“God Guns & Guts Made America Free”

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A similar disclaimer might well have been voiced by an NRA spokesman, when, a year or so earlier, the gunnery took issue with a policy of the national convention of the YWCA advocating the licensing of gun owners and the registration of firearms. In retaliation, the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Michigan had instructed its members to boycott the United Way and other sources of YWCA funding. Obviously delighted with its allies in Michigan, NRA’s American Rifleman inquired editorially, “Say Goodbye to the Y?,” described the alliance’s boycott, then suggested that “Others may follow suit.” Congressman Michael J. Harrington later observed in The Nation: “They may indeed, but they probably wouldn’t have if [ Rifleman ] hadn’t given the ploy national circulation.” (Before the boycott was imposed, the Sportsmen’s Alliance had suggested to United Way and YWCA that “an unbiased third party be named to arbitrate the differences,” someone “beyond reproach in terms of objectivity.” They even suggested a candidate: Congressman John Dingell, consistent foe of strong gun legislation and a member, as well as sometime director, of the NRA.)

The antigunners, of course, have played dirty, too—if not in the realm of financial interdiction, then at least in the martial art of public ridicule. One of their favorite weapons is a sort of pop Freudian psychology which holds the rifle, or any firearm for that matter, to be a surrogate phallus for impotent men. Several years ago, for example, the militantly antihunting Friends of Animals sponsored an advertisement attacking a proposed deer hunt in a national wildlife refuge. Addressed to “Rod Hunter, Sports Columnist,” the ad was headlined: “Hunters-Make it ‘Dear’ … not ‘Deer’ … will you … won’t you … can’t you?” Below were the signatures of Gloria De Haven, Lauren Bacall, Ali McGraw, and Joanne Woodward, among others. The gist of their message: “We’re not turned on by a show of masculinity which takes place in the forests. … We like guys whose virility holds on better proving grounds.”

Such below-the-belt assaults seem to have had some effect. At one recent NRA gathering in the Midwest, shrill bumper stickers proclaimed that “Rifle Shooters Have Longer Barrels,” that they ”… Make Accurate Lovers,” and that the place to do it is”… on a shooting mat.”

Possibly the most painful punch thrown at the NRA in recent times was a draft report on the future of hunting and gun control prepared at the expense of the Remington Arms Company. The blow was certainly not intentional on Remington’s part; it had merely wanted to obtain an impartial analysis of the future of firearms in America, and toward that end had retained the services of the Institute for the Future, a Menlo Park, California, firm. In turn, the institute assigned the project to one Andrew Lipinski, an analyst with a flair for colorful language. And somehow a copy of Lipinski’s first draft found its way to Jack Anderson, the syndicated columnist. Red faces at Remington, and wrath among chiefs of the NRA.

Lipinski minced few words. In his report, he found, among other things, that “many” hunters “detest authority and are not law abiding,” that NRA officials lack imagination in their presentations to Congress and the media, and that NRA “rightwingers are becoming increasingly isolated from the society of today.” Of the right-wingers, he added: “The blindfolds are of their own making. Dismissing unpleasant information about guns in society and denying integrity to those who are concerned about guns, they manage to survive in a bunker decorated with white hats and black hats, in a make-believe world of American ‘sacred rights,’ ancient skills, and coonskins.” Lipinski further noted of the NRA that “mutiny threatens within,” and that if the association should yield to the counsel of the “moderates inside,” then the ultraconservatives might split to a ” ‘give-them-no-quarter’ organization [such as]… the Citizens Committee on the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

The same mutinous pot had been found a-brewing three years earlier by Robert Sherrill, author of The Saturday Night Special . In the book, Sherrill quoted a letter from “an oldtime NRA moderate” who identified chief lobbyist Harlon Carter as “the power behind the NRA.” Carter was depicted as having the support of William Loeb, publisher of the extremely conservative Manchester (New Hampshire) Union Leader and NRA executive committeeman. There was reference to a Carter-Loeb effort to isolate the NRA moderates. Carter’s life dream, said Sherrill’s informant, was to be NRA executive vice president.