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Crossfire: The NRA Under Siege

Crossfire
June 21, 1994

MINNEAPOLIS — For three days of its annual convention last month, the National Rifle Association (NRA) paraded its cheerful public face, showing off such varied supporters as actors Richard Roundtree and Paul Sorvino, baby-toting housewives, gospel singers, and an African American policewoman. And when that was done, the 123-year-old group convened its annual board of directors meeting in Ballroom D of the Hilton Hotel. Unbeknownst to the 74 directors, eight officers, and 25-odd NRA staff and VIP members assembled, the Voice was present, there to witness the in­ner workings of the most powerful single­-issue lobby in the nation.

Most of the people in the room were beefy white men. And the atmosphere was tense. The NRA’s eight executive officers sat behind banquet tables on a raised plat­form, looking down on the assembled board. The printed agenda called for reports by each executive officer — but surprisingly, all but the treasurer claimed to be unprepared. Lack of preparation, however, had nothing to do with it. Everyone was anx­iously awaiting the nominating committee’s report on its choice for the NRA presiden­cy. Normally this is matter of simple proce­dure, as the NRA rotates officers in an established order of succession. Tradition dictated that 1st Vice President Thomas L. Washington, a big-game hunter from Michi­gan, should be president next.

But this year was different, thanks to the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of NRA firebrand Neal Knox, who is far more pow­erful than his position as a board member would suggest. As the rumors swirling throughout the convention for days hinted, Knox had exercised his influence on the nominating panel. Instead of Washington, committee chair T. J. Johnston nominated 2nd Vice President Marion P. Hammer, a hard-nosed, 55-year-old grandmother who helped pass the law in Florida that allows modestly trained residents to carry loaded guns. The motion for Hammer was second­ed and opened to discussion.

“This is nothing more than a total power struggle. It’s a palace coup,” Robert K. Brown protested to the board. As a hardline gun advocate, and the editor and publisher of the mercenary magazine Soldier of Fortune, Brown should know.

The internecine conflict was further evi­dence of the growing crisis at the NRA, which has 3.3 million dues-paying members and assets of $160 million. Last year, it spent a whopping $22.4 million on lobbying alone. The NRA supports political candi­dates who abide by its views, and merciless­ly tries to punish those who don’t. Its appe­tite for loyalty is insatiable: Republican senator Robert Dole, an NRA member and honored guest at its banquet in 1986, has been branded a traitor for softening on gun control.

Once considered the most powerful lobby in Washington, the NRA is on the defensive now. For decades, it has succeeded in crushing almost any form of gun control legislation, but the recent passage of the Brady law and the success of the “assault weapons” ban bill in both the House and Senate confront the NRA with its most severe challenge yet. The gun-owning community it purports to represent has split, with fissures between sport shooters and Second Amendment “fundamentalists” cracking visibly open for the first time. All major national law enforcement organizations have already withdrawn their support from the NRA. Dissent is also on the rise internally, with many of its state associations directly challenging national leaders. Meanwhile, most dues-paying NRA members have little sense of how the organization is run.

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The controversy centers on Neal Knox. The 58-year-old former Oklahoma national guardsman had a BB gun by the time he was five. Today, he believes in arming, it seems, everyone. Last fall, Knox suggested solving the Somalia crisis by distributing Kalashnikovs to mothers: “If [they] had been armed what do you think would have happened if some old boys in a Jeep with a .50-caliber machine gun had pulled over the truck that was bringing a little bit of food to some mother’s starving baby?” he asked in The Wall Street Journal. “That mother would have blown away everybody on that truck, and that would have been that. THAT is an armed people.”

Knox is so aggressive that even those who endorse his zealotry — such as Soldier of Fortune‘s Brown — complain about his ambition. Once fired from the organization over his bullying tactics, Knox came back even stronger in 1991 and soon engineered the promotion of Wayne R. LaPierre Jr., who now runs the NRA’s daily affairs as its executive vice president. Today, Knox con­trols up to seven of the eight executive officers, and possibly 56 of 75 board directors. “If you want to understand the NRA board,” Knox is quoted as saying in Under Fire, a 1993 book about the NRA by Osha Gray Davidson, “you study the Politburo.”

“I’ve known Neal Knox for probably 20 years,” says Dave Edmondson from Dallas, a longtime NRA member and former board member who now leads the movement of state affiliates against him. “He’s very ambi­tious personally. I think his ego has gotten the best of him.”

That arrogance helps explain the Knox regime’s affront to Washington, a genial, conservationist NRA veteran who had considerable support on the board. The NRA was once run by men like Washington. Founded in 1871 after the Civil War by former Union soldiers, the NRA originally aimed to improve the marksmanship of the New York National Guard. It remained a quasi-military organization until after the Second World War, when its ranks were swelled by millions of returning soldiers who had acquired an interest in firearms. Enjoying increasing income and leisure time, many became hunters. Eventually, the NRA evolved into an organization of sportsmen. “The old guard?” says Ernest Lissabet, a retired U.S. Army first lieuten­ant who opposes Knox. “Those are the guys that I’m watching on television now from Normandy.”

In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald killed Presi­dent Kennedy with a bolt-action rifle he bought through an ad in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine. And in 1968, when assassins shot and killed Bobby Ken­nedy and Martin Luther King Jr., Congress passed its first significant gun control legis­lation. The Gun Control Act regulated the interstate sale of firearms and banned ma­chine guns or fully automatic weapons. (An automatic reloads and fires to “spray” bul­lets for as long as the trigger is pulled; a semiautomatic also reloads automatically, but fires only one shot each time the trigger is pulled.) At the time, the NRA leadership supported the bill. Its then executive vice president, retired general Franklin Orth, told Congress, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an Ameri­can, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.”

