Inside NRA University: The Gun Group Takes Supporters to School

A crash course in the gun debate, taught by the lobbying powerhouse that shapes it.

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Adrees Latif / REUTERS

A woman takes aim with a Beretta shotgun at an exhibit booth at the George R. Brown convention center, the site for the National Rifle Association's (NRA) annual meeting in Houston, Texas May 5, 2013.

Past the oil painting of Ronald Reagan and the picture windows with views of the barges churning up the Mississippi, a group of gun-rights activists is going back to school. The class filing into a conference room for a lecture on the constitutional right to bear arms is mostly older, nearly all white, and filled with freedom-loving fervor.

This is NRA University, a crash course in the facts and fallacies of the gun debate, as defined by the lobbying powerhouse that is shaping it. The NRA often holds these seminars for college kids. This event is an abbreviated version, a one-hour PowerPoint for attendees of this weekend’s RedState gathering in New Orleans, where a few hundred conservative activists gathered at a hotel on the edge of the French Quarter to network and commiserate.

Miranda Bond, an energetic NRA grassroots coordinator in a black dress and heels, is the confab’s instructor. Her audience sits rapt. Near a pair of prim grandmothers scrawling notes is a man in a black T-shirt with a logo of two crossed guns inside the mouth of a skull. Up front, a middle-aged woman in a leopard-print top is telling a joke whose punch line involves Hillary Clinton and a bicycle.

Bond’s presentation was a sermon for the converted, stripped of context and countervailing argument. But it offered a window into how the NRA is waging its ongoing fight to prevent Congress from curtailing gun laws. Here are some of the main points:

The NRA is not the gun lobby. 

“That is the exact opposite of what we are,” says Bond, a four-year NRA veteran. “We are the oldest civil rights lobby in the country. A lot of people don’t give us that credit.” The organization was formed in New York state in 1871 in response to the lackluster marksmanship of the Union Army. But it’s impossible to deny its lobbying clout. The session Bond was teaching was sponsored by the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, which is the NRA’s lobbying arm. The organization spent some $24 million in campaign contributions, lobbying and outside spending in 2012. And much of Bond’s talk focused on why the NRA’s lobbying efforts are calibrated for maximum effect, down to the trademark orange cards it disseminates to members.

Words matter.

The English language is a strategic battleground in the war over gun control. Media, Bond tells attendees, are masters at devising buzzwords that twist the truth. “They use all kinds of terms to make us scary,” she says. Take the phrase high-capacity magazines. The better term, Bond explains, is standard capacity, because these magazine are “very common. They’re what people use. So they’re standard – not high-capacity.” Or consider universal background checks. Such a thing cannot possibly exist, she posits, because criminals won’t comply. “There’s no such thing,” Bond says, so we shouldn’t use the term. Wittgenstein might cringe, but the audience nods knowingly.

Guns are not nearly as dangerous as the media suggests.

Forget the hazards of operating an automobile. You are more likely to be killed by someone’s hands or feet, or by a club or hammer, than to succumb to rifle gunshot, the audience learns. Assault weapons, which the NRA considers a liberal smear term, are used in less than 2% of all crimes. As gun ownership climbs, violent crime has fallen.

Michael Bloomberg is the big NRA bogeyman. 

The mere mention of the New York City mayor’s name drew a chorus of boos. The class rumbled angrily during a video clip that assailed Bloomberg’s organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, for reciting the name of deceased Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev during an event in New Hampshire to mourn victims of gun violence. (The group later apologized.) Bond cited a Bloomberg fundraiser for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to suggest that the Democrat–who holds an A rating from the NRA but recently crafted the background-check deal that died in the Senate this spring–had defected to the dark side.

Bloomberg wasn’t the only politician targeted during the session. There were video clips mocking Vice President Joe Biden, and snippets from an interview of New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, a gun-control crusader, dodging questions in a way that made clear she did not understand the fine points of firearms.  “If you are legislating things that affect our lives, you should know what you’re talking about,” Bond says. On the other hand, McCarthy knows plenty about what guns can wreak. In 1993, her husband was killed, and her son severely injured, when a deranged gunman opened fire on a Long Island commuter train.

The NRA sees young voters as a source of growth.

