I come from a primarily conservative background, being raised in a house full of Republicans and growing up in a middle-class lifestyle. My outlook growing up was relatively one-sided, having attended a private school and going to church at least once a week. My carpool to high school often had conservative commentators on the radio, and my doorbell (when I was really young, at least) played “Dixie.” Over the years since I joined the military and was integrated with a sample of the rest of society, my perspectives and beliefs have changed considerably.
Not that there was anything wrong with the way I was raised, mind you. I wouldn’t be who I am without my upbringing, nor would I change anything if given the chance, except maybe the addition of ADHD diagnosis and treatment. It’s just that the older I get and the more of the world I see, the more I consider my stances on topics in a different light. For example, I was raised “Pro-Life.” Today, while I would never suggest abortion for birth control as an option for my own family situation, I firmly believe that my personal beliefs on the matter should have no bearing on the legality of the procedure. Does that disappoint my family? Sometimes, but I’m also fortunate enough to come from a family that understands it is okay to agree to disagree, and we all generally realize that we’re largely full of shit anyway.
As I’ve developed, I’ve often found that I’ve associated myself with causes or organizations I’ve later regretted. Those of you that know me well know I used to be a member of an anti-war organization, and that I ended my association with that organization when the leadership changed and the organization largely became a platform for a political ideology instead of focusing on the principles of its charter (namely, ending the war and care for wounded veterans). That and one of its more “visible” members burned an American Flag on TV saying, “This is how we feel about our country,” but I digress. Recently I’ve decided that a step (and an expensive one, at that) I took many years ago with regard to another organization needed to be taken back. That organization is the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Leaving their politics behind for a moment, the NRA today is focused on the safe education and use of firearms all over the nation. They have a long standing relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, produce a program used by elementary schools that teaches children to stay away from firearms and tell an adult if they see one in reach, and provide instructor certifications and training at ranges from coast to coast. They were the National Governing Body for Olympic shooting up until 1992, and they offer a publication dedicated to competition shooting called “Shooting Sports USA.” Their goal in this area is to cut down on accidental injury or death by removing the fear and mystique surrounding firearms through training in safety, use, and maintenance of firearms.
All of that is well and good, and I completely support all of that. I firmly believe rifle shooting should be taught in schools like it used to be (and not that long ago, believe it or not). It is an Olympic sport, after all, and when we want our children to be safe when it comes to drinking, smoking, sex and drugs we sit them down and educate them, right? So why not spend a week in High School P.E. (in schools that still have them, at least) plinking away with a .22LR? How would that be any different than the schools that still offer archery? It’s that thought process that led me to become a Lifetime Member of the National Rifle Association back in 2007. After all, eight Presidents of the United States have been members of the organization, to include John F. Kennedy, so I figured I was in good company if nothing else.
The National Rifle Association was created over a hundred and forty years ago by a journalist and United States Army General Wingate, and was initially presided over by Civil War General Ambrose Burnsides (a man who’s stunning facial hair is honored with the entry of “side burns” into the English lexicon). Brought into existence in 1871, the NRA was formed out of the lamentations of General Burnsides, who is probably the first man quoted as saying his Soldiers couldn’t “hit the broad side of a barn.” And he was right, considering the Union Army’s records indicated an average accuracy rating of one hit for every one thousand rounds fired.
You see, the United States had a history back then of not keeping a well-trained, funded, or equipped standing army around during times of peace, and as a result it wasn’t keeping up with the rest of the world as far as the development of new weapons and the tactics associated with the fundamental changes the new technology applied to the battlefield. It’s because of this the United States tended to get it’s ass handed to it early on in military conflicts throughout history while it was still playing “catch-up” to whatever force it was engaging. It’s a tradition that held true up to and including World War II, and is a major reason why our military spending is as high as it is today and why gobs of money is thrown at things like the F-22 and F-35. We don’t want to get spanked by someone else early on in a conventional conflict because our research and development staff was asleep at the wheel.
