The NRA's open-carry clustermuck: How its annual convention highlights the hypocrisy of the pro-gun movement

The gun lobby jumps through hoops each year to comply with the same regulations they would much rather dismantle

By Heather Digby Parton


Published April 10, 2015 2:59PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Reports of road rage incidents resulting in gun violence are on the rise. In fact, they are now so common that newspapers report them as if they are fender benders. Here's a typical report from Thursday:

According to Baytown police, a 27-year-old man was riding in the passenger seat of a Honda Accord being driven by his 24-year-old brother-in-law. The men said an older-model green BMW almost struck them in the 3600 block of West Baker. The brother-in-law then drove to catch up with the BMW and words were exchanged. An occupant in the BMW began shooting into the Honda, striking the passenger in the face. The victim was taken to Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital in stable condition.

Similarly, YouTube commonly features videos of irate drivers pulling guns on freeways. (Although, to be fair, it's nearly impossible to verify if these are true incidents.)

New laws that allow the open carry of loaded guns in public places -- and such laws are springing up all over the nation -- have resulted in even more terrifying confrontations: For example, parents are forced to deal with gun activists brandishing their firearms in front of their kids in a public park, shouting: "Look at my gun! There's nothing you can do about it!" Likewise, workers in businesses serving the public are forced to deal with customers blithely slinging loaded semi-automatic weapons over their shoulders, or casually leaning firearms up against tables. These owners have little recourse but to pray they don't become the victim of one of the thousands of firearm-related accidents that occur all over the country every year.

But never let it be said that the gun rights zealots are totally rigid in their thinking and have no common sense at all. I have written in the past about the odd hypocrisy of gun proliferation advocates in Republican state houses who refuse to people the right to carry firearms in their work places, even as they pass laws making everyone else work in a world where an angry person with a gun might very well lose his or her temper and decide to make their point with a bullet.

The standard answer of such lawmakers is that politics -- unlike road rage or any other kind of everyday beef that humans are prone to provoke -- is a uniquely contentious job; and therefore, having guns around is more dangerous for them than it is for the general public. What these pro-gun politicians won't admit is that the dangerous, contentious citizens who threaten them are their own voters, who are determined to keep these Republicans "honest" by showing up in the State House armed to the teeth.

But of all the denial, delusion and hypocrisy among gun proliferation activists around the nation, this latest report from Rachel Maddow takes the cake:

The National Rifle Association’s annual convention kicks off in Nashville this week, with 70,000 people expected to participate in the three-day gathering.

Attendees can expect to find the usual NRA fare and exhibitors at the 350,000-square-foot Music City Center, but they shouldn’t expect to find functioning weapons. The Tennessean reports this week on the “multilevel security plan,” which includes an important safety measure: “All guns on the convention floor will be nonoperational, with the firing pins removed, and any guns purchased during the NRA convention will have to be picked up at a Federal Firearms License dealer, near where the purchaser lives, and will require a legal identification.”

The devil is in the details here. It is apparently common practice to remove the operational aspects of firearms on the floor of a gun show, one presumes in order to avoid the unpleasantness of someone accidentally killing a conventioneer. Maddow also reported that while the convention was going to ban operational firearms in the convention, it planned to allow them in the hall where the speeches would take place.

The NRA has gone to some lengths to explain that they are simply following Tennessee state law which allows those with a permit to open carry and also allows venues to ban firearms if it chooses. But let's not kid ourselves: They would prefer it if they could let everyone carry fully loaded bazookas and M-16s, but they are restrained by the State's jackbooted thugs from doing so.

Still it's somewhat amusing that the National Rifle Association does not allow working firearms at their own convention, and that they would hold it in a state which requires gun permits and allows the banning of guns in public places. One would naturally assume from their propaganda that they would go someplace with looser gun laws under the assumption that their gathering would be the most polite convention in history, what with all the "good guys with guns" there to stop any "bad guys with guns."

(Then again, Nashville is a really fun town, even if it is moderately civilized when it comes to guns, so you can't really blame the NRA for sticking it out.)

And yes,  they are actually going to allow armed people to attend the speeches by the vast roster of Republican presidential candidates who have been summoned to present their bona fides. (Oddly they didn't bother to invite Rand Paul, and if there's a more vehement defender of gun rights in the GOP I don't know who it would be.) But just as it's not a great idea to allow loaded weapons in state houses (and bars and elementary schools and your local Target) it surely is not a good idea to allow them at political events, even political events featuring Republicans attempting to out-gun each other for the title of most trigger-happy politician in America.

Maddow points out her piece that the Tennessee legislature worked overtime to try to loosen their gun laws in advance of the convention. This inconvenient permitting issue must have been something of an embarrassment. They managed to vote the quick passage of an emergency law allowing open carry in parks but they got hung up on a proposed law against carrying fake guns near schools. So it looks like they couldn't get any of this legislation signed before the convention. It was a good try though.

This episode does bring to light a possible rare point of agreement among some of the gun proliferation advocates and everyone else about gun safety, even if the NRA is lagging behind. We should all be able to agree that carrying loaded weapons, permitted or not, at political events is not a good idea. After all even some of the most fervent adherents of unfettered gun rights -- all those Republican politicians in state houses around the nation -- have enough common sense to recognize that strong beliefs and loaded firearms can be a lethal combination. If only they'd have the courage to stand up to the NRA and stand up for the rest of America as we find ourselves increasingly in the crosshairs of people who manifest that dangerous combo we might be able to join together and start the long walk back to a sane gun policy in this country.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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