But a group of NRA men beneath him disagreed and began to plot their way to­ward power. Harlan Carter was their leader, and Neal Knox was at his side. Nine years later, in 1977, they seized control of the NRA at its annual convention in Cincinnati: “Like the marines hitting the beach at Anzio, the group of hard-liners… took over the meeting, using parliamentary pro­cedure as their heavy artillery,” writes Da­vidson in Under Fire. The organization “be­came the Gun Lobby.”

Carter ran the NRA as executive vice president, while Knox took over as director of its recently formed lobbying wing, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA). But when Knox got too greedy and abrasive, the same Carter fired him in 1982. Rather than surrender, however, the resilient Knox be­gan to plot his return. After Carter retired in 1985, the NRA floundered, its membership dropped, and it began to lose clout in Congress. Knox attacked Carter’s successor from outside the NRA, in columns in gun magazines like Shotgun News and Guns & Ammo, at the same time that rumors about the man’s alleged sexual improprieties be­gan to spread. Knox also red-baited “mod­erates” on the board, insisting that compromise was the same as communism.

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In the race for the NRA board of direc­tors in 1991, Knox and his slate succeeded in winning 11 of 21 open seats, with nine more hard-liners led by Soldier of Fortune‘s Brown taking all but one that remained. Knox also enjoyed support among incum­bents. Pugnacious and unapologetic, he was back.

Knox is still maneuvering to remake the entire NRA leadership in his image, and his immediate goal is to move all his field com­manders into position. Besides LaPierre, there are two of primary importance, both women. Tanya K. Metaksa, an ex-director, was named earlier this year to direct ILA, the NRA’s lobbying wing, which Knox once ran. Metaksa is the first woman to hold an NRA command post. But anyone who thinks that this is a sign of political modera­tion is mistaken. In spelling her name for reporters, Metaksa says, “It’s AK, as in AK- 47, and SA, as in semiautomatic.” Another is Hammer, four foot eleven with straight brown bangs, who prefers to be photo­graphed with a steely-eyed, straight-lipped stare.

Wearing a ruffled blouse and a sky blue jacket, Hammer listened without expression as her nomination for the NRA presidency provoked an unprecedented outpouring from offended NRA traditionalists. The first of more than a dozen directors to step to a mike was James W. Porter, an attorney from Birmingham, Alabama, whose father is a past president of the NRA. “When you open my veins, NRA blood runs out,” he said with an educated drawl. But he was upset that the NRA leadership would per­mit Hammer to leapfrog over Washington, who had rightfully earned the post, and appalled that word of Hammer’s impending nomination had been leaked to USA Today. Worst of all were what he called the “scurri­lous accusations” that had been spread over the weekend about Washington. Porter said he’d reported the gossip and infighting over his “good friend” to his 84-year-old grandmother, a lifelong NRA member, who had replied: “That’s not the organization I know.”

Johnston, head of the nominating com­mittee, insisted the group had paid no at­tention to unspecified rumors against Washington. He was “unacceptable,” John­ston flared, because he “made statements” against Knox appointee LaPierre.

There is little superficial difference be­tween the rhetoric of Hammer and Wash­ington, rivals for the presidency. Washin­gton, from Michigan, is a conservationist who helped pass his state’s bottle bill and who hopes to promote the NRA as environment conscious. Along with his round, boy­ish face, and his courteous demeanor, Washington wants to use his moderate cre­dentials to smooth the NRA’s image. But a nice guy is not what the Knox regime has in mind.

They want Hammer. Her appeal to Knox and his men is precisely her don’t-even-­think-about-it attitude. She has launched fiery broadsides against the Clinton admin­istration and Sarah Brady, whose lobbying group, Handgun Control, Inc., is the NRA’s. toughest opponent. After speaker upon speaker had denounced the plot against Washington, director Wayne H. Stump­ — who, as an Arizona state legislator, tried to abolish the Federal Reserve Board — rose in defense of Hammer. “She has fire,” he said. “Marion can take on Hillary.” Several Knox supporters followed Stump, mention­ing, repeatedly, the need to take on “Hillary and Sarah.”

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The turning point in the debate seemed to come when Lee Purcell, a petite, auburn-­haired actress from the TV miniseries Secret Sins of the Father, and one of seven women NRA directors, spoke. “We must remember we were put here by the membership,” Pur­cell said calmly, “and I think that is some­times forgotten.” She did not believe that the membership wanted Hammer: “I’m a woman, but I support Tom Washington.” The actress also pointed out that the press was aware of infighting within the leader­ship and suggested that if Hammer toppled Washington, word would get out.

This statement, finally, made Knox’s peo­ple nervous. Soon after, several asked the executive committee to close the ballroom’s door, although, by now, there were NRA staffers checking IDs at the door. Facing a rising number of enemies outside the orga­nization, the NRA leadership has tried to downplay cross fire within. “Whatever we do, this jerkin’ around has got to end,” said Joe Foss, the ex-governor of South Dakota and a former NRA president, making a plea for consensus.

Shortly thereafter, a motion was made to go into executive session (something they might have done earlier, had they known that a reporter was present; although the board meeting, when not in executive ses­sion, is technically open to the public, a journalist who is an NRA Benefactor mem­ber was told he could not attend). Fearing this was only part of Knox’s plan to seize power, Washington and 17 of his support­ers voted, in vain, against it. Everyone ex­cept directors and officers left the room. According to one report, those who re­mained discussed the “scurrilous accusa­tions” made against Washington, as well as adding new ones about his alleged poor appearance. “They complained about his weight,” says one insider. “Petty things like that.” But if Washington were denied the position, the threat that his supporters might make Knox’s methods public re­mained real.

