (NRA) called…
Richard Martinez’s son Christopher was among the six college students murdered this weekend in Isla Vista, California. It’s impossible to fathom the grief that Martinez must be experiencing right now, and the simple fact that he is upright and mobile is an act of tremendous courage. Which is precisely what makes everything else that he has done in the days since he lost his son all the more astounding.
From his first public statement — a blistering and emotional indictment of “craven” politicians who refuse to act on even moderate gun reform — to the tribute to Christopher he delivered Tuesday before a crowd of thousands, Martinez has been willing to show his raw and devastating grief to the world. He has made himself the gnarled and anguished face of our broken system — the lives that it takes and the lives that it ruins. His vulnerability and righteous, focused anger is unlike anything we’ve seen in response to a mass shooting.
And it should scare the shit out of the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby and the cowardly politicians who use these deadly weapons as literal and figurative political props.
It isn’t just the force of Martinez’s emotions or political conviction that make him powerful. He is currently shouldering the unimaginable grief of being yet another parent who has lost yet another child in yet another mass shooting. He has seen this happen before, he knows the political script that’s already playing out. He has listened as gun apologists — time and again — urge the nation not to “politicize” a national tragedy out of respect for the families, and then watched them turn on these same families in order to protect our deadly — and immensely profitable — culture of guns. And he’s using it. All of it.
Days after 26 people were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, Wayne LaPierre denounced gun reform advocates for “exploit[ing] the tragedy for political gain.” Months later, Sarah Palin echoed the sentiment. ”Leaders are in it for themselves, not for the American people,” she told a crowd that summer, before effectively declaring how proud she was that her son Trig would grow up in a country where men like Elliot Rodger and Adam Lanza can buy guns and hoard ammunition without authorities batting an eyelash.
Martinez may be the single most powerful force we have against this kind of slithering political cowardice. He’s already familiar with the political dirty tricks and knows where the conversation will eventually turn — that the pro-gun crowd is going to come out hard against him, just as they have turned on other parents and survivors. “Right now, there hasn’t been much blowback from the other side,” Martinez noted during a Tuesday interview with MSNBC. “But I anticipate that once my grieving period is over, the gloves will come off. I don’t think it’s going to be easy. They are going to try to do to me the same thing that they’ve done to all of these people. But I have a message for them: My son is dead. There is nothing you could do to me that is worse than that.”
I can’t imagine a more direct rebuttal to the LaPierres and the Palins in this country. To the ridiculous rifle-holding Mitch McConnells and every other ludicrous coward currently walking the halls of Congress and state legislatures across the country. These are the people who — as Martinez has made explicit — are responsible for these terribly predictable and preventable tragedies. Because they have the power to implement sensible reform, but instead stand by and do nothing while more people die every single day.
Martinez also knows that while it’s the public’s job to hold our leadership’s feet to the fire, he’s not the one responsible for having all the answers. “Where’s the leadership on this? We elect these people and we give them power, and it’s just outrageous,” he said during the same interview. “My son just died a few days ago, and you expect me to have the answers to these questions? There are people out there who have the answers. Why isn’t our leadership rounding these people up?”
But Martinez’s grasp of the issue puts most of our elected officials to shame. “When you asked me about solutions, here’s what I’ve learned,” he explained. “This is a complicated issue, but there’s a certain commonality between these events. Typically, all of these incidents involved […] mental health issues, gun violence and violence against women. These three problems are almost always combined.”
Like other parents whose lives have been upturned by gun violence — women like Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, and Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin — Martinez recognizes and is naming the pattern of violence in the most public way imaginable. But while Congress has so far been wildly successful at shutting down gun reform efforts, parents like Martinez, McBath and Fulton — who are electrifying the national conversation and building solidarity among other families forever changed by rampant access to deadly weapons — may be impossible for them to ignore. They are the most powerful messengers we could ask for.
Martinez is brave, destroyed, weeping, loud, furious and unpredictable in his grief. He is channeling all of that with a singular focus: Change. Or as he said that first day, introducing himself to the world as the grieving but determined father of Christopher Michaels-Martinez: “Not one more.”
