Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Canticle For Horwitz: Yes, the NRA Is a Civil Rights Organization

NRA Is No Civil Rights Organization

The short version: Josh Horwitz articulates the CSGV's official position on civil rights, in which you are guaranteed the right to an unspecified level of emotional comfort and feelings of safety, but you are not guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms, because the former is a real civil right and the latter is not.

At the recent National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis, talk of “freedom” and “liberty” was in the air. But does the organization really embrace the entire set of freedoms that we cherish as Americans?
That's actually a provocative, compelling question, for people actually interested in the organization's future. I heard a lot of discussion of the same basic idea from a lot of NRA members at the NRA Annual Meetings in Indianapolis, where this op-ed was published in the Indy Star. The thing about the NRA that Mr. Horwitz can't get is that no matter how convenient it would be for him if the NRA could be boiled down to "Wayne LaPierre, Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent keep each others' book deals afloat," that's never going to tell the whole story of an organization with millions of members. As trite as it sounds, I am the NRA. And yes, I embrace American freedom. Yes, that means I care about Amendments 1-10, and also the rest of the Constitution. And yet, I sense that we're about to disagree vehemently. Perhaps we should define our terms.

When NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared that Americans need to be armed to the teeth because of “knock-out gamers” and “vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all,” you would have thought the organization had reached new heights in the art of hyperbole.
Yup, Wayne gets pretty worked up sometimes. And frankly, I get a little weary of the wild enthusiasm followed by amnesia that accompanies fads like the "Knockout Game." The idea that there's an organized game sweeping the nation doesn't seem to have much evidence behind it, and the way everyone seemed to be freaking out about it and then promptly forgot gets annoying when you see it happen over and over. On the other hand, young people hanging out on the streets and occasionally instigating each other to run over and kick somebody's ass just to prove they can isn't a myth, it's just depressingly normal behavior that goes back thousands of years. But that's not your point, is it?

 However, the NRA’s most ridiculous assertion is that it is “America’s longest standing civil rights organization.”
Ah! Now we're getting somewhere. It offends you to have the NRA usurp the mantle that rightly belongs to . . . whom? The NAACP? They claim to be the oldest "grassroots" civil-rights organization on their website, but they weren't founded until 1909, shortly after the 1908 racist riot in Springfield, IL (not far from where I stand right now, actually.) The NRA dates from 1871. But I know that's not what you mean. You mean that even though the NRA was arming and training freedmen in the south before the NAACP was founded, the NAACP fought racism in legitimate ways and the NRA didn't. I suspect we will still disagree on that point when we're done here. I suppose we could consider abolitionists, women's suffrage groups, and some I'm forgetting, but we're talking about groups still asking for money today, and anyway I suspect you don't care about the history. Your interest here is in showing that the NRA's advocacy for a fundamental civil right is illegitimate.

The truth is that the NRA cares little for any civil right that might interfere with gun industry profits via unfettered access to firearms.
Can you think of one of those, or is this hypothetical? Seriously, is there a civil right that interferes with access to firearms? To my knowledge, agree or disagree (and a lot of gun owners disagree) the NRA does not stand for unlimited access to firearms; the official NRA position has long been that background checks should be as efficient and transparent to the consumer as possible, that they should not be used to create registries of gun owners for later confiscation efforts, and that laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and children should be enforced consistently.
(I didn't use your term, "unfettered," because there's something about arguing that I'm the crazy one because I don't want to have shackles, chains or manacles, metaphorical or otherwise, involved in my practice of a constitutional right. I'm giving you a pass, more or less, because I don't think I can fairly assume that you know what "unfettered" means.)
The NRA’s absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment is not motivated by principle. It’s motivated by economics — the less regulation, the more profit.

You're forgetting another profit motive for the NRA--memberships. If the NRA throws members like me (not to mention Webster's Dictionary) under the bus by accepting your definition of an "absolutist interpretation," we'll walk away. You're still not getting this. You still think you can just make Wayne LaPierre the Bloomberg of the NRA and knock him off; you're blind to the dance he's doing. You could certainly argue that members like me are wrong in our "absolutist" position, but you're pretending that millions of people don't hold that position--despite all evidence.