When the whole board reconvened and the secret ballot came, Washington, surpris­ingly to me, won. “By a wide margin,” said Jim Porter later in a telephone interview from Birmingham. His allies had apparently convinced a majority of the board that they would not be bullied into submission.

But this is only a small victory for Wash­ington and his supporters. While the presi­dency could be used as a bully pulpit for a new-image-making leader, it has little for­mal authority within the organization. Moreover, in Minneapolis, before the board went into executive session, outgoing presi­dent Robert K. Corbin reminded directors that while the president normally serves two years by tradition, the NRA’s bylaws state that he must be ratified after one year. Although a two-year term is normally a giv­en, Corbin said, “We could vote again in a year.” NRA spokesperson Bill Powers says the directors will. Oh, and Director Knox? Powers denied that Knox enjoys any special power, and then said: “But you might want to know, Mr. Knox was just elected 2nd Vice President.” In other words, when Washington leaves the pulpit post, Hammer will take over, then Knox.

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It is a measure of Knox’s grip that, even in the midst of heated debate, not one elect­ed director raised the substantive issues about his administration. Much of the criti­cism comes from other hard-line gun rights activists who believe that he is mismanag­ing, some say destroying, the NRA. This view is growing among state-affiliated NRA leaders, and even among veteran staff mem­bers of the organization.

The State Association Coordinating Com­mittee, organized by activist Edmondson, made its case known at the rank-and-file meeting in Minneapolis through an eight­-page, fluorescent-green pamphlet. It complained that “the LaPierre/Knox watch” had lost major legislative battles, at the same time that it had squandered members’ funds. Indeed, the NRA has outspent its incoming revenues by $59.2 million over the last two years. It has supported its lob­bying by cutting back on popular members’ services like shooting competitions and re­portedly plans to reduce the frequency of its main publication, American Rifleman. And although the Knox regime has successfully increased membership — it claims an aston­ishing 900,000 new members since 1991, or 1000 each day — Edmundson says that about half the new members drop out after one year.

The pamphlet claims that while Tanya Metaska and her company have been handsomely paid — up to $194,000 for service in 1993 — the NRA is planning to slash a third of its lower-paid employees this year. (The NRA denies planning any large layoffs.) The pamphlet also says that Knox protégé LaPierre awarded contracts to two firms owned or controlled by Brad O’Leary — a longtime personal friend of LaPierre’s, according to Edmondson. Associated Press even reported that the NRA sold names and addresses of former members for profit, something that violates its own views about the Second Amendment. “After all,” the State Association pamphlet reads, “that list is a list of gun owners — and that’s exactly the kind of list required for gun confisca­tion.”

This discontent has even spread to execu­tive officers. Firearms Business, a trade publication, reports that NRA secretary Warren Cheek just resigned “in apparent protest over the organization’s handling of veteran staff members and the ‘new NRA’s’ management policies… Cheek told NRA insiders that he considers the new manage­ment to be preoccupied with personal ca­reer goals rather than being dedicated to or even understanding the group’s mission or membership.” (The NRA says Cheek retired.)

But apart from mismanagement, much of the criticism also has to do with the NRA’s ardent defense of the Second Amendment. On this point, the gun-owning community that the NRA claims to represent is now split wide open. And some hunters, a po­tentially large group, believe that it’s time the NRA returned to its sporting purpose­ — promoting marksmanship, collecting, and other forms of gun-related recreation.

David E. Petzal, for one, thinks the pres­ent radicalization of the NRA is hurting the interests of gun owners. Petzal, who has given thousands of dollars to the NRA, writes the “Endangered Tradition” column in Field and Stream, another centenarian institution, many of whose 2 million readers are also in the NRA. This June, the maga­zine made a landmark decision to break with the NRA. “It took tremendous cour­age,” says executive editor Petzal.

“The bugle call known as reveille is a cheerful, energetic tune that, when I was in the Army, few soldiers actually got to hear,” he writes in an editorial. “Real-world reveil­le came for gun owners this February,” in the form of the assault weapons ban. Petzal, like the NRA, believes that this legislation is too broad. This is partly because it would ban weapons like “the AR-15/M-16, and the MIA in modified [semiautomatic] form, [which] are highly accurate, and have a legitimate place in organized target competition.”

But assault weapons are also implicated in terrible acts of violence, like the Stock­ton, California, shooting in which a de­ranged man killed five children and wound­ed 29 others using a semiautomatic AK-47 clone. “Gun owners — all gun owners — pay a heavy price for having to defend the avail­ability of these weapons,” writes Petzal. “The American public — and the gun-own­ing public; especially the gun-owning pub­lic — would be better off without the hard­core military arms, which puts the average sportsman in a real dilemma.” Petzal con­cludes by advocating compromise, some­thing that Knox and other members of his regime say they will never accept.

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To the Knox regime, the hunters’ qualms are beside the point. “It’s not about Bambi, for God’s sake,” says Larry Pratt, of Gun Owners of America, who believes the NRA should stop pretending to be an organiza­tion of sport shooters and make it clear that its first priority is to defend the Second Amendment.

This position gradually emerged in April, when NRA witnesses testified in Congress before Brooklyn representative Charles Schumer, sponsor of the assault weapons legislation, and his committee. After listen­ing to them, Schumer held up a Tec-9 semi­automatic, a highly inaccurate, short-range, high-capacity weapon. Shorter and more concealable than a Tommy gun, it is ideal for drive-by shootings. But when Schumer asked Tanya Metaksa if NRA members hunt with it, Knox’s lobbying chief scowled at having been asked the question, and then said, gruffly, “Some probably do.” (Indeed, the Tec-9 is the kind of weapon that dicta­tor Idi Amin used on grazing wildlife in Uganda, wiping out all of its lions and most of its rhinos and elephants. But few self­-respecting NRA members, who as a group take great pride in the quality of their fire­arms, would ever even own one.)