“For me to live with this and honor his memory, I will continue to go anywhere and talk to anybody for as long as they want and are willing to listen to me about this problem. I’m not going to shut up,” he said Tuesday. He really seems to mean it.
A young man who Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown called “severely mentally disturbed” drove by various student hangouts to commit an act of “premeditated mass murder” apparently—according to videos posted to YouTube and threats made to women on campus—due to his anger at being “rejected” by women on campus.
The NRA wants less information and more Santa Barbaras.
Of course, this is all too familiar: a young aggrieved male, mentally disturbed, threatening others—especially women—but still able to get his hands on a high-capacity magazine of the variety used in so many other mass murders. This doesn’t happen in any other high income country with the regularity it does here; in fact, it almost never happens in any of them.
But here, in the good ole US of A, we’ve allowed a group of rich, entitled thugs who run an operation fronting for arms dealers—guys who represent a minority position on pretty much every issue having to do with reasonable regulation of firearms even among gun owners—to dictate our policies to cowardly, careerist politicians.
I already hear the outrage from the right: how can you blame the NRA? We need good guys to have guns, we have to stop the “haters” and “knockout gamers” and … I can’t even bear to repeat the infantile and inane talking points coming from cynical and callous people like the NRA’s Executive Vice President and foaming mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre.
We know how to stop these incidents, or at least greatly reduce them. We’ve seen other countries do it, such as Australia, which was averaging one of these massacres a year until their infamous Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. After which they completely overhauled their gun laws. Since then, a country with the same frontier history as the United States has not experienced one mass shooting. Not one. Their homicides and suicides have also precipitously dropped.
We, of course, could learn even more about how to stop these mass killings, as well as the everyday homicides, suicides and accidental killings that rob this nation of our youth, and everything they could have ever been. But this past week we’ve had numerous examples of how the NRA does their best to block this from happening, because they will gladly accept mass murder in Santa Barbara and Newtown, as well as an accidental bystander shooting in a neighborhood near you, if it keeps the dollars floating into their pockets from the ultimate blood-drenched 1%ers who own various staples of the gun industry
After attending the NRA’s Convention in Indianapolis, I wrote recently in these pages about all the NRA does to encourage paranoia and hatred while selling the weaponry not of self protection or hunting, but war, to anyone with a stack of bills and a glint in their eye.
But this past week we’ve seen the other side of the coin. How the NRA works to suppress information that would lead to treating a public health catastrophe that claims over 30,000 lives per year and injures over 100,000 as that very thing, while fighting to ensure we have as little access to information as possible that might help save lives.
The simple fact is, much like with their friends on the right from the tobacco industry to the oil industry to the megachurch, science and information are the enemies of the NRA. They have proven they will do whatever it takes to make sure we have less of it, and more Santa Barbaras.
Because anyone who does statistically significant research on a public health problem from the angle of helping people and not profiting from misery, and again and again finds obvious truths such as owning guns makes you more likely to get shot, is not someone the NRA and its allies will countenance without smearing. I debated one of these types from the Second Amendment Foundation on NPR recently regarding the CDC. It is amazing how tongue-tied they get when you present them with irrefutable information.
As for the “unethical” attack, mind you, this comes from an organization that promotes the “work” of well-traveled right-wing welfare recipient John Lott, a clown and a fraud who has created studies lacking any statistical validity, has “lost” his research when asked to produce it, and actually got busted for creating a fake online persona—Mary Rosh—to show up in comments sections where he wrote articles to say how swell and dreamy he was as a professor. Unethical (and embarrassing), indeed.
As Rep. Maloney rightly put it, “In America, gun violence kills twice as many children as cancer, and yet political grandstanding has halted funding for public health research to understand this crisis.”
The NRA’s fight to suppress information couldn’t be more apparent than it is in a rather pathetically titled column in Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller this past Friday. (Side note: As the NRA usually shuts up for at least 72 hours after a shooting, lest they remind people of their position as an accessory, having their views aired mere hours before this latest tragedy is enlightening).
