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Gun Crusaders

Gun Crusaders: The NRAs Culture War

Scott Melzer
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Gun Crusaders
    Book Description:

    Nothing conjures up images of the American frontier and a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps view of freedom and independence quite like guns. Gun Crusaders is a fascinating inside look at how the four-million member National Rifle Association and its committed members come to see each and every gun control threat as a step down the path towards gun confiscation, and eventually socialism. Enlivened by a rich analysis of NRA materials, meetings, leader speeches, and unique in-depth interviews with NRA members, Gun Crusaders focuses on how the NRA constructs and perceives threats to gun rights as one more attack in a broad liberal cultural war. Scott Melzer shows that the NRA promotes a nostalgic vision of frontier masculinity, whereby gun rights defenders are seen as patriots and freedom fighters, defending not the freedom of religion, but the religion of individual rights and freedoms.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5950-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    From my cold, dead hands!”shouted Charlton Heston. The audience roared its approval for their President and charismatic leader. Heston was the only person defiantly holding a rifle over his head, but, as I scanned the room, everyone appeared ready to take up arms in the gun wars. Forty thousand strong attended the 2002 National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Reno, Nevada. They came for the guns. To hold them, talk about them, celebrate them, and, most important, defend them.

    Unlike millions of other gun owners, the NRA and its faithful members believe that “gun rights” are under attack....

  6. PART I Defending Guns, Defending Masculinity

    • 1 Frontier Masculinity, America’s “Gun Culture”, and the NRA
      (pp. 25-43)

      On Sunday morning in Reno I caught an early bus to attend the NRA Women’s Breakfast. As we approached the convention center, we passed an adult cabaret eager to drum up some convention visitor business. Missing an apostrophe, a neon sign out front announced something I can neither confirm nor deny: “NRA Partys Here.” After getting off the bus, I struck up a conversation with a member also on his way to the breakfast. Floyd is an affable Texan in his sixties, wearing dark-blue jeans, tan boots, a thin dark-striped white button-down shirt, and an NRA hat. A friendly Texas...

    • 2 Why a Gun Movement?
      (pp. 44-70)

      “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...

  7. PART II Talking Guns, Talking Culture War

    • 3 Framing Threats to Gun Rights
      (pp. 73-109)

      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...

    • 4 Under Attack
      (pp. 110-130)

      “An armed resident is a citizen; an unarmed resident is a serf,” Quincy, an NRA lifetime member tells me, repeating one of many phrases widely used by gun rights proponents.¹ “Tell that to a liberal, and they think it’s about taking over the country,” he adds and, without pause, corrects his hypothetical liberal critic by insisting that gun ownership is actually about “preventing government tyranny.” Quincy is a white, married father of two and is in his mid-forties. He is a college graduate, a lifelong Republican, ex-military, an NRA-certified instructor, and lives in an upper-middle-class community in the Southeast. Like...

    • 5 Fighting the Culture Wars
      (pp. 131-168)

      Moral outrage is a cornerstone of the culture wars, especially surrounding the big three culture war issues, “Guns, Gays, and God.” Cultural combatants and critics of all stripes tend to dismiss their adversaries as naïve, hateful, dishonest, insane, and worse. Popular liberal journalist Molly Ivins once wrote,

      I do think gun nuts have a power hang-up. I don’t know what is missing in their psyches that they need to feel they have [the] power to kill. But no sane society would allow this to continue. Ban the damn things. Ban them all. You want protection? Get a dog.¹

      The “gun...

  8. PART III Committing to the NRA, Committing to the Right

    • 6 The Politics of Commitment
      (pp. 171-197)

      “There’s not a gun law that’s ever been written to promote gun safety,” Bob assured me. Bob is white, in his late forties, grew up in the South, attended a military school, and works in a family business involving precision diagnostics. He has been an NRA member for more than twenty years and is currently a consecutive five-year voting member. Bob has been to many NRA annual meetings and is active in the organization “financially and physically.” He donates money to the NRA, writes to legislators about gun rights issues, volunteers for the NRA’s political lobbying wing, participates in the...

    • 7 Right and Far-Right Moral Politics
      (pp. 198-223)

      NRA Critical Mass member Bob and Reserve member Frank are differently committed not only to the organization and gun rights but also to conservatism. Bob is a highly committed member of a quarter century who donates money to and volunteers for the NRA. Frank is a moderately committed member who has attended NRA fundraising dinners on a couple of occasions but describes himself as not a very active member. There are also distinguishable differences in their politics, yet both are NRA members and conservatives. Bob and Frank generally hold different views on contentious political issues such as terrorism, racial profiling,...

    • 8 The Ties That Bind
      (pp. 224-246)

      The gun rights movement, like any other, formed and became effective for a number of reasons. The NRA has been particularly successful since the late 1990s, because it began to systematically frame threats to gun rights as threats to all individual rights and freedoms, and therefore to a conservative frontier masculinity. NRA frames aligned with and helped shape the concerns of like-minded gun rights supporters, leading these Gun Crusaders to dedicate much of their time and money to the NRA and the fight against gun control. Framing strategies are not the only reason why social movements emerge and succeed. Political...

    • Epilogue: Tomorrow’s NRA
      (pp. 247-256)

      The National Rifle Association and the gun rights movement both benefited from a modest storm of high-profile (yet unlikely and moderate) gun control threats in 2000, and a clearing of the skies soon after. There was an active, though decreasingly effective, federal gun control agenda during the Clinton years. The possibility of a 2000 election victory for Democrat Al Gore meant more threats of gun control. Even the usually anemic gun control groups seemed to have some momentum on their side. The Columbine school shootings were still fresh in Americans’ minds, and months before the election the Million Mom March...

  9. Appendix: Studying the NRA
    (pp. 257-270)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 271-304)
  11. Index
    (pp. 305-322)
  12. About the Author
    (pp. 323-323)