When the verdict for the Philando Castile shooting came back with an acquittal for the officer, Black Lives Matter of course took to the streets, pundits opined, and many breathless takes were shared on social media. After a few days, the video of the shooting was released to the public, and even more people were shocked and offended, especially experts on police reform and law enforcement training, and even some police officers.
One group has remained conspicuously silent, though, and that's the National Rifle Association. One would think that the NRA, the largest gun owners association and firearms lobbyist in the nation, would be losing its mind over the fact that a licensed gun owner like Castile followed the standards taught by the NRA on what to do when you encounter an officer but still ended up being shot seven times. Here was a a responsible gun owner who was killed by a jumpy police officer. The NRA's leadership should have been livid but has remained conspicuously silent. The media has noted this fact and has quoted numerous NRA members who are upset about the shooting and their organization's silence. The writers have gently danced around the glaring issue that the NRA has remained silent about the verdict of a black man being shot for simply being a black gun owner, but I'm not. I'll say it bluntly: The NRA leaders are bigots who use fear to support their cause.
There: I said what everyone is afraid to say. Now it's time for the extreme gun nuts, bigots, and NRA die-hards to come at me, but let me say this first (which will be ignored by folks rushing to yell at me); I am a gun owner and have been around guns almost my entire life. The first time I went shooting I was about 8 years old and it was a .22 revolver; later I went hunting in my teens and carried a standard semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun. I then joined the military and served for 10 years, including a tour in Iraq. I not only qualified as an expert with my M-16 rifle but also regularly operated the M-60 and M-249 SAW. Now I own a Ruger 9E and I'm planning on getting my conceal and carry permit next month. So no, I'm not a "cowardly liberal who's afraid of guns"; I actually like guns, own one, and I'm a good shot too. It's important to know this and state this out loud since it's their favorite snarling comment meant to discredit their opponents.
The silence on the Castile shooting doesn't exist in a vacuum. Some have argued that the reason NRA leaders have remained silent is because they have very close ties to law enforcement and the Blue Lives Matter movement. There might be some relation to that, but their absolute refusal to make a remark about shooting at all is what's important. Yes, they have supported black gun owners before, such as Otis McDonald, who fought against Chicago's handgun ban, but even McDonald says that any defense of a black gun owner by the NRA doesn't work in their favor. The NRA does have a black spokesman for its media outlet in Collon Noir, and he has spoken out against the decision and its bias, but not in any official capacity for the organization. When you couple the fact that the NRA tends to remain silent on issues involving nonwhites unless pressured with the fact that when it does says it supports "all gun owners" and doesn't address the specifics but quickly jumps to the defense of law enforcement, it's a noticeable silence. When you couple this with the history of the rhetoric the NRA uses, the reality begins to shine through.
Rarely do racists and race-baiting groups outright come out and say, "We're racist." They hide behind dog whistles and "I'm not saying, I'm just saying..." style comments, and the NRA leaders are practically masters of the art form. Their newest hire for the NRA's media wing, Bill Whittle, has commented on race and IQ scores, has claimed that black people regularly commit voter fraud and said that Black Lives Matter would make sure "everything's gonna burn" if social services were cut, and has called the presence of Muslim refugees in Europe a "Muslim invasion." The NRA pays this man to speak for the organization.
Sure, Whittle is just one of the NRA's many talking heads, but what about the leadership? Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president, regularly predicts doom for America should guns be taken away. He regularly invokes the false statistics of crime rates rising when they are actually falling, has spoken of Latin American drug gangs "invading" America, and despite the truth that border cities such as San Diego and El Paso have lower crime rates than the rest of the country, he warns that border states will become war zones. Ted Nugent, the rock musician and member of the NRA board of directors, has often made use of anti-Semitic globalist conspiracies and has called victims of the Holocaust "soulless sheep to slaughter." He outright stated in an op-ed that black people have a mindless tendency to violence. He also regularly invokes the idea of a looming race war, has shared memes using racist imagery and slurs, and has used rhetoric calling for the death of leading Democrats to the point the government has investigated him.
I could keep going with Nugent alone for 2,000 words, but we should need to address Robert Brown, who distributed newsletters for white Christian militias in the 1990s; Don Young, who has called Latinos "wetbacks"; Todd Rathner, who has called for Israel to assassinate "the Arab dogs"; Oliver North (yes, that one), who invoked "globalist agendas" as a threat to America; Jay Printz, who has likened Muslims to rabid dogs; Mercedes Schlapp, who regularly cites threats to Christianity as a reason to own firearms -- on and on. These are the NRA's current leaders. In the past, Charlton Heston said he felt that guns were the greatest source of protection for threats against "the God-fearing ... Caucasian, middle class, Protestant ... rural ... straight ... male."
The NRA has even begun to distribute children's literature that presents the world as a dark and frightening place that can held in check with guns. The NRA has regularly invoked fears of the United Nations, regularly claims that firearms are the only defense against terrorism (as well as multiculturalism and "gender-bending"), presents liberals as a threat against "freedom," and regularly lies about the voting records and actions of liberal politicians. The NRA's trope of invoking liberals coming to take their guns, stirring fears of Commie or Nazi types taking control of the government, and calling on members to buy more and more guns to protect themselves from a government that truly has shown little incentive to regulate or restrict firearms is well-worn territory. But of course the government is only big and bad when there is a Democrat in the White House. The NRA had Donald Trump speak at its national convention this year, and it is well established that Trump trades in racist fear-mongering. In fact, in a manner very similar to Trump's, after the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the NRA failed to address the shooting itself but instead focused on ISIS and Islam.
If the NRA is not invoking racism through fears of Latin American drug gangs or black "thugs," it is invoking fear of Muslim terrorists and threats to "family values," and it's presenting itself as the true keeper of Christian liberty. I could go on for another 10,000 words citing various examples of its racism, homophobia and transphobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, borderline seditious commentary, and outright slander, but I would be overselling my case and still not even touch on half the available evidence to support myself. I will say it again to be clear -- the NRA leadership is full of bigots who use fear to sell guns, raise money, and expand the use of guns in America.
I will say this as well:I do not believe that all gun owners are racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, sexists, paranoid conspiracy theorists, or conservative evangelical doomsday preppers. In fact, most gun owners support background checks, waiting periods, and other restrictions on firearms, and many of them are black, gay, Muslim, Latino, and regularly vote Democratic. Hell, even St. Bernard Sanders, the hero of the 20-something progressive, has supported reasonable gun ownership. However, the NRA no longer reflects these people's wishes or even those of its members.
The point has come to end or reform the NRA by forming new gun rights groups free of the dangerous, racist, and violent rhetoric of the NRA's leadership. Gun safety training for private citizens can be carried out by these organizations as well as local law enforcement. Local, state, and federal agencies that use NRA instructors for their firearms safety and marksmanship training should seek out other organizations that are just as capable. The NRA should be treated as any other organization that regularly invokes racism and violence, and acts as a threat to stable, sane democracy in this country. We can come to a reasonable consensus on firearm regulation without it. We can protect gun owners' rights without it, and we can promote firearm safety and education without it. Simply put, it's time to recognize the NRA as a greater threat to American democracy and safety than any number of guns or terrorists could ever be.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.