The reason for this, as he points out in his piece, is that he and his fellow street-war profiteers are fighting to block President Obama’s U.S. Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, from being appointed. What was his crime? He has been honest about guns being a public health problem, and has made the common sense recommendation that civilians not be allowed to own military weaponry.
The NRA is worried that, like with smoking in the past, if we have a Surgeon General who tells the truth, they will see their profits plummet. In fact, they’re not even trying to hide this fact (or doing a really, really bad job), as reported by Politico:
[Murthy’s] strongly backed by several health constituencies, such as public health advocates, research organizations and physician groups. Yet the NRA, as well as some Republicans, say past Murthy statements in support of gun control indicate that he could use the surgeon general job to promote anti-gun policies. Murthy has stated that he would not focus on gun violence in the position.
Cox attacks Moms Demand Action in this piece too, because Shannon Watts and her group have also used available information in the age of social media—in this case photos of lunatics open-carrying long guns in family establishments and intimidating customers—to get Chipotle to tell the gun fondlers they don’t want them bringing their weapons in their stores. And now Chili’s and other eateries are considering taking similar action.
Also this past week, the House’s answer to untreated rabies, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), attempted to force more guns on military institutions that don’t want them. Once again, we were forced to look at the NRA’s enemy: actual information—some of it bravely provided by top military brass both active and retired,standing up to the lies of the NRA and its allies.
Retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D., even took the step of authoring a strongly worded letter to Congress, which laid out his thinking as follows:
As someone who has had to make the tough decisions about how best to manage service members under my command, I urge you to oppose Mr. Gohmert’s Amendment. This amendment will only cause more stress, confusion, and danger on military bases.
Later that night, Gohmert went to the House floor, defeated, and pulled his amendment.
Sadly for the NRA, we are in the Information Age, and the truth is starting to regularly get past their efforts to thwart it. But sadly for the rest of us—and at this moment, most tragically, the victims at Santa Barbara—the NRA have been so successful at bullying, threatening and obfuscating for so long, that we likely have too many more UC Santa Barbaras to come.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which was launched to bring attention to the kidnapping of hundreds of girls in Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, has inspired plenty of discussion, on Twitter and elsewhere. On Friday, the National Rifle Association felt compelled to weigh in. The organization joined the chorus of conservatives bashing First Lady Michelle Obama for participating in the hashtag campaign and found a way to turn the discussion to guns.
"[T]his month, in response to terrorists kidnapping 300 girls in Nigeria, First Lady Michelle Obama locked and loaded for battle with her own ‘selfie,’ with the unconditional surrender demand #BringBackOurGirls," the NRA’s lobbying arm wrote in an editorial on its website. “Tyrants and terrorists, like murderers, rapists and robbers, understand only one thing: force. They laugh at, and are emboldened by, weakness. That is why it is important to preserve and promote the right to keep and bear arms. An armed citizenry deters violence.”
Similarly, the NRA criticized State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki for recently posing for a photograph while holding a sign reading “#UnitedForUkraine.”
"Ms. Psaki’s and Mrs. Obama’s naiveté—thinking that Vladimir Putin or Boko Haram terrorists will change their ways because of tweets—would provide ample fodder for their ridicule, were we so inclined," the NRA said. "But while we appreciate the value of maintaining a sense of humor in the face of things that are disagreeable, we do so only within reasonable limits. There is nothing funny in this instance."
The NRA said it would not “stake our personal safety on ‘#PleaseDontHurtMe’ tweets.”
"Instead, we will exercise our right to arms, by acquiring the best arms for defensive purposes and becoming proficient in their use," the NRA said. "And we will do everything possible in 2016 to help elect a president who understands the importance of maintaining strength, whether dealing with common criminals here at home, or with international criminals on the world stage."
A new web series for young people produced by the National Rifle Association is being widely panned by critics as a phony and out-of-touch attempt at messaging. And for good reason — the NRA’s Noir is really about the same themes the NRA has been ranting on for decades, that the NRA is the only group that can stand up for persecuted gun owners and save America in the face of machinations by anti-gun elites.
