Gun Crusaders: The NRA's Culture War

By Scott Melzer | Go to book overview

2

Why a Gun Movement?

“Cultural war is fought without bullets, bloodshed or armored tanks, but liberty is lost just the same. If we lose this cultural war,” NRA President Charlton Heston warned, “you and your country will be less free.”1 Heston, the self-anointed leader of the conservative cultural warriors, was crusading for more than just gun rights. He viewed gun rights as the most important freedom of all but only one of many under attack by liberal cultural warriors. In the view of Heston and like-minded conservatives, frontier masculinity is the blueprint for the United States, undeservedly and dangerously challenged by group-rights movements of the 1960s. “None of us really wants to fight this war. We didn't pick this fight,” Heston lamented.2

Charlton Heston saw the culture wars as an urban versus rural issue.

On one side we have a rural society based on farming with a belief in in-
dependent self-determination, individual initiative, and mutual trust. On
the other side stands an urban culture in which the individual is subor-
dinate to the group, where transience and congestion alienate man from
the land and from his fellow man, where upheaval and social decay give
way to crime and a climate of fear, and where many are satisfied to sacri-
fice essential liberty for the illusion of safety. So who started the cultural
war, and why? For the answer, meet me at the city limits.3

The growth of U.S. cities and the declining number of rural Americans has little to do with culture or masculinity and much to do with technological developments that led to industrialization and mass production. Despite the apolitical roots of this urban/rural split, it has contributed to a cultural divide. “The firearm stands as a symbol dividing these two worlds,” Heston stated, “because it gives the common man or woman the most uncommon personal freedoms.”4 Heston casts the ideological differences as night and day: rural vs. urban, freedom vs. dependence, gun owners vs.

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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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