Are you a business owner who believes you have a right to regulate the carrying of weapons on your premises for the safety of your employees? The NRA doesn’t care. It will force you to allow guns on your property regardless. In 2007, the vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce called a Guns in the Workplace bill supported by the NRA “the biggest assault on private property rights and the employer-employee relationship that this [state] Legislature has ever heard.”
Are you a business owner who believes you have the right to bar Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus on your premises for the safety of your employees? The ACLU doesn't care. They will force you to allow dark-skinned people with unfamiliar religions on your property regardless, and they'll tell you to your face that your fear of dusky oriental terrorists doesn't trump an American citizen's right to have access to a public accommodation, such as a business that's open to the public. But what do they know about your right to be a bigot in your own business, right?

BTW, Mr. Horwitz, the Florida Chamber of Commerce was wrong in their hyperbole (you're against hyperbole, remember?) and so are you. The bill you're talking about passed into law, and it simply states that if an employee complies with an employer's no-firearms policy, the employee may disarm and store the firearm in her vehicle in the parking lot even if the employer owns the parking lot. Property rights are important, but imagine an employer who wouldn't let a Sikh employee bring his knife into the office. Now, imagine a Sikh who says, "Well, OK, it violates my way of life, but I like working here, so I guess I'll leave it in the glove compartment when I'm at work."
Finally, imagine that employer firing that man despite his effort to comply with their weird notions. That's not fair, and you and I both know that if we polled people about the actual plain text of that law, most would agree. You can prohibit me from carrying a firearm into your place of business, but it's a little much for you to demand that your employees be denied the right to have anything you dislike in their personal vehicles in the company parking lot, especially when the contraband is only there because they took it off and stored it safely for no other reason than to comply with your rules. By the way, here in Illinois, one of the most anti-gun places an American can visit without a passport, our newly-minted CCL law has a provision that gives "safe harbor" to CCL holders who secure their firearms in their vehicles before entering a posted/prohibited business. It doesn't appear to apply to employees, although time and case law will tell, but it definitely protects me if I need to go into a posted/prohibited business--and remember, there are businesses that are posted/prohibited by law, where the management has no choice in the matter. When it comes to my own employer (one of those mandated gun-free zones) I have to park down the street in someone else's lot and walk the rest of the way, because somehow that's safer than leaving a gun in a holster and not touching it all day long. Civil rights!

Are you an American whose loved one was shot and killed because the gun industry negligently armed someone who was dangerous? Tough luck. You have been permanently denied access to the courts by a 2005 law drafted by NRA lobbyists, which gives the gun industry unprecedented immunity from civil litigation.
Are you an American whose loved one was run over and killed because the car industry negligently armed someone who was dangerous? Tough luck, because that's not a thing in American law. You're not actually supposed to be able to recover damages from people who did nothing wrong just because you think they have more money than the person who actually did you damage, or because someone's got a political axe to grind with them. You can't get lawsuit money out of GM because they failed to predict that someone would get drunk and drive one of their giant missiles through your front picture window, and you can't get lawsuit money out of Remington because someone else used one of their guns to commit a crime. You certainly can sue Remington if they knowingly sold defective products that posed a danger and caused damage, just like anyone else. The only thing you could argue was "unprecedented" in this situation would be the massive political effort to put gun manufacturers out of business (but you'd still be wrong unless we ignore alcohol, tobacco, etc.) In other words, the closest thing to "unprecedented" is the fact that people saw the need to pass a law to state that civil law really does mean what it says.

As usual, the NRA attempted to scare its faithful in order to drum up additional gun sales. Its leadership claimed that support for background checks and laws to curb gun trafficking is eroding our rights, even as Indianapolis grapples with a per capita homicide rate that has reached a 30-year high. There’s a reason that criminals in Indiana rarely if ever have to go outside the state’s borders to acquire the weapons they use to kill with. How “free” are Indianapolis residents who feel trapped inside their homes at night as a result?
I hear you, bro. FUD is wrong; using fear to sell your point of view is just disrespectful of your audience and dishonest besides. Well, it is when the NRA does it, right? Basically, Mr. Horwitz, you made an assertion and then provided no evidence for it. There was nothing in that little essay that supported your assertion that the NRA is not a civil-rights organization. Given that you made that assertion about a venerable group that has kept 10% of the Bill of Rights alive and kicking despite massive political efforts to grind it down or explain it away, it was clear that you weren't going to be able to find the easy way, but you didn't even bother to try.

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