Recently launched on the NRA’s new “Freestyle” network, Noir promises to report on ”the latest on firearms, fashion, pop culture and other hot topics.” The show is hosted by NRA News commentator Colion Noir — best known for his bizarre claim Martin Luther King Jr. was a gun proponent — along with co-host Amy Robbins and is sponsored by gun manufacturer Mossberg.
Early reviews of Noir report that it reeks of inauthenticity. Indeed the 16-minute premiere episode is rife with product placements and lame pop culture and sports references, all awkwardly interspersed between features on high-powered, expensive-looking firearms.
In one cringe-worthy moment, Noir complains that the cardboard box his $5,000 rifle came in looks like “a Build-A-Bear beginning set of a homeless guy’s apartment.” During a glowing review of a compact Smith & Wesson handgun, Noir analogizes the pistol to Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson: “Sure he is small and unimposing, but the moment you drop your guard he will tear your ass up.” There is also an obligatory twerking reference.
This fakery led Gawker’s Adam Weinstein to describe the show as “hilariously bad poser garbage.” Writing for Vocativ, Mike Spies summed up the show as “public-access television: Think Wayne’s World, but with a focus on sleek weapons” and concluded that “NRA employs millenial-friendly tropes to attract younger members — and fails miserably.” While Spies imagined the show being “produced by aliens who spent an hour studying American pop culture,” Weinstein poked fun at “the cringe-inducing ‘urban’ script copy dropping out of Noir’s mouth like it was written by a white Mitch McConnell intern on summer break from Liberty University.”
Beyond the widely noted production and messaging problems, the NRA has failed to create a different message that can resonate with young people with Noir. The NRA must realize that young people are unlikely to embrace the bombastic paranoid rants of its executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. But as the video below shows, Noir is more of the same from the NRA, only delivered with a less abrasive tone and buried between pop culture references.
AS JENNIFER LONGDON STEERED her wheelchair through the Indianapolis airport on April 25, she thought the roughest part of her trip was over. Earlier that day she’d participated in an emotional press conference with the new group Everytown for Gun Safety, against the backdrop of the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting. A mom, gun owner, and Second Amendment supporter, Longdon was paralyzed in 2004 after being shot in her car by unknown assailants, and has since been a vocal advocate for comprehensive background checks and other gun reforms.
As Longdon sat waiting for her flight, a screen in the concourse showed footage of the press conference. A tall, thin man standing nearby stared at Longdon, then back at the screen. Then he walked up to Longdon and spat in her face. No one else blinked.
Longdon was shocked and embarrassed, she told me, but she didn’t falter. “Wow, aren’t you a big man,” she said as he turned and walked away. Instead of calling for security, she wheeled herself to a restroom to clean herself off. She was tired—she lives with constant physical pain—and didn’t want to miss her flight.
"Should I have done something more? Quite honestly, in the scheme of things it was a little man and a little moment," she said. "He felt to me like a coward and a bully."
What happened to Longdon in Indianapolis is part of a disturbing pattern. Ever since the Sandy Hook massacre, a small but vocal faction of the gun rights movement has been targeting women who speak up on the issue—whether to propose tighter regulations, educate about the dangers to children, or simply to sell guns with innovative security features. The vicious and often sexually degrading attacks have evolved far beyond online trolling, culminating in severe bullying, harassment, invasion of privacy, and physical aggression. Though vitriol flows from both sides in the gun debate, these menacing tactics have begun to alarm even some entrenched pro-gun conservatives.
Jennifer Longdon Everytown for Gun Safety
"It Was Like a Mock Execution" Longdon is no stranger to such attacks. Last May in her hometown of Phoenix, she helped coordinate a gun buyback program with local police over three weekends. On the first Saturday, a group of men assembled across the street from the church parking lot where Longdon was set up. They shouted about constitutional rights and tyranny, and called people arriving to trade in their guns “sellouts.” (The program netted nearly 2,000 firearms with more than $200,000 in reimbursements.)