But when Schumer’s committee ques­tioned NRA witness Suzanna Gratia, who watched a gunman kill her parents in the 1991 Luby’s massacre in Killeen, Texas, she said something else. “The Second Amend­ment is not about duck hunting… but it is about our right, all of our rights, to be able to protect ourselves,” she said, pointing to herself and other NRA witness­es, “from all you guys up there.” She point­ed to the committee.

“They advocate a firearms fundamentalist viewpoint,” says Ernest Lissabet, the for­mer NRA activist who founded a new group, the American Firearms Association, last year. “It’s a paranoid worldview.”

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From this perspective, any encroachment on the right to guns is an invitation to tyranny. That was certainly the note struck before the nominating began at the board meeting. The invited speaker, Aaron Zel­man, of Jews for the Preservation of Fire­arms Ownership, based in Milwaukee, de­clared that the 1968 Federal Gun Control Act was modeled after the 1938 Weapons Law in Nazi Germany. If recent gun control legislation is allowed to stand, he said, the federal government will be that much closer to perpetrating a holocaust in this country. ­”Charlie Schumer, who claims to be a Jew, should crawl back to the rock he came from,” Zelman said. His remarks were greeted by unanimous applause. Afterward, as many directors walked over to congratu­late him, Zelman distributed posters of Adolf Hitler giving a Sieg heil! salute, with the caption: “Everyone in favor of gun con­trol raise your right hand.” (Zelman also believes Rwanda’s government-led genocide proves his point — “another hellhole where they have gun control,” he says by tele­phone from Milwaukee.)

This belief, today, is the foundation of the NRA’s opposition to gun control. The Sec­ond Amendment says: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” As interpreted by the NRA faithful, this means that individuals have the right to defend themselves against a despotic government, and so must have access to no less firepow­er than the police, national guard, or armed forces. This is why the NRA opposes the banning of Teflon-coated bullets that can penetrate the body armor vests police wear, and likewise, in front of Schumer, Metaksa dodged all questions about whether the NRA supported the government’s ban on bazookas.

This is also why the NRA opposes almost any government regulation of the owner­ship or transfer of firearms, which is likely to be the next, most important battleground of the gun control debate. Both the Brady law, which makes gun purchasers wait five days, and the assault weapons ban bills are, at best, symbolic gestures, and partisans on both sides of the debate know it. The depth of the background check mandated by the Brady law is left largely to the discretion of local authorities, some of whom have al­ready resisted compliance. And the pending bills would ban some of the deadliest semi­automatic weapons, but they would do al­most nothing about handguns, which, in New York City, are used in 95 per cent of all gun-related homicides.

The problem America faces is not neces­sarily the mechanism of the weapons used, but their proliferation and ready availability in our society. A new Justice Department survey of high schools in crime-ridden neighborhoods in four states finds that more than one out of every five male stu­dents surveyed report owning a gun.

One solution might be a National Hand­gun Identification Card, recently advocated in an editorial by The New York Times. New Jersey has a similar card, which resi­dents must present to purchase any firearm. To obtain a card, a resident must apply to the local police station, which fingerprints the applicant. Copies of the fingerprinted application are then sent to the state police as well as to the FBI. The process also includes a check of court records on mental health. It takes about eight weeks to complete. But once a resident has the card, he or she can purchase any long (or hunting) rifle or shotgun without waiting. With the same card, a resident may also purchase a handgun, but he or she must be fingerprint­ed by police prior to every handgun pur­chase and wait about six weeks for another background check to clear. (When meeting New Jersey gun owners, NRA members fre­quently offer condolences.)

If a similar system were established na­tionally, it would preclude gang-bangers from the Bronx, for example, from driving to West Virginia and, in “straw purchases” through local residents, buying an unlimited number of handguns, semiautomatic shot­guns, and Tec-9s from a local gun shop. But the NRA opposes such a system because it would mean that gun owners and their guns would be on file with the federal govern­ment — information that the government could use against them when and if tyranny comes. But this argument “is ridiculous, on its face,” says Petzal. “When the Bill of Rights was framed, the average farmer had the same weapon, the smoothbore musket, as soldiers.” But today, Petzal writes, “an Uzi or an AKM or an AK-47 should be no more generally available than a Claymore mine or a block of C4 explosive.”

Petzal’s defection from the cause is yet another indication that the NRA is losing the war of public opinion on gun control. Moreover, although the writings of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson support it, the NRA’s argument on the Second Amendment has no basis in American case law. U.S. courts have ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right of states to maintain their own armed militias, but not necessarily the right of individuals to bear arms. “Contrary to some popularized notions,” reads a newly released study by the Lawyers’ Committee on Violence, one of whose principal authors is Thomas D. Barr from the Manhattan firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, “no court has ever declared that either the Second Amendment to the Feder­al Constitution or the New York Constitu­tion is a barrier to laws which control or limit the sale, transfer or ownership of guns. The alleged ‘right’ of an individual to keep and bear arms is myth.”

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The NRA is bleeding — but like any wounded beast, it is likely to be more dan­gerous now than before. Knox’s radicalism may not win him any friends in Congress, but incendiary rhetoric is still a force to reckon with — witness the influence Khalid Muhammad’s oratory brings him within the Nation of Islam. Under siege, the NRA may only become a more important player in local, state, and national politics. Rather than simply fighting gun control, it will turn its attention to fighting crime and targeting politicians who are unfriendly to guns. “We’re trying to build up files on people who run for office,” Metaksa explains to NRA legislative activists in Minneapolis. “Then we can pick out something from five years ago, and say, ‘Look what you said.’ ”

Such character assassinations will be part of organized state and national campaigns. Rather than limit its work to spreading the word about the Second Amendment, the NRA plans to prey on people’s fear of violent crime. As a result, the NRA has now turned its attention to the pending federal crime bill. One of its favorite slogans is, “If you do the crime, you should do the time.” By promoting it, the NRA has helped pass mandatory minimum sentencing laws that give the United States the highest rate of incarceration of any developed country in the world, while incidents of crime continue to rise.