Bond says the NRA’s best chance to expand is to target young voters. She bemoaned President Obama’s digital supremacy, citing his dominance of Romney in the realms of Facebook likes and Twitter retweets. “Obama is kind of the JFK of our generation,” she says. “JFK learned how to use TV. Obama learned how to use social media.” Few in the class looked like digital natives, but Bond’s pitch was sinking in. “We’ve got to educate our children,” says Robert Stevens, a retired home builder from Mississippi, “and explain to them that the NRA is about supporting civil rights.”

106 comments
GoodOlDave
GoodOlDave

I suspect the people who have most pressing need to attend this university are those who are most insistant on restricting people's rights to own a gun.  They would learn important facts like how the Supreme Court ruled that felons were specifically exempt from any registration laws (Haynes vs. US, 1968), meaning their gun control laws only apply to people who DON'T commit crimes.  They'd also learn that the most popular gun being sold right now (as per the New York Times) is the AR-15, which makes their whole "no sporting purpose" claim an outright lie.  Most importantly, they'd learn the whole reason why gun control laws fail abysmally is becuase they do nothing to address the real problems we have- poverty, drugs, gangs, etc.- and passing laws that do nothing to address the problem is essentially the same thing as doing nothign to address the problem, for all the fat lot of good it does anyone in the end.

Indeed, when Rep. McCarthy went on record as stating a barrel shroud was "a shoulder thing that goes up" that tells us right there that the gun control movement is less of a David facing the NRA Goliath, and more of a Mr. Bean constantly smacking himself in the face by stepping on rakes with the NRA audience laughing its head off.

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

The only "University" where only idiots are enrolled!

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

An excellent program that I've personally participated in when it came to Georgia Tech. The young people have to become as engaged, passionate and as dedicated as the anti-gunners are to keep the most basic and important God given civil right that we have alive and vibrant.

htate51
htate51

WooHoo... Guns in the U.S. pass 300 Million!  That's about 1.2 guns for every adult in the US.  Here's hoping we can get it to 2.2 by everybody buying an AR this year.  With Bloomberg's help (LOL) I know we can do it!

tmcnabb104
tmcnabb104

"Bond’s presentation was a sermon for the converted, stripped of context and countervailing argument."

As we all know, the fair minded folk at the Brady Campaign are careful to invite the NRA along on their training events to provide a proper academic balance.

This sort of snarky nonsense in what could have been a decent enough story is why TIME is on an epic fail path.

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

Where does gun related homicides stack up against other known causes of death..Please note, the figure of 11,000 include suicides by firearms. 

Number of deaths for leading causes of death

  • Heart disease: 597,689
  • Cancer: 574,743
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 138,080
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 129,476
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 120,859
  • Alzheimer's disease: 83,494
  • Diabetes: 69,071
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,476
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 50,097
  • Gun deaths: 11,078

geezerman
geezerman

  While odd, the comment about the chances of being killed by hands or feet being greater than by a rifle are accurate according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 2011.  Haven't checked the club/hammer stats.

gambeau
gambeau

Nobody with half a brain can state that the founding fathers could foresee the massive firepowerer we have at our fingertips today.  To that end I say muskets for everyone.  Now I'm not against guns.  Quite the opposite. But I fully support tracking and registration as a vital responsibility of any civilized society.  I also firmly support that the gun owner should be held 100% accountable for anything that happens with their gun.  If a person is killed with your gun, you're charged.  It is unacceptable for a child to get ahold of a gun, for someone to die and it's classified as an "unfortunate accident".  You want the rights, you accept the accountability.  

bmont503
bmont503

You know, I'm really a middle-of-the-road type of person. My hobby is shooting firearms in the way other people play golf, it's legal and I do not bother anyone else.

The firearms arguments are framed by extremists. I have no choice if I want to pursue my hobby, support the NRA even though I find the organization's views extreme because the anti-gun movement fundamentally will only be satisfied with a complete gun ban. The NRA is extreme but most of the anti-gun crowd are completely ridiculous, they have no real knowledge of firearms, many have never even fired a gun and their anti-gun positions seem to be based on some fundamental fear that if they ever possessed a loaded firearm they would never be able to stop themselves turning in rabid, random, killers. Then they try to project their own mental problems onto me.