Some of them approached Longdon. “You know what was wrong with your shooting?” one said. “They didn’t aim better.” Another man came up, looked Longdon up and down and said, “I know who you are.” Then he recited her home address. The harassment continued, and the men showed up throughout the program, a Phoenix police official involved confirmed to me.
After a fundraiser one night during the program, Longdon returned home around 10 p.m., parked her ramp-equipped van and began unloading herself. As she wheeled up to her house, a man stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed in black and had a rifle, “like something out of a commando movie,” Longdon told me. He took aim at her and pulled the trigger. Longdon was hit with a stream of water. “Don’t you wish you had a gun now, bitch?” he scoffed before taking off.
"It was like a mock execution," Longdon says, recalling the intense surge of adrenaline and how the incident triggered her PTSD from the 2004 attack that nearly killed her and her fiancé. She called the police, but they were unable to track down the perpetrator. By the following Saturday, Longdon was back at her post helping run the buyback.
"I’ve been about as broken as I can be by gun violence," she says, "so I’m just not going to be afraid of it again."
The majority of gun owners in America are good people, she adds. “I wish that more responsible gun owners would step into this conversation and say ‘Look, those guys don’t speak for us.’”
A Schoolteacher in the Crosshairs A top target for gun extremists has been the women of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots group that began after Sandy Hook and has since merged with Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns under the Everytown banner. The battle has grown particularly ugly in Texas, where gun groups such as Open Carry Texas have conducted demonstrations showcasing their right under state law to openly carry rifles in public. The sight of groups of (mostly) men carrying semi-automatic rifles along a busy road or inside the local Jack in the Box has prompted bystanders to call police. In response, Open Carry Texas has begun making open-records requests, identifying callers and threatening to publicize their personal information.
Callers told her she was a “stupid bitch” and “motherfucking whore.” One threatened to come after her with a gun.
On April 10, Brett Sanders, a member of Open Carry Texas in Plano, a midsize city in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, posted a video on YouTube highlighting the name and cellphone number of a woman who’d called the police after seeing heavily armed men on her way to a shopping mall. The post drew condemnation not only for outing the woman but also because it was misleading: It claimed that the woman had called 911, though she’d called the nonemergency line of the Plano PD. And the footage it used came from friendly-looking demonstrations elsewhere—not from the one that the woman encountered. (“Feel free to contact me when you work for a real news organization,” Sanders replied to my request for comment.)
The woman—a high school teacher who asked not to be identified—quickly got pummeled with text messages and voicemails, copies of which she provided to Mother Jones. Callers told her she was a “stupid bitch” and “motherfucking whore.”
"They fought for their right to carry guns," said another. "You’re a piece of shit." One caller threatened to come after her with a gun.
Over the next four days she received nearly two dozen such calls and text messages. Someone put her information into a phony profile on a large e-commerce site, and she got a barrage of calls about agricultural products and security systems.
"I really felt strongly about not changing my cellphone number—I’m not going to be intimidated," she told me. "But it just got to the point where it’s not worth it."
[Editor’s note: The teacher since changed her number; Mother Jones has redacted her name.]
A fifth-generation Texan from a small town, the teacher in Plano grew up hunting. She is not, as her antagonists claimed, a member of Moms Demand Action (though she now plans to join). But given the rapid rise of Moms, gun extremists tend to view any woman who lands in their crosshairs as part of what has become, as one state leader for Moms puts it, “kind of the new black helicopters for these guys.”
According to Plano police records, two other people called in with concerns about the demonstration that day—both men. No member of Open Carry Texas publicized their information.
The attack left the teacher worried for the safety of her family: “I felt that if I walked out someone was going to be standing there.” But in hindsight, she says, “I think they are very weak men. They use their guns because that’s all they have. If you know what I mean.”
Open Carry Texas has insisted that it plans to continue exposing people who call police about its armed demonstrations. “Gun control bullies are all up in arms over this video published by one of our members,” the group stated in a Facebook post on April 13, since deleted from its page. “If you don’t want your name publicized, simply don’t make a false 911 call against law abiding gun owners.”