Although the NRA’s primary public focus is on violent criminals, many of those punished under mandatory minimums are non-violent drug offenders who have already suffered the heat of the emotions whipped up by its campaign. The NRA can easily outspend its opponents — the lobbying group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, for example, worked from an operating budget of only $90,000 last year, while the NRA has so far spent over $2 million on “CrimeStrike,” a program for disseminating Willie Horton–like ads throughout the heartland.

Interestingly, the most vocal opposition at the NRA’s rank-and-file meeting in Minneapolis was over drugs. Speaking from a laissez-faire point of view, several members objected from the floor to “the war on drugs,” saying that it had failed miserably, and that frequently “the feds kick down your door for both guns and drugs.” Recognizing the NRA’s contribution to this climate, one speaker asked the leadership merely to consider forming a subcommittee to explore the issue. But Knox’s executives don’t like such questions. Each time the matter was raised, it was quickly crushed through parliamentary procedure to terminate debate.

“We have to stop tearing ourselves apart from the inside,” Hammer told the board just before her defeat. “Rather than fight each other, this organization has to build its moat outside the castle wall.” By beating back dissent from within, Knox and his followers hope to maintain the fiction of a united front — to use the collective clout of millions of gun-owners to advance a regressive crime agenda as effectively as the NRA once contained gun control. Listen to Metaksa. “Being tough on crime isn’t just good public policy, it’s the winning solution for your campaign,” she tells the faithful. “If you can start breeding young candidates and young people who know the politics of crime, we’re going to be very successful.”

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March for Our Lives Treads on Conservatives’ Toes

Saturday was the March for Our Lives, a set of demonstrations against the NRA and in favor of gun control, spearheaded by survivors of the February 14 gun massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. The event was massive, drawing hundreds of thousands of supportive marchers across the country.

The conservative reaction to the march was similar to their reaction right after the shooting, when Stoneman Douglas kids like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg faced down the NRA and its dogma. But this time the reaction was a little more amped up: While earlier the brethren had been combative, now their rage was barely coherent.

There was also some straight-up denial. Organizers and USA Today put attendance for the Washington, D.C., march at 800,000 — I was there and think that’s a good guess — but CBS reported it at 200,000, giving the Daily Caller’s Kerry Picket leave to proclaim attendance “Well Below Expected and Initial Reports.” “Attendance at Student March for Gun Control Less Than Half of Expected Crowd,” repeated Breitbart, and other right-wing sites carried the message, ignoring march attendance in dozens of other cities like New York (175,000), Los Angeles (40,000), Chicago (85,000), and Atlanta (30,000).

“There’s was nothing historic about the March for Our Lives,” insisted Samuel Gonzalez at the Last Tradition. “It’s just another one of many Lib marches that have come down the pike since the 60s” — you know, like MLK’s March on Washington and the Vietnam Moratorium: just some hippie bullshit.

Some pleaded for civility while visibly shaking with rage. The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher had vapors because David Hogg implied Senator Marco Rubio’s “price tag” had been met by the NRA. Imagine, saying a politician had been “bought” by a special interest! “That is the horrifying moment that the anti-gun movement lost the chance of ever winning me over,” tsked Dreher. (Spoiler: There was never any chance of winning Dreher over.) Then, to show how seriously he took his own civility argument, Dreher called Hogg a “disgusting little creep.”

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Some made an effort to play it cool with their adversaries, but lost their composure, usually after a few column inches.

Matt Vespa of TownHall started out conciliatory — “there are areas where gun control activists and the pro-Second Amendment camp can meet” — then turned premonitory: “But we’ll never get there. It’s all a trap.” Vespa cited as an example of gun-nut good faith “bills that strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)” — an extremely feeble concession which Congressional Republicans aren’t serious about passing anyway — then professed outrage that Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr said at the rally, “When they give us that inch, that bump stock ban, we will take a mile. We are not here for bread crumbs. We are here for real change.” And after everything they’d done for her!

“This is not just a fight over the Second Amendment,” Vespa warned People of the Gun; “after they’re done with the Second Amendment, the great progressive campaign to shred the Constitution of its institutional mechanisms that prevent mob rule through transient majorities will begin.” Transient majorities! Forbid it, almighty God!

Vespa bade his fellow trigger-ticklers “use their hate to motivate you; head to that voting precinct on 2018 and don’t check that box that reads ‘Democratic.’ ” When the Democrats lose the support of all those NRA members who’ve apparently been voting for them for some reason, they’ll know the People of the Gun are serious.

“It was more irritating than anything else,” began Vespa’s colleague Kevin McCullough, that if you merely criticized the Stoneman Douglas kids, “there was an immediate lashing out in response.” So uncivilized! But as he went on, McCullough couldn’t resist a little “lashing out” himself at the “uber-rich and hard-left celebrities” who were paying off these brats; he called Douglas spokesman David Hogg a “maniac, cursing vulgarity with hubris unchecked”; foamed over the “belligerent band of media hyped know-nothings”; and eventually accused the students of trying to “put more children (like mine) at greater risk in years to come.”

