Gun Control

No, the NRA Is Not Urging Its Members to Assassinate Gun Control Supporters, Culture War

A lame headline provokes even lamer charges of incitement to violence.



The headline above Chris Cox's article about "universal background checks" in the March issue of the NRA magazine The American Rifleman is not exactly inspired. But neither is it an invitation to assassinate supporters of gun control, as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) claims to believe.

"This is a call for violence by the @NRA against @GabbyGiffords, who was nearly killed by gunfire and @SpeakerPelosi, the most powerful legislator in America," Swalwell tweeted on Saturday. "The NRA should face legal consequences. But let's put them out of business with boycotts and ballot boxes."

Fred Guttenberg, the father of a student who was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, concurred. "This article and incitement of violence against our current house speaker @SpeakerPelosi and former Congresswoman and gun violence survivor @GabbyGiffords is a terror tactic from a terror group," he tweeted. "Th[is] is the NRA today."

You may be surprised to learn that the article by Cox, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, is not a fire-and-brimstone diatribe against enemies of the Second Amendment but a calm dissection of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, a bill championed by Pelosi and other House Democrats that would require the involvement of a federally licensed gun dealer in almost all firearm transfers. The "call for violence" supposedly can be heard not in the article itself but in the headline: "Target Practice." That phrase, you see, is superimposed on a photo of Pelosi at a lectern, announcing the background check bill. Over her right shoulder you can see an out-of-focus Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was gravely injured in the 2011 mass shooting at a Tucson shopping center. So clearly the NRA is urging its members to murder both women.

Or maybe not. The subhead of the article says, "Congressional Democrats Target Gun Owners for Persecution With Extreme Firearm Transfer Bans." The article argues that the bill Pelosi is pushing, which cannot reasonably be expected to have much of an impact on violent criminals, exposes innocent gun owners to the threat of fines and jail while setting the stage for more ambitious measures, such as the national gun registration system that would be required to actually enforce "universal background checks." You may or may not agree with Cox's analysis, but it jibes with the headline and subhead, neither of which is, by any stretch of the imagination, a "call for violence" or a "terror tactic."

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) made that point in response to Swalwell's tweet. "How can you claim this?" he wrote. "Are you deliberately lying or did you just not read it? The article is about legislation targeting gun owners, not the NRA targeting Democrats. If your goal is to ensure that 'outrage culture' is alive and well, continuing to divide us, congrats."

If you need to be outraged by something, I nominate Swalwell's argument that people who oppose the policies he favors "should face legal consequences" for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Update: Cox's article has a new headline: "What Lurks Behind 'Universal' Background Checks?" The new subhead: "House Democrats are making a big play for laws even they admit won't work. What, then, do they really want?"