Sanders “didn’t do anything wrong” by posting the video, nor is it relevant that he misidentified the type of call or used footage from a different demonstration, CJ Grisham, the founder of Open Carry Texas, told me. “Our point in doing that is to expose the kinds of people that are complaining about our rallies.”
"I would’ve personally done it differently," Grisham added, "even though the personal contact information is public information." He said that his organization has collected records from three dozen calls but is "judicious" about deciding which to release, and that going forward they "will protect the identity of the caller."
Just three days before Open Carry Texas outed the teacher, a state Senate committee held a hearing to consider further loosening gun carrying laws, and Grisham was invited to give official testimony alongside NRA lobbyists. “Open Carry Texas was given a seat at the table,” says Stephanie Lundy of the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action. “It’s serious. You can’t write them off.”
The Female Mannequin Firing Squad Open Carry Texas takes pains to convey a clean, friendly image in the press. Last November, the group made national news after some 40 members armed with assault rifles showed up outside an Arlington, Texas, restaurant where four women from Moms Demand Action were having lunch. The group released a statement saying it was being misunderstood: “In reality, the peaceful gun owners were posing for a photo.” After a rally outside Austin City Hall this April, Grisham told the Texas Tribune, “We’re not out there to bait police officers or to scare the community. We wave, we smile, we hand out fliers. If we see someone who seems really nervous, we’ll talk to them.”
What the group hasn’t publicized are some of its members’ more degrading antics. In March, a group of them held a “mad minute” at a firing range, pulverizing a female mannequin with a hail of bullets. They positioned the figure with her hands raised in surrender, naked from the waist up. Afterward, they posed with the bullet-riddled mannequin, her arms blown off and her pants down at her ankles. “Mad minute” is a military expression referring to a burst of rapid fire, and Open Carry Texas members have often referred to Moms Demand Action as “mad moms.”
Four of the men who shot up the mannequin were present at the Arlington restaurant, including one listed by Open Carry Texas as a board member and the group’s Director of Operations.
Grisham said he was not part of the group at the gun range, but when the mannequin video was posted on Facebook, he commented: “Warms the cockles of my heart.” Recently he called women from Moms Demand Action “ignorant, retarded people,” and last fall he referred to them as “thugs with jugs.”
"My purpose with language like that was to draw attention to the hypocrisy," Grisham says, noting that opponents have used similar invective. "A lot of times when I make these statements, I’m making them in jest, based on language that’s being used against us. I’ve since decided that it’s petty, it’s childish, I’m not going to play those childish games anymore, so you wont catch me using ‘thugs with jugs’. I’ve moved on."
"Listen, I Don’t Want to Beat an Old Guy Up" Last October, hundreds of armed people gathered for a rally at the Alamo in San Antonio, where Open Carry Texas had invited Alex Jones, the fringe radio host known for whipping up fans with squalls of anti-government paranoia. At the podium, an assault rifle strapped across his back, Jones got into such a lather about Hitler and Mao and the Obama administration preparing to “enslave” Americans that he blew out his voice in less than five minutes. “These scumbags are all the same!” he shouted. He described a worldwide conspiracy to take away everyone’s guns, whose perpetrators included “the few dozen Democratic Party operatives they’re gonna have marching here in a little while, the so-called moms.”
At the end of his speech, Jones had one last thing to say to the cheering crowd: “Don’t be mean to the million mom march, all five of ‘em. These are pathetic zombies. Just realize they’re stupid victims that want us to live like they do, slaves.”
Jones soon headed to a Moms event for kids, to “confront the victim disarmament crew.”
Jones then hugged CJ Grisham before heading out to, as he would later put it on his show, “confront the victim disarmament crew.” He went to a local taco bar about a mile away, where Moms Demand Action was holding a midday kids’ event with crafts and family activities. Jones and his camera crew began cornering members of the group. The women told him they weren’t interested in talking on camera, but he kept at it.
