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RECAP: Inside the NRA Houston Expo

Beginning this past Friday, May 3rd, and lasting through Sunday, the Houston NRA expo was ablaze with 70,000 plus people bustling amongst the nine acre gun extravaganza. There was plenty to see beside the political rants, including: manufacturer showcases complete with bra holsters, 1963 Völkswagen microbus complete with hippy peace signs, flowers, and mini Gatling gun mounted on a makeshift sunroof, and everybody’s personal favorite, zombie targets that came in a variety of images, such as: terrorists, Nazis, aliens, zombie kangaroos, clowns and even…presidential! That’s right folks, according to BuzzFeed Politics, the vender, Zombie Industries, “sells a range of three-dimensional ‘life sized’ targets that ‘bleed when you shoot them.’ Obama likeness [were] on display for two days.” The expo only lasted for three, but don’t worry, after an NRA rep asked the vender at Zombie Industries if they’d be so kind and remove the Obama targets, they were notably absent come Sunday morning. When asked why they thought the NRA reps asked them to remove the “Obama” targets, they said “They are just scared some liberal reporter will come by and start bitching,” a worker told BuzzFeed. However, Zombie Industries wasn’t the only booth to display something contentious. Over at the Coonan Inc. booth, a gun manufacture, there was also a similar Obama likeness; an Obama vampire with a stake in his heart, advertising their custom “Zombie silver bullet” set. Yet, these risqué displays were not the only booths at the convention; just the more colorful ones, because for most folks coming to the convention, it’s all about the guns.

Sadly, you cannot have guns without some kind of debate.

The place to be on Saturday evening was the Stand and Fight Rally. As the sun set on Houston, a “patriotic” fervor was being presented for those “lucky” enough to have purchased tickets. The NRA’s emotionally driven Stand and Fight Rally included speeches from Col. Oliver North, Wayne LaPierre, Larry and Brenda Potterfield, and impressionist Frank Caliendo. The main event for the evening was a near two hour impassioned speech given by none other than Glenn Beck, the host of new media network, The Blaze. Beck used his spot light to warn NRA audiences that the “freedom of all mankind is at stake,” according to ABC News. This is the same man who claimed that the Houston George Bush Intercontinental airport shooting was a conspiracy set up by vicious liberals to thwart the NRA expo. You can find that report here. However, according to the NRA blog report, in the end, Mr. Beck “received a standing ovation from the crowd for the inspirational message.”

What was Mr. Beck’s message?

Fear.

The fear Mr. Beck uses is backed by an overwhelming miss-representation on the issue of gun control, the very same miss-representation the NRA leadership has been clouting over. Some of the key-notes Mr. Beck spoke on include the positive nature of guns (saving lives), defense, and other so called “cold hard facts…rejected by the political elites.” The fear Beck uses is universal, based on a baser instinct. He deliberately manipulates that fear of not being able to defend oneself. Mr. Beck’s performance seems rather orchestrated in drawing out said fear that “big bad government” will come in the night and take away the very symbol of protection in American culture, the gun. The appeal to emotion isn’t just a fallacy, it’s dangerous. Why? Emotional arguments do not require factual evidence. They drive the fear of the mob. Since Mr. Beck is so keen in using Nazi history to describe the U.S. government, allow me to return the courtesy. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, said that there were two kinds of speakers: rational and emotional. Goebbles couldn’t understand the rational, because to him, emotional speakers were the ones who could “fire up the masses for a great cause.” To Goebbles, Hitler was an emotional speaker who could use nuggets of truth to elicit an emotional response from the crowd who were also equally miss-informed, angry, and afraid. According to Goebbles, in his published book regarding Hitler’s ability to persuade, the Führer’s words could “inspire the heart and have a lasting impact in forming a new international epoch. There is probably no educated person in the world who has not heard the sound of his voice and who, whether he understood the words or not, felt that his heart was spoken to by magical words.” You can find Goebbles’ complete entry here.

Speakers, like Mr. Beck, who use emotional driven speeches with the smallest nuggets of truth, do not require that their audience understand the words they are actually saying, and when we follow the rhetoric of fear to its logical end, it will only bring about tragedy, as it did for Germany during the Third Reich. Mr. Beck’s speech doesn’t just miss-represent the issue on gun control, but also responsible gun advocates. Without a doubt, folks around the world are looking at Mr. Beck and his message and thinking, “Are all gun owners this nuts?” As we reported last Friday, a huge fallacy in the gun debate is when people take the extreme either-or argument as factual; when most folks are actually somewhere in the middle. You can watch Mr. Becks speech yourself here.

