This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published May 2, 2012 on Breitbart.com.
“Our Founding Fathers enshrined the Second Amendment for one purpose: survival. Survival of each citizen. Survival of a nation.” With those words as his theme, the longest-serving head of the National Rifle Association (NRA)–CEO Wayne LaPierre–trumpeted unity for all conservatives going into the 2012 presidential election.
The NRA held its 141st Annual Meeting in April in St. Louis. Over 70,000 members of the oldest and largest civil-rights organization in America gathered from across the nation. They heard speeches from presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, as well as other political heavyweights, shopped through over 300,000 square feet of guns and gear, and heard speeches from the officers of the most-feared political juggernaut in America.
The reason for the NRA’s clout is obvious. Gallup reports that the NRA currently enjoys an impressive 68% favorable rating among the American population, a number most politicians can only dream of retaining over any length of time. For comparison, Gallup currently has President Barack Obama at 47% approval.
Founded in 1871, the NRA prides itself on being nonpartisan. Among its four million active members–and 19 million former members who still describe themselves as members, for a total of over 23 million Americans claiming affiliation with the NRA–are millions of Democrats, typically blue-collar union members from key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri. The NRA’s resulting ability to swing votes in key states strikes terror in the hearts of political candidates who have seen the NRA lay waste to the presidential ambitions of some anti-gun politicians (see: Gore, Al, and Kerry, John).
Some conservatives have at times complained when the storied Second Amendment organization has supported pro-gun Democrats. But LaPierre (who throughout the entire organization simply goes by “Wayne”)–who has led the NRA for an unprecedented 21 years–sounded a call for conservative unity around the Constitution on all three legs of the Reagan Coalition: economic conservatives, social conservatives, and national-security conservatives.
Wayne began: “All over this nation, people feel it in their hearts–that something has gone terribly wrong in our country. In almost every way you look at it, almost every aspect of American freedom is in some state of decline: Our right to speak. Our right to assemble. Our right to practice our religion. Our right to seek the kind of health care we want for our families.” The crowd was energetic and attentive, frequently interrupting his speech with applause.
He continued with an emphasis on the size and cost of government, calling for: “The economic freedom to earn and spend and save…to own our own homes…to buy the kind of food we want to feed to our children … to raise and discipline our kids…even the simple right to fly the American flag.”
LaPierre also pushed back against those who seek to define the NRA as solely gun-oriented, advocating a coalition mindset by saying of these other topics: “Not our issues, some may say. Oh, but they are. Less freedom anywhere threatens all freedoms everywhere–and don’t think our guns aren’t on their list.”
In an era when some seek to redefine conservatism as only about fiscal policy, to the exclusion of cultural issues, Wayne emphasized: “It’s one thing to undermine free enterprise and the American economy, but it’s quite another for the president and his agents to go after our right to responsibly raise our children. Government has no business in that freedom!”
He then pivoted to national security, working off of the NRA’s longtime focus on military readiness (during World War I the NRA worked directly with the U.S. War Department–the predecessor to the Defense Department–to prepare young men for combat in Europe). Highlighting one of the most recent outrages on this front, LaPierre told the crowd:
“President Obama’s secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, visited Afghanistan a few weeks ago. Before entering a building to hear the secretary speak, hundreds of Marines–United States Marines–were ordered to leave their rifles outside. I know there are a lot of current and former members of the military watching and listening to this speech. Imagine serving your nation on foreign soil, in harm’s way, and being ordered to disarm. ‘Leave your gun outside.'”
LaPierre then moved to the related issue of the border, taking an uncompromising position on border security: “The collapsed border with Mexico has become a superhighway, not just for hundreds of thousands of violent drug cartel members, but for the untold number of terrorists bent on destroying us.”
Wayne put all this in the context of the historical purpose and meaning of the right to bear arms: “The Second Amendment has never been more relevant than it is today. When all is said and done, we may have nothing left but our gun rights, but that’s the one right that gives us a fighting chance to reclaim freedoms lost and preserve all of our rights, and all of our freedom.” Although some try to make such statements controversial, the reality is it perfectly resonates with the Supreme Court’s recent declaration of the purpose for the Second Amendment in D.C. v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010).
“We bow our heads at night, pray for our families and keep our firearms close. That is our America. We are the millions of Americans who have found faith in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are the millions who understand there is no greater freedom than to own a firearm to protect yourself, your family, your community and your nation.”
Although he’s known for stem winder speeches that rally his troops at major political events, this is the broadest I’ve ever seen Wayne cast his net. It evoked the theme of Benjamin Franklin’s famous caution at the outset of the American Revolution that I quote in my book Resurgent: “We must, indeed, all hang together, gentlemen, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
In an age where all sorts of conservatives find a common adversary in President Obama and his far-left allies, Wayne LaPierre’s call for joining forces in common cause was a welcome sound.