by Jeremy Fassler
I grew up in Los Angeles and now live in Brooklyn, so it’s fair to assume that I live in “a bubble.” However, I went to college at Northwestern University, right outside of Chicago, and even at a school whose political makeup was mostly center-left, we had quite a few conservatives, even in the theater community which made up my friend group. During freshman Fall quarter, Barack Obama got elected President and I remember when one person, who said they voted for McCain, refused to go out to Grant Park to watch his victory. I don’t begrudge them for saying this, though. They were from a more conservative part of the state and hadn’t had prolonged exposure to liberal thought. Since then, this person has changed their tune, as have several of the Republicans that I knew. One person, however, has not.
I always knew this guy to be sweet and unassuming. He and I actually agree on a lot of things outside of politics – plays, books, musicals, movies, etc. And he is not, I repeat, a “bad person” in the literal sense of the term. But he is a Republican, and although he stayed silent on social media during the 2016 election, he still hasn’t abandoned his conservatism, as he indicated last Saturday, when, as millions of Americans were attending March For Our Lives, he posted on Facebook that he had joined the NRA.
My friends and I were outraged. How could somebody who seemed like a good person boast that he had joined an organization we marched to dismantle? An organization run by a racist hate-monger that takes weeks to respond to the killings of black men and women, as well as the murder of an innocent protestor by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville? An organization that defends racist board members like Ted Nugent? An organization that buys and sells feckless politicians like Marco Rubio to make it easier for them to sell their harmful products?
This is not about NRA members or gun enthusiasts being bad. It’s possible to be both pro-gun and anti-killing, like Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. In a 2013 interview, he admitted to being a gun owner, saying, “I find target shooting very relaxing. But it goes without saying guns shouldn’t be used to murder innocent schoolkids. I’m not anti-gun…but I am against having them in the hands of lunatics.” These are the kinds of views we demand of them, and if my friend had acknowledged his membership with similar grace, it wouldn’t be an issue. But such was not the case, as his simplistic reason for joining the NRA revealed a lack of empathy for the protestors:
“I saw a lot of people marching for what they believe in today. I admired their resolve. I wanted to do something in support of what I believe in.”
Saying the March for Our Lives inspired you to join the NRA is like saying you were inspired by the 1963 March on Washington to join the KKK. No, the NRA is not the KKK, even though they are both racist groups. If you look at a protest and you decide to double down on your own beliefs rather than engage with theirs, then you have not gotten the message.
Obviously, I didn’t say that to him when I wrote my first comment. Knowing it would be useless to attack him (I had tried that in the past, and failed) I tried to placate him and say much of what I’ve said here: that he’s a good person and that I know he doesn’t mean ill by any of this, but that it felt to us like a deliberate slap in the face. Later that day, I sent him a Facebook message asking that he really take in what we had to say about his decision, and he told me he was. But he never reneged on his initial reasons for joining and dug himself deeper into a hole when a commenter demanded that, as a new member, he answer for the NRA’s silence following the 2016 death of Philando Castile.
“Why would I do that?” he responded.
When I reminded him that it took 3 1/2 weeks for the NRA to acknowledge Castile’s death, and that this kind of tragedy is easy to condemn, he replied, “Membership starts at $40.00 for the year. Join up and ask them at the next meeting near you.”
Now, there is a broader point that he’s addressing here, and independent of this discussion, it’s not a bad one. To give an example, in the wake of The New York Times’ embrace of conservatives on the op-ed page, many have announced via Twitter and Facebook that they have unsubscribed from the paper of record. But some, like author Mark Harris, refuse to completely dissociate themselves, telling the unsubscribers, “‘That’s it, I’m through’ is the new ‘I’m moving to Canada.’ Stay, fight, demand better.” I haven’t always followed this rule – I still subscribe to the Times but I gave up on The Nation due to its frequent apologies for Russia – but I agree with Harris that you have more power criticizing a magazine you subscribe to than to one you don’t.
That said, when applied to an organization like the NRA, it is much, much more significant to protest from without than from within. 1.2 million people marched last weekend according to Vox, and that’s still only a preliminary count. By contrast, the NRA has, according to Wayne LaPierre, 5 million members. That number is to be taken with a grain of salt, since the NRA doesn’t release official numbers, but when the total amount of marchers comes in, it may be at least half that, and there’s still more to come. We still have a long way to go in diminishing the power of the NRA, but Saturday’s march and the Never Again movement that organized it are significant steps in changing the public’s opinion of them.
For the rest of the weekend, and well into Monday, the commenters on my friends’ post by and large railed against his decision, to no avail. He has not changed his mind, and his rebuttals to our points have been feeble. I am disappointed that he has taken such an obstinant stance, but I am even more disappointed that he has given us a glimpse into what’s really in his heart, and it’s not pretty.