The ugliness in all this is in imagining how positive the NRA expo could have been. Instead of getting folks all worked up over a false fear, a more responsible leadership among the NRA could have promoted gun safety awareness, effectual background checks (because remember, 65% of Americans thought that the expanded background checks should have passed legislation), a reasonable pursuit for safer schools, or, at the very least, presented some kind of alternative to the already very moderate bill that was shot down in the Senate. Instead, the NRA leadership promoted fear, fear of big government taking away American rights. Despite the fact that most attended the expo for the simplicity of responsible gun sportsmanship and to view the “goodies”, those folks are being overshadowed by the dogmatic political debacle from ineffectual leadership who seem to be more concerned about gun manufacturer rights than gun owner rights.


The NRA Comes to Houston

The NRA goes Texas, Houston that is. The 142nd annual NRA national meeting is fused to ignite today, Friday, May 3rd, 2013, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in the heart of downtown, hosting 550 exhibitors and covering over 400,000 square feet with all the trimmings: educational speakers, celebrities of the likes as Glenn Beck, Gov. Rick Perry, the always favorite (yikes) Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz, special events, wholesome family atmosphere, and protesters. Wait…what? That’s right folks, gun-control groups and other advocates are also planning on attending the rock star event at what has been called “ground zero,” in our nation’s big gun debate- the NRA.  Protestors will gather outside the impromptu gun event, hosting a three day vigil for victims of gun violence.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the NRA plans on educating attendees on such issues as: “a gun-owners’ registry, assaults on the Second Amendment, the necessity of enforcing laws on the books instead of passing new ones, the futility of background checks and other gun-related issues.” The convention comes shortly after a fresh victory for the NRA and gun advocates over President Obama’s failed push on expanded background checks when it flopped by a mere 6 votes of the 60 votes needed to adopt the measure and keeping the bill from going all filibuster in the House.

(Check out this interesting article on the future of filibuster reform.)

Why Houston? Why now? It would seem rather impromptu of the NRA to host a gun convention in the midst of a heated national debate regarding gun control, and the necessary steps to reduce said gun violence so soon after national tragedy. However, for the NRA, Houston seems like the perfect environment to host a gun convention in the hopes to recharge for more expected political struggles as gun control advocates tally their own successes in states around the country. According to Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman, “the convention will draw the largest crowd in history.” Why is that Andrew? Is it because all us Texans own guns? Just like we all wear ten-gallon cowboy hats and ride horses to work. Stereotypes aside, a majority of Houstonians do own fire arms, according to the Houston Chronicle, for obvious reasons. Texas is still very much a part of the frontier culture. Folks love to hunt ducks “in the wetlands around El Campo and Eagle Lake. [Folks also] hunt deer in the Texas Hill Country. And, yes, many [Texans] keep a gun or two in a closet at home for safety, security and peace of mind.” And some good ole Texans even keep a few guns under their bed. The pathos of the Second Amendment is very much alive in Texas, especially in Houston, and rightly so. But I would also think that our support for the Second Amendment does not preclude support for sensible rules and regulations that are designed to protect the sanctity of human life. Extending background checks for gun purchasers in both online sales and at conventions makes sense. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the resent trends developing on social media sites. According to Pew Research Center, calls for stricter gun control shifted from 30 to 65% in favor, while opposite dropped from 50 to 21%, on Twitter. You can view the complete poll here. These trends on Twitter also match a poll taken recently by Gallup back on April 29, 2013, where a whopping 65% of Americans thought that the Senate should have passed the measure to expand background checks for gun purchases. You can view their report here.