Anyway, the Civil War started with most of the Union Army still using the Springfield Model 1842 Smoothbore Musket. Because the barrel was smooth on the inside and the ammunition wasn’t factory produced, any shot fired from these weapons was about as predictable as . . . well, okay, you had a general idea of the direction the shot was headed, but your chances of hitting anything at any respectable range was next to nothing. I think the $70 paintball guns sold at Wal-Mart are more accurate. Because there was no uniformity to the ammunition and there was no way to stabilize the shot, the balls pretty much bounced their way down the barrel and out of the pipe. This lack of predictable accuracy was overcome by troops standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a mass formation and all firing together on command. Nobody was really concerned about aiming; the power flashes required the shooter to turn his head away when firing to keep from burning his face off, and the accuracy sucked even if the flash wasn’t there. Instead of training for marksmanship, the Army spent its resources training its regulars to reload as quickly as possible.
Enter the Springfield Model 1861, the first rifled shoulder weapon to be produced in large numbers in the United States. A rifled barrel is one that has groves in the barrel in a spiral pattern that grip round as it fires, forcing it to spin and stabilizing its flight path. The end result is a MUCH more accurate firearm, one with an effective range of up to and including 300 meters. Gone was the necessity to line up like a shooting gallery and throw a wall of lead at the enemy, hoping to hell you hit something. The 1861 Springfield allowed Soldiers to actually take up defensive positions in cover and accurately engage the enemy while they were still far enough away to make any smoothbore return fire essentially useless. Or it would have, if the Union Army had bothered to update its tactics.
The Army started the war with its training emphasis on reload speed to maximize its weight of fire. When the newer, many-times more accurate 1861 Springfields started pouring in, the Union Army didn’t see any reason to change tactics and develop new applications in the middle of a war, and as a result the Army squandered the major advantage the rifles gave them over their opponents in the Confederate Army. It wasn’t until the Confederates started demonstrating the best use of the rifles themselves that the Union Army finally woke up and decided to spend more time on actually using the sights on the weapons (which weren’t bad at all, when it came down to it).
Enter the NRA, which was started to promote the pursuit of the modern science of firearms. General Wingate traveled to Europe to observe their application of tactics and marksmanship training methods, then came back to the United States and wrote one of the first actual marksmanship manuals ever produced in this country. He also managed to convince the New York legislature to fund the construction of the first modern marksmanship range (built on Long Island) that was designed to promote accurate long-range fire. This allowed a team of eight American riflemen (arranged by the NRA) to win the championship at an international marksmanship competition by accurately hitting targets at ranges up to and including one thousand yards. This championship established the obsolescence of muzzle-loading rifles (the Americans used breech-loaders) and was the key factor in the U.S. military’s decision to focus its training on rifle marksmanship, a focus that is still heavily maintained to this day. It is also what propelled the NRA to national prominence.
Contrary to what a lot of people unfamiliar with NRA history think, the organization used to be a major advocate of gun control. It supported both the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968. The NFA first established a VERY high (at the time) excise tax of $200 (roughly $3330 in today’s dollars) on machine guns and rifles or shotguns with a barrel length of under 16 and 18 inches, respectively, as well as suppressors and firearms with a bore greater than .50″ (except shotguns). The GCA regulated interstate commerce in firearms, as well as regulated who could buy or sell firearms.
However, it was in the 1970s that the NRA started to lose its damn mind. Until then the NRA and it’s lobbying arm (the ILA) had largely focused on hunting, marksmanship, and conservation; gun control was fairly downplayed. However, a political opposition within the organization began to form, one who’s belief that the NRA’s emphasis should be on the Second Amendment and the rights of gun owners. In 1977 the gloves came off when the incumbent directors were ousted and replaced by members of this opposition, and Harlon Carter was instituted as President and Neal Knox was given control of the ILA.