Finally McCullough pulled his ace: “Hogg reminded everyone on Saturday that the hashtag for their cause is #NotOneMore. He then cited 96 gun deaths per day in America (not just of kids but of gun users of all ages.) Meanwhile in abortion clinics across America each day.…”

Some scholarly types whipped out their pro-gun slide rules. “March for Our Lives: Gun control ideas sound good, but are deeply flawed and won’t save lives,” noted right-wing gun scholar and sock puppeteer John R. Lott assured Fox News readers. “Supporting gun control is now the ‘in thing,’ ” Lott actually wrote (the explanatory quotes may be an editor’s fault); though “stars such as Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus tweet their support,” Lott continued, it was all so much goldfish-swallowing, streaking, and rainbow-partying, because “only 47 percent of Americans between 13 and 17 believe that more gun control could reduce mass public shootings.” Of course other polls show that 67 percent of Americans want more gun control anyway, but never mind — Lott was willing to meet the kids halfway, or actually negative 100 percent of the way, advocating “more armed law enforcement officers and security guards in schools.”

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Others went for something a lot less reasonable.

At the Federalist, Stella Morabito had questions that she demanded “Mass Schooling Survivors Need to Answer Before Hyping Gun Control.” Morabito found kids getting shot to pieces less concerning than the menace of formal education — in previous columns Morabito said public school “promotes the semantic fog that allows for mind rape”; see also her “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids” and similar ravings.

This, explained Morabito, is why the mind-raped Stoneman Douglas kids allowed themselves to be “used as political pawns, marching in lockstep for an undebated opinion” — they had been warned, possibly via mind-rays, that they’d be “socially rejected” if they didn’t “conform to certain attitudes and behaviors,” which, you gotta admit, makes school radically different from any other area of American life. However, if the kids showed sufficient “mass conformity” to their schoolmasters by objecting to being stalked by heavily armed madmen, they would be rewarded with “glossy cover stories” and “celebrity status.” Why else would they protest?

Morabito fired off a number of questions for the kids, like “Do you see signs of relational aggression in your school?” (by the time they look it up, she’s left with their lunch money!) and “Do you know the difference between a developed personality and a persona?” before the men in the white coats stuffed her into a waiting van.

Morabito wasn’t the only one who smelled lefty conspiracy — nor even, and it surprises me to say this, the craziest. “The Left’s move to now intimidate, marginalize, dehumanize, and shame anyone who disagrees with them on this issue is Groundhog Day for every totalitarian regime in history,” frothed Nina May at Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette. “In Nazi Germany, it was Jewish people who were marginalized and forced to wear yellow armbands of shame — and ridiculed for their ‘despicable’ crime of being who they were and not something else.” Similarly, Emma Gonzales might not take a gun nut to prom. It’s 1933 all over again!

You’ll be hearing a lot more of this kind of thing from the brethren — more Hitler Gun Control stories, more unconvincing statistics, more savage denunciations of the Douglas Stoneman kids, as well as more “haw, you called a magazine a clip!” and other variants of gun-nut palaver. That’s because the pressure to come up with something more than thoughts and prayers on gun violence is, despite their fervent wishes, not going away, and eventually it’s going to sink in with the guys that, in order to keep the NRA cash flowing, they’ve bargained away the youth vote for at least a generation — and, unlike with LBJ and the Civil Rights Act, history won’t be kind to their bargain.

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‘The Adults Failed Us’

“The adults failed us and now seventeen people are dead,” said Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior Meghan Bonner from a podium on Central Park West on Saturday morning.

On February 14, Bonner had hidden in her classroom in Parkland, Florida, while shots rang out in the hallways outside. “Kids I saw every day from elementary school to high school are never going to live the life I have the privilege of living,” Bonner told the gathered crowd on Saturday. “This will never leave me.”

As part of a nationwide day of March for Our Lives actions organized in the wake of last month’s shootings in Parkland, close to 200,000 students and adults marched from Central Park West to midtown on Saturday to warn politicians that the nation’s youngest voters will not tolerate a pro-gun agenda. Protestors demanded universal background checks, raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21, and banning assault weapons and bump stocks.

“Politicians first of all need to listen and not undercut us because of our age,” said 18-year-old Emma Brownstein, a senior at Bard High School Early College Queens in Long Island City.

“You don’t need to shoot thirty shots per second to kill a deer, if that’s the reason you have a gun,” added her friend and classmate Anais Fallait, 17. “There’s no reason to have a killing machine like that.”

Teachers also derided a GOP proposal endorsed by President Trump to arm teachers in classrooms. “From my perspective as a government teacher, a weapon is not civic engagement,” said Erik Branman, 46, who teaches at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Performing Arts in Manhattan. “I feel very strongly that my job as an educator is to educate, not to shoot or kill anyone for any reason.”

High school students marched alongside adult survivors of other mass shootings, and their allies: Gays Against Guns, who fought for gun control in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016; survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 and the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting in Las Vegas last October. Since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, the Washington Post recently found, more than 187,000 U.S. students have directly experienced a shooting at their schools.

“I had hoped that the deaths of twenty six-year-old children and six of my co-workers would have been enough for my country to decide that something needed to change, but it wasn’t,” said Sandy Hook survivor and teacher Mary Ann Jacob. Now, though, she said, “the ripple effects of every mass shooting are becoming so widespread that those ripples are beginning to touch each other.”

March for Our Lives demonstrators shouted demands for an end to gun violence and school shootings in Manhattan Saturday.

Throughout the day, volunteers weaved through the crowd registering young people to vote. Among the new voters was Angelique Torres, an 18-year-old senior at the Bronx School of Government and Justice, who carried a sign that read “I Should Be Writing My College Essay, Not My Will!” She said the shooting in Parkland has turned her into an activist.

“My school made it their obligation to get involved and just to help other kids in the school understand the severity of what’s been going on,” Torres said. “We just need to voice our opinion a lot more. All of the incidents that have occurred brought everybody together to just, you know, make Congress understand that this is a problem.”