So, what do all these trends in polls really tell us? Well, for starters, all this talk about the 90% is bull. Yes, percentages in favor of expanding background checks are higher than those against the measure, but let’s be real about it and avoid inflating the numbers, because to be honest, it would take an act of God to get nine out of ten Americans to agree on anything, especially on something as heated as gun control. Secondly, these polls verses the actually vote in congress shows us that something very wrong is going on in Washington…or maybe something very right. What could be going wrong? Well, if 65% of Americans wanted this bill to go through and it failed, as it did, then the people’s voice is no longer effectually being represented in Washington. According to Senator Pat Toomey, “In the end it [the background check bill] didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side [Republicans] who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” Also, there could be something wrong in the way bills are passed through the Senate. At first glance, the 54 YEA’s trumps the 46 NAY’s right? Nope. A bill requires, for some reason, 60 total votes to go into effect. To some, this 60 vote thing may make sense, but to me, I am at a loss. A majority vote is a majority vote, plain and simple. The one thing that could be right in all this is that in representing our “voice,” our elected officials also understand the dangers inherent in giving into mob mentality. As it seems, we simple folk get all worked up in larger crowds, but when you single us out, we’re rather reasonable. Consider Brown v. Board of Education and how long it took for the “mob” to realize how wrong segregation was. For our elected representatives, walking the tight-rope between listening to their constituents voices and avoiding worked up crazed mobs, seems rather precarious. Perhaps we ought to give our officials some benefit of the doubt, and simply ask them questions instead a seeking the tallest tree to noose them up in.

While gun-control advocates scrabble to seek a new path after the “shameful day for Washington,” gun advocates, such as the NRA, will likewise continue to promote the “stand and fight” methodology to remain steadfast in what outgoing NRA president David Keene told NBC News, “was a victory in a battle, but the war continues.”

Today, the NRA celebrates their big win in Houston, but opponents are also in the works, launching, according to NBC News, “a coordinated effort ahead of the 2014 midterm elections,” to advocate that folks like the NRA may not be as concerned about the rights of gun owners than they are about the rights of the gun industry itself. In an interview with Ladd Everitt, the spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “I think the NRA leadership is wildly out of step with their own members on the issue of expanding background checks.” If that’s the case, perhaps the upcoming national elections in 2016 may prove for Republicans to be difficult in keeping seats in Washington. Obviously, each side of the debate claims the other to be fervently wrong. But where do most Americans fall? Time will tell in the above mentioned coming elections in mid-2014 and in 2016.

In the meantime, lets address some fundamental fallacies in the raging arguments from both perspectives:

  1. Guns are not a living entity. They cannot walk down the street, on their own, and fire into a crowd. Gun control advocates are aware of this. They are not attacking responsible gun owners. If you are a responsible gun owner, you are already going to pass a background check. Background checks are looking for folks with a history of violence. If you are a violent person, perhaps you should take a yoga class and forgo purchasing that sweet glistening AR-15.
  2. Not all gun advocates are back-water anti-government crazies.  While a majority does support background checks, they also believe that gun-control shouldn’t be the only measure taken in avoiding tragic events such as Sandy Hook.
  3. Gun control advocates are not trying to take away our Second Amendment Rights. Only a few extreme left are; they are the minority voice, just like the minority crazy anti-government folks. So, the argument about drunk drivers and sales of alcohol thing is a bit over-the-top. Obviously, the government has already tried the “no alcohol thing,” and it didn’t really work out in the end. Instead, just like how most gun control advocates are trying to do, they promoted greater public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, increased judicial punishment, and established a drinking age. Beer is a controlled substance; shouldn’t guns be just as controlled? You don’t see government kicking in your doors looking for a delicious New Belgium 1554, do you? Then you won’t see government kicking in your doors looks for your licensed hand gun.
  4. Gun control will create a gun registry. News flash folks, we currently already have a gun registry, of sorts, and a sucky one at that! The current, twenty plus year old system, simply tracks make/model/and serial numbers through a basic record of sale. Why not change? I think most gun advocates fear this policy the most because of a basic fear of “big brother,” which I totally understand. I don’t care so much for being watched on video cameras, but yet, they somehow help catch criminals. So, lets think about what this registry will actually do, which is, help law enforcement,  our brothers and sister that help keep our streets safe, to be better equipped in tracking fire arms that tend to make their way illegally into the hands of violent offenders.

As it seems, we’re sadly pitted against extreme either-or arguments, while most of us tend to take a rather moderate position on the subject. Most of us enjoy our right to gun ownership. Most of us also understand the need to control the very thing we have a right to own. Just as we have a right to drink, we are also responsible about it, or should be. Shouldn’t we also be responsible about gun control, without having to be so extreme about it? Only time will tell in where the great debate on gun control takes us, so for now, Houston, enjoy the convention.