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The NRA Is Complicit in the Attack on the Capitol

They’ve peddled conspiracy theories and fear for years. 

Last week, an insurrectionist mob encouraged by President Trump and Republican politicians who perpetuated his false claims about election theft stormed the United States Capitol. 

Despite the fact that these right-wing militants were armed with Molotov cocktails, unlicensed pistols, fireworks, and other weapons, the mob was treated with less aggression and hostility than many largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters this summer. 

As we demand accountability for the violence of last week from the president, the Republican politicians who enabled his dangerous lies, and those members of law enforcement who neglected their duty on January 6th, we must not forget about the complicity of the NRA. 

For years, the NRA has done its best to stoke fear in order to sell guns. It rejects nearly every reasonable gun regulation, challenging many of them in court, by spreading the pernicious “slippery slope” argument that all gun laws are ultimately steps on the way to gun confiscation. 

The NRA’s Role in Fueling Insurrection 

The NRA has become increasingly radical in recent years, to the point that it no longer represents the views of most gun owners. Beset by scandal and mismanagement, the NRA has focused its energy on conjuring boogeymen out of thin air to fuel weapon sales, leading to spikes in gun sales following the election of Democratic presidents and mass shootings. The fear-mongering isn’t unique to the NRA: similar tactics are also used by Fox News and QAnon, which similarly push incendiary lies in order to advance their fringe agenda. 

The NRA’s fear-based worldview depicts enemies lurking in every corner: home intruders waiting to catch families unaware, hordes of undocumented immigrants flooding across the border, a tyrannical government that can only be stopped by a heavily armed populace.

In 2015, NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre said, “When a criminal attacks, politicians aren’t there to protect you. Their laws can’t protect you. And the media’s lies can’t protect you, either. You’re on your own. But you know what can protect you when no one else can, when no one else will? The ironclad, absolute safeguard of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” 

Violent Rhetoric Leads to Violent Protest 

In a recent fundraising letter bearing Wayne LaPierre’s name, the NRA wrote to its supporters:  “Unless you fight back starting right now, you’ll soon face the real threat of having your guns forcibly confiscated along with your right to self-defense. No, I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill gun control. I’m talking about armed government agents storming your home, taking your guns, and hauling you off to prison.”

For years, we have watched the consequences of this rhetoric play out. In 2020, we witnessed an explosion in incidents of armed protesters, demonstrating against gun laws, lockdown orders, and peaceful racial justice protests. These armed protesters used their weapons to harass and intimidate, threatening lawmakers, escalating confrontations, and occasionally descending into violence. 

A recent piece in the Atlantic highlights the NRA’s shift from promoting guns for self-defense to promoting them for insurrection. The gun rights argument has increasingly focused on freedom from a tyrannical government, encouraging supporters to take the law into their own hands. NRA-TV star Grant Stinchfield once said he believed the Second Amendment is “there to make sure we could stand up to a tyrannical government if it ever got to that point.”

The problem, Duke constitutional law scholar Darrell Miller told the Trace, is that “there’s always somebody who is going to mistake legitimate government for tyrannical government.” And thanks to decades of the NRA’s fear-mongering and a year of armed protests, “it’s far more normalized to have people assemble outside places of governance with not just sidearms, but with very lethal weapons.”

A Democracy Doesn’t Solve Its Problems with Guns 

On January 8th, Giffords commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Tucson shooting. We honored the six people lost that day and celebrated the perseverance and resilience of the survivors, including Gabby Giffords. Nearly 10 years to the day after a violent individual attempted to assassinate her, Gabby watched in horror as the Capitol building where her husband, newly elected Senator Mark Kelly, was carrying out his civic duty when he and his fellow elected representatives were attacked by a violent mob. 

Violence is not how a democratic society addresses its problems or resolves its conflicts. Guns have no place in state capitols or the United States Capitol. Everyday citizens should not take the law into their own hands, threatening our democracy in ill-conceived attempts to protect it from imagined enemies. The NRA must be challenged and held accountable for its rhetoric arguing otherwise. 

The NRA is a fringe, extremist group that does not speak for the majority of gun owners, just like the insurrectionist mob that attacked the Capitol does not speak for the majority of Americans—or even the majority of Trump voters. As the NRA continues its downward spiral into irrelevance, other absolutist gun rights groups that believe disagreements should be solved through violent threats remain in its wake. 

We must loudly and repeatedly reject the false and dangerous narratives of these fringe organizations. Commonsense solutions to gun violence aren’t limitations on freedom or the tools of an oppressive government—they make us all safer and more free, and help protect our democracy from the tyranny of extremists.


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