I grew up in suburbs and in small cities. There were other houses in all directions. There were no firearms in the house other than a battered and badly mis-used 32-20 revolver that was apparently intended for home defense.
My favorite uncle was a hunter. He owned several long guns that were supposed to be given to me but which never completed that journey.
Lacking any regular contact with shooting sports, my first real chance to handle and use guns came when I joined Boy Scouts. That first summer camp experience included a chance to earn the marksmanship merit badge. Included in that opportunity to learn to shoot at targets was a mandatory NRA hunter safety program.
We were required to learn how to transport firearms to the field, how to cross fences safely with firearms, and how to maintain the firearms. Most of all we were taught the necessity of treating guns like the weapons they are rather than as toys. There was a written exam. Passing it was required before being allowed on the firing range. Passing also brought one a certificate and a yellow patch with black lettering declaring that I had taken the NRA hunter-safety course. I still have the patch.
The hunter-safety program well designed and was, of course, a plug for the NRA in its most benign configuration. No one should be allowed to own guns without knowing how to use, store, and maintain them safely. The course also became a requirement in several states for those wanting to obtain a hunting license. There was a cut-off age that waived the course for older applicants, mostly only slightly younger than I am. It was pegged to the decreasing population of rural Americans and the downturn in hunting to feed families.
Most of all, the course was just an educational program. There were no slides or graphics of flags in the wind, no Minute Men statues or re-enactors. It was not recruitment propaganda. It stressed hunter-safety, not firearms hoarding, Best of all, it worked as an educational program filling a role in the changing social and cultural soup that was post WWII America.
Fast forward to the year 2012. The NRA has reacted to the continuing changes in America by becoming the champion of gun hoarders, right wing nuts, religious militias, and dozens of other causes and insanities that might just somehow tie into the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution if interpreted by someone with no real acquaintance with history. Today’s NRA can be found paying millions of dollars to legislators in exchange for votes on bulls that should never become laws. They support all manner of efforts to avoid regulating the sale of firearms, so that realistic tracking and registration of firearms becomes highly difficult. They link the sale of firearms to patriotism and even to religion, using highly emotional symbolism in their advertisements and propaganda. They disseminate frank lies claiming that all Democrats but especially Pres. Obama are going to use the ATF to confiscate all privately owned firearms in the nation. They’ve been spreading this lie since the 1960s in order to encourage recruitment and renewal of memberships. They play to conspiracy fears, encourage hoarding of ammunition and then claim shortages are due to government undercover actions. Find a place in society that does not require firearms and the NRA is pushing to put them there.
The dogma is that we must protect the 2nd Amendment or we will be taken over by atheists, communists, socialists, and any other symbolic fear that can be used to alarm the easily alarmed and the ready rabble. Supposedly private weapons ownership will prevent government tyranny in the U.S. In the pre-civil war days when militias actually could possibly be mobilized to fight coastal piracy, disposed Indians, or bushwhackers and Jayhawkers, that might have some slight semblance of truth. Today, the National Guard has absorbed the function of those militias and no private militia is capable of standing long against our legitimate armed forces or police forces.
I own weapons; I live where the occasional rabid skunk, raccoon, or feral dog or cat may happen by. I also live where the random home invader may decide to try our home. I can honestly recount one instance of invasion that was deterred when I answered the door with a sidearm and Loki.
However, I’m not afraid of potential confiscation by “them” or Obama. I don’t need to have a full auto assault rifle or a machine gun. In addition, I don’t harbor any desire to prove my masculinity by killing someone with a handgun. I don’t need the NRA pumping up fears directed at blacks, Latinos, homeless folks, or anyone else who falls outside the current super-wasp image.
What I want from the NRA is for them to dial back the fear mongers and the BS about confiscation of guns, to quit using our national symbols to support lies about immigrants and others who are being targeted because they differ from the guns, god, and antigay package.
What I want from the NRA is for it to return to teaching gun safety to hunters and others who practice shooting sports. Having to furnish proof of such training before being able to buy a gun won’t stop idiots with too much money, too much fear, and too many guns from killing innocent people. But it sure as hell might help reduce the number of idiots who think that a firearm documents their masculinity.