- Historic Sites
“God Guns & Guts Made America Free”
The National Rifle Association and the Right to Bear Arms
February/March 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 2
Between 1960 and 1976, the number of licensed hunters in this country increased more than 14 per cent (to 16,300,000). This is only three points off the per cent of increase for the U.S. population as a whole during the same period. Not a bad record for the enduring Nimrod tradition, especially if one considers that, during those sixteen years, America witnessed its greatest loss of huntable land (to “Posted” signs and suburbanization). Moreover, dollar-volume sales of arms and ammunition continue to increase. Inflation accounts for much of this, but not enough to indicate any slackening in the number of units sold; not when rifle and shotgun sales of $269,700,000 in 1975 showed a 27 per cent improvement over sales in 1972, and surely not when handgun sales of $125,500,000 showed a 39 per cent gain in the same three-year period. These figures, of course, reflect only legal over-the-counter transactions. They do not include back-alley sales of Saturday Night Specials and contraband military weapons which no self-respecting urban guerrilla can afford to be without. Thus it would seem that quite a few Americans are not yet as fed up with guns as I had previously believed.
Statistically, it would be impossible to construct an accurate profile of the gun owners of this country. They simply refuse to be placed into neat little squares. It does seem feasible, however, to arrive at some general categorical conclusions about them. One might divide the lawful gun owners of this country into four parts. There are (1) hunters, (2) competitive shooters, (3) collectors, and (4) defenders. By weight of numbers, competitive shooters and collectors do not count for much, nor do they particularly trouble the sensibilities of the antigunners. This leaves the hunters and the defenders.
According to NRA executives, at least half their members are hunters; yet hunting, apparently, is not always the motive for a hunter to join the NRA. A member opinion survey last year, with more than 130,000 responding, showed that “the most important single reason I first joined NRA” was not “Hunting” (at 14.7 per cent, the second highest response) but “Protecting My Gun Rights” (at 47.7 per cent). Therefore, it seems that anyone who joins the NRA mainly to protect gun rights can be classified as a defender, whether he or she hunts or not.
Defenders no doubt constitute the largest sector of the NRA membership and the largest of the entire gun-owning public as well. This is not to say that all defenders are equally concerned first and foremost with protecting their gun rights. Some are. But others are more concerned with protecting themselves, their spouses, their children, their homes, their businesses, their land. They see themselves as decent, law-abiding citizens. But the System has failed them. They feel helpless. On the farm, where a rifle or shotgun can be as valid and valued a tool as any other, varmints prey on crops and livestock. In the city, there is crime in the streets and fear behind every double-locked door. Some people begin to suspect that even the police have failed them. They pick up a copy of NRA’s official publication, American Rifleman , and their suspicions are confirmed. The year is 1967, after the riots that wrenched cracks in twenty cities. Here in the editorial it says that New York City has a police force about the size of two army divisions and spends a million dollars a day on law enforcement, “yet its crime rate rockets.” The editorial asks: “Who Guards America’s Homes?” The editorial answers: Not the police but the armed citizen, the member of the unorganized militia—the defender.
Fears less conventional than a healthy concern for one’s own self-defense also haunt some defenders, and on occasion the NRA has not been reluctant to capitalize on them. An editorial appearing in American Rifleman in 1949 noted that a major objective of communist takeover strategy is to disarm the citizenry. “Communists,” the editorial explained, “have no overweening desire to be shot.” This was written at the height of the cold war, and in the political context of those times it may have seemed a word to the wise. The editors of Rifleman , however, are not always influenced by changes of international temperature; a version of this message was reprinted in the magazine as recently as 1973. Also in 1973, the readers of Rifleman were treated to a rehash of the “Rules for Revolution,” a document which has never been authenticated but which is held in some circles to be a Moscow advisory to Red undergrounds throughout the world. Even the late J. Edgar Hoover, in 1969, called the document “spurious.” Yet, according to the Rifleman , rule 10 calls for “the registration of all firearms on some pretext, with a view to confiscating them and leaving the population helpless.”