An older couple walked over to intervene, the man telling Jones, “A gun grab is something that nobody in this country wants.” Jones got in the man’s face, hands gesticulating, chest puffed out. “Well sir, all I can say is you’re really gettin’ in my space!”
"Well, why don’t you back up?" the man said.
"No, I’m not gonna back up." Jones retorted, inching in closer. "You’re the one got in my space." He glanced over to his camera crew. "Look at this, look at this guy."
The woman tried to pull her husband away. “All right, go ahead,” Jones continued. “Listen, I don’t want to beat an old guy up,” he added, poking the man’s chest. “So don’t touch me.”
As Jones went on, Stephanie Lundy of Moms Demand Action approached his sidekick, Anthony Gucciardi, to tell him who the couple was: Lonnie and Sandy Philips, whose 24-year-old daughter Jessica was murdered in the 2012 gun massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Gucciardi ignored her, according to Lundy.
Jones kept up the baiting. “Did you know assault rifles are used in 2 percent of crimes?”
Lonnie Phillips had enough. “I know an assault rifle was used to murder my daughter in Aurora,” he snapped back, his voice rising. “I know that.” Jones appeared taken off guard for a second. “Well, I’m sorry that…”
"Yeah, you’re sorry," Phillips said.
"I didn’t hurt your daughter," Jones said.
Jones posted a video about the altercation on his site, Infowars.com, closing the segment with him turning to the camera: “I mean that’s the big issue,” he says. “There’s five people here against the guns, and they’re claiming—it’s probably true, there’s a guy whose got a lot of sadness in his eyes—that it’s his loved one that was lost at Aurora, and that that’s basically our fault.”
Jones could have known easily enough that the Phillips would be there. Sandy Phillips, who works for the Brady Campaign, had posted on Facebook that they’d be attending the Moms event, and the director of operations for Open Carry Texas had called her out. “Sandy, nice banner pic of you eating at In ‘n’ Out burger,” he replied. “I open carry there all the time. Very gun friendly place.”
PROVOCATIVE TACTICS IN THE NAME OF the Second Amendment are by no means confined to Texas. Recently, public displays of guns have caused alarm in Wisconsin, and gun rights activists have menaced a businesswoman in California and a gun dealer in Maryland for trying to sell firearms equipped with high-tech safety features.
Last Thursday, a firearms instructor in Florida posted a video on the Facebook page of Moms Demand Action, in which he filmed himself at a gun range blasting a paper target bearing the Moms logo. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he says with a grin, displaying the cluster of bullet holes.
The group responded by sharing the video on the Facebook page of his local church, and with disapproving comments soon piling up—”I don’t get how that’s very Christian, or even sane for that matter”—by Friday the video disappeared from public view on YouTube. (The firearms instructor did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, has faced a continuous barrage. “For me, the question is always, ‘Why does this person want to kill or rape or silence me?’” she says. “I think the answer is that this issue touches a cultural nerve based on gender, geography, and other politics. There are pundits who make a good deal of money encouraging this type of anger.”
Some staunch advocates of expansive gun rights recognize that this kind of bullying is bad for the movement. In March, a talk radio host and self-described gun enthusiast in Wisconsin called the “in your face open-carry playbook” tactics “perfectly legal, and perfectly stupid." After the Arlington restaurant incident, the editor of BearingArms.com wrote that Open Carry Texas had achieved “a public relations disaster.”
The cumulative threats and harassment have at times felt exhausting for women working at the state and local level. “It’s one thing to think about it and see images of it online,” one of the Texas moms told me. “It’s another thing entirely to see this kind of thing out of your car window when you’re driving your kid to soccer practice.”
But they say they have no intention of backing down and are in it for the long haul. "Yes, the threats, slurs, and bullying are shameful and concerning," says Watts. "But they’re also emboldening. No fight for cultural change comes without this kind of resistance. The reality is that a majority of NRA members and gun owners support the reforms we’re fighting for."
The National Rifle Association has seized upon the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls as a means of promoting itself and slamming liberals as soft, weak people who watch MSNBC talk show host Chris Hayes. Media Matters reported Saturday…