Framing Threats to Gun Rights
One of the starkest differences between the NRA's more tranquil past and its current status as a highly politicized SMO is how the NRA talks about guns, gun control, and itself. Though the NRA became a political force after its 1977 internal coup, two decades passed before it embraced the culture wars and adopted its Gun Crusader identity. In 1996 the NRA produced a recruitment video narrated by Charlton Heston, who had not yet joined the NRA leadership, in which he warned that Americans could easily lose their Second Amendment gun rights, and, if that happened, the torch of freedom would lose its flame. Wayne LaPierre concluded the video in now typical NRA fashion, pitching the fight in grand terms: “You can join or recommit yourself to our crusade to save the Second Amendment.”1
The NRA soon brought Heston aboard and officially began its crusade to defend gun rights and frontier masculinity, battling gun control advocates and liberal culture war foes. As soon as Heston joined, the NRA cranked up the volume, casting gun rights as a religious and moral imperative. “I remember when European Jews feared to admit their faith. The Nazis forced them to wear yellow stars as identity badges. So,” Heston questioned, “what color star will they pin on gun owners' chests?”2
Many would find this analogy offensive; there is no impending Holocaust against gun owners. But Heston's metaphor resonates with Gun Crusaders and reveals their intensely passionate gun rights ideology. Like Jews, Heston argued, gun owners should not have to fear who they are or what they believe in; the gun rights faith should not be surrendered in the face of a threat.
Heston's Nazi comparison is regrettable, but equating gun owners with a religion and identity is prescient. In theory, a gun owner could become a non-owner by just giving up his or her guns. In reality, Gun Crusaders are unlikely to abandon their guns and gun rights, just as Orthodox Jews are unlikely to abandon their faith and identity. For both, it is who they