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But some teenagers were more cautious with their optimism, even as aerial shots of hundreds of thousands of marchers flooded Twitter from across the country. An 18-year-old who gave his name as X marched down Fifth Avenue carrying a yellow sign with a picture of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man from Sacramento, California. “Black & Brown People Fight for Our Lives Against Racist Police Terror!” it read. “Disarm the Police!” Two police officers fatally shot Clark twenty times in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18. They later testified that they believed Clark was holding a gun; it was actually a white iPhone.

“Police is out here killing people,” X told the Voice. “Especially black lives. They need to chill with the guns and shit.” So far this year, 244 civilians have been fatally shot by police in the United States, twelve fewer than this time last year. X added that he’s not sure if the march will help his message reach politicians. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see at the end.”

Angelique, a senior from the Bronx, said she registered to vote the morning of the march.

A few hours earlier, Samirah Nizam-Poon had leaned on a barrier at Central Park West holding a sign with two bright-red dripping handprints and the words “Am I Next?” in block letters. She and her friend Donna Gobie, both 16-year-old juniors at Forest Hills High School in Queens, said their school went into lockdown for several hours on March 15, one day after their school-wide walkout in solidarity with Parkland students. Someone had written a note on a desk about shooting up the school.

“They basically told teachers to lock the doors but keep class going,” Nizam-Poon said. “It made me feel scared. I was like, should I text my mom? Should I tell her what’s going on?”

No one ultimately fired a gun, but the experience left Gobie feeling anxious. “You hear about these proposals from politicians but do you really see anything happening?” she said. “You don’t see anything happening.”

Nizam-Poon added that she was frustrated when the school held a meeting to debrief parents on the lockdown, but not students. “We want change,” she said. “And change starts with us.”

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Scenes From the March for Our Lives

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Scenes From the Student Walkout

On a crisp Wednesday morning, one month after the Parkland massacre, students across the country walked out of class to protest congressional inaction on gun reform. Clutching homemade signs and cellphones, they streamed out of their classrooms at 10 a.m., their young faces fixed with sober expressions as they filled the parking lots and football fields and sundry streets of more than 3,000 schools across the country.

In New York City, central locations like Columbus Circle, Brooklyn Borough Hall, and Battery Park became convergence points for hundreds of students. They stopped traffic in East Harlem, rallied outside the state Supreme Court building in Queens, and marched to the Department of Education headquarters in the Bronx.

Students in Bed-Stuy and elsewhere linked arms for a moment of silence that lasted for seventeen minutes, one for each life lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. In Chelsea, a chorus of young voices carried for blocks, their irate chants alternating between “We want change” and “Fuck the NRA.” At one point, a teenage girl in midtown stood on a bench and shouted, “Not my president!” in the direction of the Trump International Hotel, only to be shushed by a teacher.

Within an hour, the streets began to clear, and the students hurried back to class, still reeling from the excitement of their first collective action. “The most amazing part,” remarked Jake Harmen, a senior at Trevor Day School, “was finding students who felt exactly the same way we did, and being able to act on that.”

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Rick Perry’s Fossil Fuel Explainer

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NY Is Awash With Illegal Guns From Trigger-Happy States

New York is awash in illegal firearms, the vast majority of which flow in from out of state, a new report from the attorney general reveals in grim detail.

Law enforcement recovered 52,915 guns used in crimes between 2010 and 2015. Of the handguns collected, nearly 90 percent were purchased outside New York, the report says. The rest were transported in through Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia, states that enjoy significantly more relaxed gun laws than New York.

“The data makes one thing abundantly clear: New York’s strong gun laws are being undermined at every turn by lax laws in other states,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Even as we work to make our streets safer, the illegal guns most often used in violent crimes continue to pour into our state.”

The goal of the report is to push the federal government to strengthen gun laws across state lines, but the attorney general’s office is facing a familiar uphill battle. In 2013, the Senate voted down Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposed legislation that would, among other things, make gun trafficking a federal crime. That legislation was introduced in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings and included a passel of other restrictions, like expanding background checks for gun buyers and banning assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. The NRA and its sycophants, whose hackles were already raised by the imagined threat of a national gun ban, voted to kill the entire package.

Last year, Gillibrand reintroduced legislation aimed at prosecuting gun traffickers with the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act, which includes many of the same provisions as the 2013 attempt without some of its more controversial baggage. A spokesperson with Gillibrand’s office told the Voice that the legislation, co-sponsored with Illinois senator Mark Kirk, is currently under consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Month after month, year after year, illegal guns tear apart communities across New York and our country and yet there is not a single federal law defining gun trafficking as a crime — enough is enough,” Gillibrand said in a press release at the time.

Another option is to enact even harsher penalties for gun trafficking in New York, which is precisely the goal of the Gun Kingpin bill, introduced earlier this year by State Senator Jeff Klein and Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. The proposed measure would nail traffickers with more serious felonies, with offenders facing fifteen years to life in prison.

The new report also offers several recommendations on both the state and federal levels, like closing the gaping, indefensible gun show loophole, requiring handgun licenses, and working to find novel ways of tracing the source of guns entering New York.

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This Dude Wants to Hand Out Free Shotguns to New Yorkers

When it comes to guns, New Yorkers know a thing or two. In August, people traded in 509 guns at a gun buyback program in Queens for cold hard cash; in September, monetary prizes were handed out in exchange for 85 guns in total over in Bushwick. This was followed a few months later with the signing of Governor Cuomo’s gun control bill, as New York became the first state to actually do something about guns in a post-Newtown America.

And then we found out about this guy.

Kyle Coplen is the founder of the Armed Citizen Project. The mission of the organization is in its name: Coplen’s group believes that the hoi polloi should be just as strapped as the police. By doing so, he argues that crime will slowly dissipate since, well, everyone will both figuratively and literally have a gun to their heads.