HeatherOMalley
HeatherOMalley

"This year will go down in history. For the first time a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future." 

--Adolf Hitler, 1935.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

Obama has a "digital supremacy"? Where? All I ever see is gun advocates/libertarians, everywhere, always.

FrankBlank
FrankBlank

Not a gun lobbying group but a civil rights group  -- everything the NRA says is a lie.  They're paid by the gun industry to propagandize people whose perversions qualify them as fetishists in every sense of the word, who, like all fetishists, are incapable of reasoning about their objects of worship. 

Stinker
Stinker

I am very gratified that the NRA is protecting my civil rights to carry and use any firearm I wish when entering a Church, School, Grocery Store, Legislative Chambers, the Presidents office as well as my constitutional right to use it when ever I wish. Those people who might get in the line of fire when I put my constitutional rights for pulling the trigger were never guaranteed by the Constitution for a full productive life anyway.

I am thankful to Wayne LaPierre  for making that point.

NicholasPayne
NicholasPayne

Please be so kind as to tell me where in the Bible, God gives you the right to own a gun.

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

Also more people die of HIV/Aids each year than by gun violence, 15, 529.

tmcnabb104
tmcnabb104

@gambeau so genius, if you lend your car to someone, and they kill a pedestrian, should you go to jail?  If someone steals your bag of softball equipment and kills someone with a bat, are you liable.

Honestly, take you diploma back and demand a refund.

htate51
htate51

@gambeau  So you're saying that brilliant minds like inventor Benjamin Franklin thought that firearm technology would be frozen at the musket level?  So the incredibly brilliant Franklin who witnessed and took part in the inevitable and unceasing progression of technology thought firearms would never get better?  So that statement by you is what you think is sophisticated and nuanced like all you leftists always congratulate yourself with?  LOL

StuChisholm
StuChisholm

@gambeau Muskets only make sense if gangs, drug dealers, carjackers and stick-up guys have them.  They don't.  Since we can envision things like phasers and force fields, you don't think our founders could envision "repeaters" and metallic cartridges?  Yes, guns are indeed a tremendous responsibility, and the NRA runs more gun safety/training programs than anyone in the world.  Period.

DanielJ.Bach
DanielJ.Bach

@gambeau So should free speech not be protected on the internet? Thomas Jefferson or George Washington could never have foreseen the first amendment, or any other amendment, being used to protect what we do or say on the internet. Just because technology has advanced and the world has changed that does not mean that the Bill of Rights is limited to what life was like 200 years ago. 

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@bmont503 Thank you for the level-headed comment. Our politics are too often controlled by extremists. More voices like yours would do our country a world of good.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@HeatherOMalley A classic NRA quote. However what they fail to mention is that Hitler was actually talking about the polices put in place by the Weimar Republic. Once he consolidated his hold on power he loosed arms regulations, which resulted in his personal militias being very well armed, kind of like the NRA wants to do here.

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

@FrankBlank Yeah that sounds right and very unapologetic from our side(gunowners).

tmcnabb104
tmcnabb104

@FrankBlank Are People for the American Way not a civil rights organization - they are big into the 1st amendment.  The NRA may get money from the gun industry, but most of their revenue comes from people like me paying a few dollars per year.

Defending the constitutional rights you do not like does not mean they are not defending constitutional rights.

htate51
htate51

@FrankBlank  The party of partial birth abortions and gay marriage should not be accusing others of catering to "fetishes".

StuChisholm
StuChisholm

@FrankBlank And you know this HOW?  Did Rachel Maddow tell you?  Please... let's get real.  The NRA has more than 5 million members, making them one of the biggest lobbies in Washington.  Unlike the NSSF and SAAMI (who are the actual lobbyists for the "firearms industry"), the NRA is more accurately described as "organized constituents."  Check your facts.

tmcnabb104
tmcnabb104

@Stinker While I acknowledge you are being "sarcastic" you are in effect denying that the men and women who successfully defend their lives, or the lives of loved ones are somehow not worth saving.  Further, you slander gun owners like myself who carry a firearm, as if I am some kind of hazard that criminals and cops are not - but why?

