The National Rifle Association, boasting of over 5 million members nationwide, recently held its annual convention in nearby Louisville. Coming from a family culture where guns simply didn’t exist, I often wondered why in the world anyone in their right mind would join such a reactionary organization. I promise you I’m not a communist, but understandably my ignorance and bias painted a picture of NRA members as primarily maniacal gun worshippers intent on hiding behind their distorted interpretations of the second amendment. Their outdated platforms allowed people like the Sarah Palins of the world to serve as political bullies pushing their radical agendas on the unsuspecting masses. In between polishing their assault rifle arsenals and endorsing The Donald, their ultimate goal was to destroy anyone who remotely questioned a person’s right to bear arms. In my mind, the NRA was the proverbial 800 pound gorilla with outspoken leaders like Charlton Heston, often masquerading as Moses himself, imposing their will on society’s mild and meek. They frequently intimidated law abiding citizens like myself who dared to question whether the recent mass shootings were an ugly reflection of a lawless gun society and culture run amok.
Imagine my surprise when one of my best friends informed me that not only would he be attending the convention, but that he had been a gun-toting, NRA card-carrying member for the past few years. Wondering how such a decent normal human being could venture over to the dark side, I invited him to share his thoughts on this blog. Following is his description of his journey through the murky depths. I’m still not quite sure I understand completely, but it’s important to be able to see the world through someone else’s life perspective–especially when it differs drastically from your own. Eliminating social stereotypes and political biases is a critical initial step in solving the national gun debate and ultimately making our nation a safer place for all who reside here. Here is his story, in his own words……..
“Growing up in Corbin, I never saw a gun around the house. My Dad, being a former Marine, was proficient with a rifle and a gun, but as kids, we never saw them. My grandfather (on my dad’s side) was an avid elk hunter so I frequently saw his hunting rifles when visiting in Barbourville. He had pictures of his hunts in the far West and when middle aged, he went often. He also went on quail hunts and it was from him that I learned how to use a shotgun and the intricacies of training hunting dogs.
On my grandfathers passing I inherited a Winchester .30/.30 which is now my deer rifle. I learned to respect the weapon and know how to use it. My father was neither a hunter or a huge gun enthusiast. He is simply wise to the way of the guns he owned. They were safely stored and rarely talked about. Guns were neither good nor bad, just an option. My brothers and I understood what they could do.
While attending professional school in Houston, I managed to wrangle my way onto a few deer hunting expeditions in the beautiful West Texas area between Austin and San Antonio. I never shot a deer but was excited for the male bonding, the outdoors experience and prayer time in the silence of the wilderness. I never shot a deer but became aware of how good wild game was. The ten years in Houston exposed me to a group of friends that had rifles and guns, but were never obsessed with them. I was a part of the culture, but still had not purchased a gun. My dad had given me a small .38 caliber handgun for home protection, but I rarely fired it. It simply gave me a little peace that instead of hoping the police arrived on time, or that my baseball bat would be enough, I could protect my family should the unthinkable happen. It never did thank God.
Moving back to Kentucky in 1991 I slowly began to feel the need for marksmanship and on a large farm outside Barbourville, the “homestead” as it were, I began to target shoot a little more. I was vaguely aware of the NRA and the polarizing views of weapons, but never took a side nor become vocal about gun rights. Innately I believed my pistol was my right, but I never talked much about it. It was not until about 2001 or 2002 that I began to form my rifle and pistol philosophy. Deer and turkey hunting became more frequent (though no more successful) and I began to realize I needed to become a better marksman, and understand the care and “lockup” of weapons. Also, I needed more education on the US history of gun ownership. I still had spent no money on dues, nor had I attended an NRA function.
It wasn’t until I was sitting among 2,000 fellow gun owners in Louisville last Thursday night that I realized why I joined the NRA two years ago: it gave me a voice and helped educate me to what is going on in the gun debate. No matter what politician attaches themselves to the NRA, my only reason for participating at a grass roots level boils down to being educated and informed. As I talked to a couple of Iraqi War veterans at my table I realized they were like me (only much braver). They believed in the right to own a firearm. The lawyer, farmer and housewife at another table were discussing the same humdrum theme: being responsible, being safe. None of us views a firearm as an object of worship or adulation. It is simply something to protect our homes with should an intruder break in. Or, it is something to hunt with. I am not the least bit interested in stalking and killing an elephant or large bear or a lion. Deer and turkey are my interest.
But as I mingled and bought a raffle ticket or two, I heard conversations about practice and repetition, thorough background checks and new technology. We respect our firearms. We understand the severity of what they can do. We do not fear loading and using them because we have been trained. The awards given on stage honored a man who had helped defend a fallen deputy, a WW II veteran , someone who protected his wife from an intruder and honored many who had raised money for the NRA. I applauded, finished my dinner and left not long after. I had experienced my first meeting, albeit a large meeting. None of the people I saw were radical. They were just there to listen, learn and mingle. And we did.”——–JOHN MACKEY
My initial response upon reading this was one of profound surprise. You mean hard working NRA folk plunk down $85 for nothing more than a raffle, a couple of tepid speeches, and a rubber chicken dinner? Where was the fire sale on AK-47s, or vigilante militia groups dressed in camouflage demonstrating how to lay siege to an enemy compound, or guys with Duck Dynasty beards hiding behind their guns and their religion? If this isn’t the real NRA, I may just have to reformulate my thoughts on this whole gun control debate after all. In the meantime, Dr. Mackey has invited me down to the homestead for a little target shooting. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.