Coplen believes that the residents of New York City, under the anti-gun oversight of Bloomberg, Kelly and Cuomo, need guns in their hands more than ever. His plan? To give out free shotguns and training to learn how to use said shotgun to whoever wants one.

Now, this pipe dream is, of course, going to hit a few clogs.

First off, all the applicants are going to have to pass background checks, all of which have been expanded under Cuomo’s bill. Then, of course, there are licensing fees: it’s $140 for a shotgun license, plus $91 for a fingerprinting scan. Oh, and the shotguns are $200 a pop. And, to fund these expenditures, Coplen’s privately funded non-profit will ask other New Yorkers for donations.

However, the NYPD has some authority to deny gun licenses If an applicant fails a background check or has a criminal history. Also, if the applicant even seems to “lack character,” a license can be revoked. But if all those applicants were simply subsidiaries of this group, that could be a discrimination case waiting to happen.

“I guess the Bloomberg administration doesn’t want poor people to be able to defend themselves. I guess that right is left to the elites,” Coplen told the Daily News.

His goal is to have the program up and running by the end of the year. So… yeah, this guy exists.

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Bloomberg’s Gun Control Group Undeterred by Congressional Inaction

With Rep. Gabrielle Gifford alongside him, President Obama called it a “pretty shameful day for Washington.” Nearly five months after the massacre at Sandy Hook, the gun control package making its way through Congress shut down in the Senate yesterday. Democratic politicians were unable to muster the 60 votes necessary to push forward provisions that would require universal background checks for all gun users. It was a defeat for the Obama administration and a heavily paid victory for the NRA.

Enter Bloomberg.

In recent weeks, the mayor of New York City has posited himself as the anti-NRA figure, the head of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns with enough financial firepower to pressure senators into voting for the reform bill. That bill’s death proves to be a setback for Hizzoner’s group but it doesn’t look like the mayor and his colleagues are giving up anytime soon.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, Mark Glaze, a director at the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, ramped up the optimism on a day that saw Newtown victims’ families in tears on the Hill. “We’ll get through this day, take down the bill, and get senators prepared for the fact that they are going to be dealing with this issue every day for the foreseeable future until they resolve it in the way the public wants,” he said.

Bloomberg has already promised that the influx of funds to the cause is just getting started. And, with that type of money in hand, the group will continue its shame campaigns against anti-gun-control candidacies in the coming months. According to Glaze, this will be the defining advantage over the NRA moving into the midterm elections next year.

“But between now and 2014,” Glaze said. “You’re going to see Mayor Bloomberg, you’re going to see a lot of folks who have not been focused on this issue providing support for people who did the right thing and letting the folks who did the wrong thing know someone’s watching.”

Outside of the White House yesterday, President Obama repeatedly reaffirmed the fact that 90 percent of Americans support these measures. “There is still hope,” he declared. Let’s see if Bloomberg and his crew can live up to it.

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With His $12M Ad Blitz, Bloomberg Is Finally The Opponent The NRA Needed

The substance of this story was almost fit to print.

We all know Mayor Bloomberg’s stance on guns. He is a co-founder and head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns – a group of America’s most powerful metropolitan leaders that all share a very strong stance on gun control. And he’s backed his message with a treasure trove of cash that would even make Donald Trump a bit uneasy.

This is the guy who has been called a “bastard” by the NRA. This is the guy who, after what happened in Newtown, settled himself in D.C. with a lobbying effort and a half. This is the guy who has made gun control in New York City a talking point several times.

On Saturday, this sequence of events climaxed in the largest financial move by the Mayor on gun control yet: an announcement of a $12 million ad campaign, put together by his mayor-based group, in key states where senators are on the fence about the legislative package making its way through the Hill.

And, as per usual for Mr. Bloomberg, he’s already receiving a ton of flak from the usual suspects.

Upon its inception, the NRA immediately came out swinging against the Mayor for his anti-gun-toting efforts. And the irony could not be more blatant:

“What Michael Bloomberg is trying to do is … intimidate senators into not listening to constituents and instead pledge their allegiance to him and his money,” said spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.

Let us not forget the NRA’s grade system for Congressmen – an approval that is literally make or break for some elections.

“He can’t spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public,” NRA chieftain Wayne LaPierre said on “Meet the Press” yesterday. “He can’t buy America.”

The annual budget for the NRA is between $200 and $250 million.

Of course, the slingshots from the Second Amendment group can be swung the exact same way towards them. For the first time seemingly ever, the NRA has an opponent that can put up a fight in cold hard cash. So the criticism stems from the now apparent fact that Mayor Bloomberg, as a political machine, has fully become the antithesis of the NRA.

But this bodes well for the controversial issue. Gun control in Washington has long been engineered (and debilitated) by a group that absolutely loathes gun control; for populist purposes, that doesn’t make much sense. In a modern, Citizens-United-cracy, two incredibly wealthy and powerful outside groups are better than one, especially if they’re on opposing teams.

And then there’s the part of personal preference on behalf of Bloomberg. We have witnessed for over a decade now a businessman-politician who will dedicate every last penny into policy fields he deems necessary. And those examples are everywhere: the bribery to get the smoking ban passed in 2002; the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on same-sex marriage and education initiatives; the $2 million spent on a Chicago race where one candidate was strongly pro-gun; and, most recently, the frizzed-up soda ban.

The news of the huge blitz parallels the downturn of California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s long-fought-after assault ban – a reinstatement that has been tossed out of the federal gun control bill, downsized into a possible (and less probable) amendment. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did this in order to make this bill passable in a chamber where the NRA’s strings are tight. Now, the bill has two separate puppet masters.

The varied states that will be targeted include Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In the words of the Illinois State Rifle Association, “Bloomberg is coming to your state. Be ready.”