Gun Crusaders: The NRA's Culture War

By Scott Melzer | Go to book overview

Just beneath the surface of these fears lies the politics of gender and race. Freedoms and rights, after all, mean different things to different people. For the NRA and its supporters, overwhelmingly older, conservative white men, “freedom” means that the government is out of their lives. They believe that we should rely on ourselves, not the government, for basic needs like food, shelter, love, and protection. This, they argue, is how the country was founded and what made it great. Government involvement in citizens' lives—or, worse, control over their lives—is a threat to American values and freedoms. Others see it differently, as NRA members are quick to point out. They argue that gun control advocates want the government to protect you; feminists want the government to take care of your children; affirmative action groups want to give your jobs to unqualified minorities; and welfare proponents want the government to take your hard-earned tax dollars and give them to those who are too lazy to support themselves.

Today's NRA sees threats. Big government, or “nanny state,” policies, NRA members warn, are part of a broader culture war threatening gun rights, individual rights and freedoms, the values of self-reliance and independence, and, ultimately, white men's status and power—all issues the NRA pushes and its members fear. To them, guns are the first line of defense. If lost, all other rights will be jeopardized and, ultimately, the political Left will have undermined American democracy and replaced it with a socialist, communist, or fascist government. NRA leaders portray themselves and their members as 21st-century freedom fighters, fending off liberals instead of the British: “From my cold, dead hands!”


I'll Fight for Freedom

Upon landing at the airport in Reno, Nevada, to attend the 2002 National Rifle Association meeting, I and other NRA attendees were greeted with a sign welcoming us to the “Biggest Little City in the World.” Billboards declaring “I'll Fight for Freedom!” had been peppered throughout the city by the NRA, announcing its presence and the theme of that year's meeting.

The next morning I turned on the television in my hotel room as I ate a quick breakfast before heading to the NRA's events. It was Friday, April 26, 2002, and something terrible had happened. A news anchor referred to that morning's tragic shootings as the “German Columbine.” Seventeen people in Erfurt, Germany, were dead, including the shooter, a former student at the school where the carnage took place. Students were crying and

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Gun Crusaders: The NRA's Culture War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Defending Guns, Defending Masculinity 23
  • 1: Frontier Masculinity, America's Gun Culture, and the NRA 25
  • 2: Why a Gun Movement? 44
  • Part II - Talking Guns, Talking Culture War 71
  • 3: Framing Threats to Gun Rights 73
  • 4: Under Attack 110
  • 5: Fighting the Culture Wars 131
  • Part III - Committing to the NRA, Committing to the Right 169
  • 6: The Politics of Commitment 171
  • 7: Right and Far-Right Moral Politics 198
  • 8: The Ties That Bind 224
  • Epilogue - Tomorrow's NRA 247
  • Appendix - Studying the NRA 257
  • Notes 271
  • Index 305
  • About the Author 323
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