Chris Hayes' biggest win yet: Exposing hypocrisy and cowardice of NRA and gun lobby

In a brilliant series on smart guns, the MSNBC host nails the disgusting politics of the gun lobby's loudest voices

Published May 16, 2014 6:41PM (EDT)

Chris Hayes                  (AP/Virginia Sherwood)
Chris Hayes (AP/Virginia Sherwood)

Over a series of programs earlier this month, Chris Hayes tried to draw out gun-lovers' support for smart guns — guns that cannot be fired by anyone but the legal owner, and thus can't be used by a criminal to shoot the owner, can't be used by the owner's children to shoot themselves or shoot one another, are useless if stolen ... you get the idea.

The idea of smart gun technology is really appealing to two types of people. The first type is gun safety advocates who see it as a way to cut down on accidental and illegal shootings. The second type is gun rights advocates who see it as a way to appeal to safety-minded people, to get them to embrace gun ownership. This is a very neat pairing, since it seems like it would draw together both sides of the safety debate. There's just one problem: The second type of people aren't people — they're unicorns; they do not exist.

Chris Hayes is very good at what he does. Chris Hayes found a unicorn. He found Andy Raymond. Andy Raymond is a Maryland gun dealer who was excited about smart guns. He was excited about selling them to people who might not otherwise want to buy a gun. “If this gets them into shooting, then I'm all about it. I'm all about it. That's an awesome thing,” Raymond said. “And everybody who is pro-gun should be all about that because if that gets people into the range and shooting and loving guns, that's an awesome, fricking thing for us, but instead they're talking trash.”

At the time, though, he didn't care what his critics might think—not even the NRA:

ANDY RAYMOND, GUN DEALER: This is all about freedom.

HAYES: Right. It really is, man.

RAYMOND: So even when the NRA, who's the bastion of great freedom, and they sit here and say this thing should be prohibited, how hypocritical is that?

HAYES: So -- so you know what's funny?

RAYMOND: They are bowing down to fear, bro. It's cowardice. They're afraid. So they bow down to that, and that's cowardice. That is not what people who stand for freedom do. You stand up, and you fight for what you believe. You do not bow down.

Twenty-four hours of intense hostility — including death threats — were enough to change his mind. Though, to be fair, there's no reason to think that personal safety was Raymond's main concern. He was in a partnership, had employees and had broader personal and ideological commitments that he cared about deeply.

Nonetheless, intimidation worked where reason failed. Threats of gun violence worked to whip Andy Raymond back in line. That's America's “gun debate” in a nutshell: We've got the guns. What debate? The tyranny they fear in others lives instinctively in every fiber of their beings.

Afterward, Hayes reported, “Andy Raymond says his stance resulted in death threats, and he
slept in his store Thursday night out of fear it would be burned down. In an emotional video after the backlash, he asked for forgiveness.”

The main reason Raymond's opponents cited for their opposition was a 2002 New Jersey law requiring that once a smart gun is sold anywhere in the U.S., New Jersey can only sell smart guns starting three years later. That law was passed to change the incentive structure, to make it profitable to develop smart gun technology and bring it to market. But now, opposition to it from the NRA and others was making it seem counterproductive. Because of this, Hayes got one of the bill's chief backers, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, to say she she would move to repeal the law on one condition:

WEINBERG: If the NRA, the gun owners of America, those people who have stood in the way not only of the retail sales, they have also gone after gun manufacturers who were beginning to develop other technology other than Armatix, that if in fact they would get out of the way of preventing the research development manufacturer distribution and sale, I would move the to repeal this law in the state of New Jersey.

Hayes tried to get a response from the NRA, to see if it would “soften its stance” in response. But the NRA did not respond. However, he did get a response from Gun Owners of America, which is also vehemently opposed to smart guns. Their executive director, Larry Pratt, came on the show to respond. But he didn't really want to do that. He wanted to object to the law, not respond to the possibility of negotiating its repeal.

“Will you back off and allow this thing to be sold and not swarm people's Facebook pages and not tell people you oppose this and not sic, you know, Gun Owners of America on someone that tries to sell it?” Hayes asked. “If you think the gun is a such bad product, why do you not trust the market to render that judgment?” And Pratt responded, “”Well, the market's not going to be rendering a judgment thanks to her bullying by her legislation.”

So, Pratt, whose allies have used death threats to keep smart guns off the market, accuses Weinberg of bullying? When she's actually offering to stop what he calls bullying, and repeal the law, if he'll just stop relentlessly opposing smart guns? That's rich!

Next Pratt proceeded to the claim that smart guns have a 20 percent failure rate — the result of a single test conducted a decade ago, when the technology was in its infancy. Amazingly, Pratt even started to sound a bit like Ralph Nader at one point, leading Hayes to do a double-take of sorts, after which he finally gets Pratt to answer the question — with the all-too-predictable “no”:

PRATT: -- is it OK -- is it OK to put on the market a car that 20 percent of the time explodes on you and causes you harm or death? That's not the kind of -- our society –

HAYES: Wait a second. Wait a second. You would like to see the government regulate guns the way they regulate cars? You would like to see the government step in and decide whether a gun is safe enough to sell the way they do with cars?

PRATT: No, I want to see the senator -- I want to see the senator get out of this. The senator is imposing a mandate. She's violating the Constitution....

HAYES: She's offering to repeal it if you withdraw your oppositions to this being sold.

PRATT: "You do what I say and then I'll be nice to you." I don't think so.

That last sentence says it all. Pratt wants the law repealed, and Weinberg has offered to make that happen — if that means he'll end his adamant opposition to smart guns. Both sides give something up. It's called “a compromise.” It's pretty much the foundation of our society. And Pratt wants nothing to do with it. If he doesn't get everything he wants, then in his mind, he has lost ... his dignity? It's hard to say, exactly. But we can tell that it's something deep at his core. This is not about policy, it's about identity. It's about mythos, not logos.

Simply put, gun safety activists take a logos-based "how can we solve problems" approach, while the NRA and Gun Owners of America are deeply entrenched in a mythos-based, identity-based approach. If you don't believe in problem-solving, negotiation or compromise — if you actually see them as threats to your identity — then naturally you'll see every act of problem-solving, negotiation or compromise as an attack to be countered. It's only natural ... if that's how you see the world.

In sharp contrast to Pratt, Raymond's interest in finding common ground, in persuading people, rather than dominating them, is what made him anathema to other conservatives — that is what they required him to abandon. That is the fundamental dividing line between old order conservatives and new order ones. This is not necessarily a divide over policy. Ronald Reagan was a very conservative politician. But he operated in a world where liberals had a great deal of power. He had no choice but to try to persuade or make deals with them. And so that is what he did. If he were alive today, and worked by the same rules, he would be demonized as a RINO. And in just the same spirit, Andy Raymond was subject to death threats.

Death threats. Think about that for a moment. Is there anything that says you have lost the argument more loudly than that? When you make death threats in place of arguments, it's because you know your argument's laughable. A joke. Increasingly that is what the so-called gun rights organizations have become. A sick joke. And everything Raymond said — about their hypocrisy, their cowardice and their hostility to freedom — is absolutely true.

By Paul Rosenberg

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

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