Knox is the asshole primarily responsible for the NRA as it is known today. Most people today aren’t too familiar with him, as most people today remember Charlton Heston’s “cold dead fingers” speech. Well, Heston was a ‘down the middle’ kind of guy compared to Knox. Knox’s work was focused on the deregulation of firearms and actively opposed almost every local, state and federal gun control measure ever devised. He’s been in and out of office a couple of times, each time managing to further wrench control away from the original intent of the NRA and focus completely on the deregulation of firearms in support of Second Amendment Rights. The craziness reached a peak level in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing when La Pierre referred to federal law enforcement agents as “jack-booted thugs” and compared them to the Nazis.
Now the NRA is back in full swing in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. From blaming video games and TV violence for the shooting to advocating that armed guards roam the halls of schools, the NRAs lobbying arm has completely separated itself from the original goal of the NRA, namely experienced marksmanship and the pursuit of science. It has charged full-bore into the waiting arms of extremism, completely shutting down the opportunity for intelligent, rational discussion on the issue of gun control and the culture of violence that is prevalent throughout the United States.
I reached my decision point yesterday in light of a new commercial attacking the Obama Administration. Before I get to that let me again remind people that I’m a huge supporter of Second Amendment rights and the right to concealed carry. I firmly believe the intent of the Founders was to provide this country with a method of defense outside of a standing Army. Let me also say that I actually laughed out loud at a photo shopped image of President Obama in a crowd saying that we need to ban guns to keep our country safe, while the various police and Secret Service agents had arrows pointing at each of them, labeled “GUN.” What can I say, I find that shit funny.
However, I have to draw the line at a commercial that advocates armed guards in schools and calls the President a hypocrite because he doesn’t agree yet sends his daughters to school with an armed escort.
First of all, and I don’t care who the politician is or what side of the aisle he or she parks his or her ass, I find it to be in extremely poor taste to make any kind of political attack against someone while using their children. It infuriated me when it was done with the Bush daughters, it infuriated me when it was done with Palin’s children, and it infuriates me when it’s done with Obama’s daughters. It’s extremely low class and downright repugnant. It’s disgusting, it’s lazy, it’s cowardly, and it’s straight up BULLSHIT.
Yes, I said it, it’s BULLSHIT. Here’s why.
I’ve been watching “The West Wing” lately and there’s a scene in Season One where, after federal agents bust into a D.C. bar when the President’s daughter’s panic button is used to subdue three potential rapists, the President explains the “nightmare scenario” to her when she complains of her Secret Service protection:
“The Nightmare Scenario, sweetheart, is YOU getting kidnapped. You go out to a bar or party in some club and you get up to go to the restroom, somebody comes up to you from behind and put their hand across your mouth and whisks you out the back door. You’re so petrified you don’t even notice the bodies of two Secret Service agents lying on the ground with BULLET HOLES in their heads. Then you’re whisked away in a car. It’s a big party with LOTS of noise, LOTS of people coming and going and its a half hour before someone says, ‘hey, where’s Zoey?’ Another fifteen minutes before the first phone call is made. It’s another hour and a half before anyone THINKS to shut down all the airports, and now we’re off to the races! You’re tied to a chair in a cargo shack somewhere in the middle of Uganda and I am told that I have 72 hours to get Israel to free 460 terrorist prisoners. So I’m on the phone pleading with [the Prime Minister] and he’s saying, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. President, but Israel simply does not negotiate with terrorists, period! It’s the only way we can survive!’ So now we’ve got a new problem, because this country no longer has a Commander-in-Chief, it has a father who’s out of his mind because his little girl is in a shack somewhere in Uganda WITH A GUN TO HER HEAD!!! DO YOU GET IT!?!“
I certainly get it, and it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility for the Obama children. I imagine such a thought keeps the President and First Lady up at night quite often, especially considering he and his family have had in the neighborhood of three times as many death threats as any other President in history. Such a scenario would severely compromise our nation and its security, and I feel the President is in no way, shape, or form a hypocrite for sending his children to school every day with Secret Service protection. His daughters face a threat every day that is entirely unique and in no way comparable to the discussion of armed guards in all public schools.
And so I have resigned my lifetime membership. The organization I joined almost six years ago has turned into its own version of “jack-booted thugs” more interested in scoring political points in headlines than in following its own charter.
Go home, NRA. You’re drunk.