The National Rifle Association is, if nothing else, boundlessly creative when it comes to keeping its political friends and allies in tow and winning new ones to beat back gun controls. The latest ploy is to grab at more minorities.
It announced with much fanfare on its website that it is a diverse organization and welcomes all who support unfettered gun ownership. The site promises comments from “diverse” commentators on gun owners’ rights on NRANews.com and kicked off with a YouTube appeal from a black gun lover touting the benefits of gun ownership and the NRA.
At first glance, the NRA’s minority outreach campaign seems like a good ploy, since the majority of gun owners in America are non-whites. African Americans alone make up nearly 30 percent of the nation’s gun owners, though only 12 percent of the population. But you wouldn’t know that. The talking heads of the NRA, as well as its top officials, bankrollers, key legislative lobbyists and vocal congressional backers, are white guys.
The NRA has been wildly successful in spewing its anti-gun control message for the past decade through a well-oiled, well-versed labyrinth of PACs, lobbyists, legal counsels, divisions, funds and a foundation. There are few, if any, minorities involved in any of these lobbying efforts.
To the general public, the NRA is a reflexive, ultraconservative advocacy group. The NAACP and LULAC (The League of United Latin American Citizens) have been vocal opponents of the NRA’s hardline position on guns. Both have expressed deep skepticism about the NRA’s minority outreach campaign.
The NRA calculates correctly that with the gun lobby under relentless assault by President Obama, top Democrats — and as polls consistently show, a majority of Americans — now is the ideal time to put a few blacks and Latinos out front as visible, public talking heads for the organization.
This would be aimed at using them as window dressing to help the NRA make its case that is not a narrow, racially one-dimensional organization hostile to minorities.
This is not to say that black and Latino gun owners that believe in the NRA’s mission don’t have the right or shouldn’t be in the organization. The NRA’s problem in getting more minorities is not the perception and reality that it is a politically conservative organization. Nor is it solely the deserved negative press it gets with every new gun atrocity and the increasing public attention to the gun carnage ongoing in Chicago and other inner city neighborhoods.
The problem is the NRA’s refusal to concede virtually any ground on what the majority of Americans and a hefty number of legal gun owners and advocates clamor for, and that’s sensible, effective and tough gun control measures that will reduce the carnage among the very minorities that the NRA claims it wants.
The NRA has not and never has made a convincing argument that putting more guns in the hands of law-aiding citizens is the best way to stop the thousands of murders in the country each year, and that especially includes minority victims.
Then there’s the study by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence that found that states with the most restrictive laws have lower rates of gun-related deaths than states that have few or lax limits.
The Children’s Defense Fund in a 2012 report effectively documented the colossal toll of gun violence on young blacks. It put forth specific measures that could at least curb some of the violence. It did not advocate that legal gun owners give up their guns or suggest anything that would prevent law-abiding citizens from possessing a gun for their personal protection and safety.
The Kaiser Foundation also found that 20 percent of Americans know a person who has been a victim of gun violence and that a majority of them said they were good friends or family members, and some were even victims themselves.
The NRA’s minority outreach campaign is in its infant stage and there’s no indication of how serious it is about trying to recruit more minorities. Even if it’s successful in ramping up the numbers of minorities, there’s no guarantee that they would play an effective role in the organization.
But that’s less important than the fact that the NRA’s effort will allow it to present itself to the public as a non-partisan, non-ideological organization whose sole concern is the defense of the second amendment. This alone makes it a ploy worth trying.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.