Do you have any evidence that bystanders are more likely to be hit by a civilian defending themselves than say, cops? 

htate51
htate51

@Stinker If you're an honest citizen why do I have to be worried about you carrying a gun into a church, scholl, or grocery store.  When I grew up we drove our guns to school, carried them into our classroom, left them unattended in the back of the room all day, and at the end of the day picked them up and used them in the firing range in the basement of the school.     

Is you're primary problem that fact that you don't trust yourself not to go "postal" and you are projected your irrational fear onto others.  Are you a Hoplophobe with an  "irrational fear of guns".

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

@Stinker 

As long as there is the 2nd Amendment, anti-gun zealots like you will always be spouting off at the mouth. You can depend on the police to protect you and your family, I'll stick to my gun for protection. 

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@Stinker  

Dude, the NRA is a lobbying outfit for gun manufacturers.  As long as you buy a gun, they otherwise care less about you.

aztecian
aztecian

@Stinker and now we racist thugs walking around with glocks and ak47s.

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

@NicholasPayne

Psalm 144:1 Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:

Psalm 18:34 He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze

The Lord guides my hand in war and devotion to our Cause. Blessed be his name.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@terryclifton1 And all those thing we are doing our hardest to prevent and treat. As opposed to guns where the NRA is fighting tooth and nail to put more and more weapons into peoples hands. Even those of kids and felons.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@tmcnabb104 @gambeau Yes. You as the owner, are responsible for the vehicle. If you permit someone to use it and they mow down a pedestrian, you should both go to jail. Just as if you allow your child to acquire your firearm (through either consent or negligence) you should be held fully responsible for the actions they commit with it.

htate51
htate51

@mantisdragon91 @HeatherOMalley    So you're comparing the NRA members to the Nazi SS.  Yet another fine example of how the left wants to have an "honest discussion" about firearms.

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

@Hollywooddeed @Stinker  

Criminals care even less about you, unless you have a gun, then they just keep on moving to the next house that doesn't have a gun.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@Gunluvr @ZacPetit @NicholasPayne 

Thanks for the threat

I don't mind defending your 1st amendment right to post it here, but the idea is for the 2nd to defend the 1st with the rest as a backbone for a just society of rights.

You act as if everything is subordinated to your gun fetishism. 

Gunluvr
Gunluvr

@ZacPetit @Gunluvr @NicholasPayne I know but that's just my passion and devotion to the cause, I'm grounded in reality but I just want anti-gunners to know the depth of what my beliefs are and the lengths I'm willing to go.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@Gunluvr @NicholasPayne I hate to break it to you, but you sound an awful lot like the Muslim radicals you purport to stand against.

terryclifton1
terryclifton1

@mantisdragon91 @terryclifton1  

That's utter rubbish!! You have a death rate of heart disease that is 50 times the murder rate.  50 times, and it's not getting smaller, it's growing every year. Politicians could care less about heart disease, they love exploiting gun violence.   

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@htate51 @mantisdragon91 @HeatherOMalley Not comparing anything, merely pointing out the easily verified fact that armed groups like the kinds that the NRA advocates for have put many more tyrants and dictators in power that they have ever stopped.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@htate51 @mantisdragon91 @HeatherOMalley

The party of partial birth abortions and gay marriage should not be accusing others of catering to "fetishes".

BTW, this is atypical dumbarsery of your average 'winger. I don't think you should be beatching about what mantis might mean since you're a living walking fallacy.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@htate51 @mantisdragon91 @HeatherOMalley

Nazi SS was not any kind of Militia. Quite the contrary - of the 3 kinds, guards at camps, personal bodyguard or among the most well equipped Military units, none of them would come close to be any type of irregular or regular Militia.

Yet another fine example of how the left wants to have an "honest discussion" about firearms
.

Yeah - thanks for the input 'winger. 

Just for your information - I'm fairly sure that any type of 'regulation' that liberals are talking about will be more like in Switzerland.

cent-fan
cent-fan

@terryclifton1 @Hollywooddeed @Stinker No.  They come to your house to steal your gun.  How do you think criminals prefer to get guns?  Retail?

Bigger clips, criminals get them.  AR or machine gun, criminals get them.  Night scopes, criminals get them.  Plastic guns, criminals get them.  How do they do it?  They wait until you bright gun experts bring them home and they take them.