No, I’m not talking about the Paraguayan political party. During much of the last two decades, various gun control advocates, Democratic partisans, and hard-rightists have claimed that the National Rifle Association of America was really just part of the Republican political machine. “NRA” really stood for “National Republican Association,” they said.
Some typical examples of the claim: The 2006 book Foxes in the Henhouse: How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland and What the Democrats Must Do to Run ’em Out, written by Democratic political strategists Steve Jarding, Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, and Bob Kerrey (p. 258 “The NRA–Now Republican Altogether,” part of long attack on the NRA with numerous factual errors). From the head of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, approvingly quoted in The American Prospect. From the head of the Kentucky AFL-CIO. In a column on the Lew Rockwell website. From Handgun Control, Inc. (which later renamed itself “the Brady Campaign”).
But this year, the NRA is endorsing Democrats all over the country. Ohio’s major pro-Second Amendment organization is the Buckeye Firearms Association, and both BFA and NRA have endorsed Ohio Democratic Governor Ted Strickland for re-election. As they should, since he compiled a perfect voting record when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as Governor, has taken a leadership role in protecting the right to arms and promoting the shooting sports. The Republican nominee, John Kasich, provided the crucial vote in 1994 that resulted in the enactement of the Clinton ban on so-called “assault weapons” (19 guns by name, 200 more by generic definition, and all magazines holding more than 10 rounds).
Likewise, many of the Blue Dog Democrats who hold the balance of the power in the current U.S. House of Representatives have perfect or near-perfect voting records, and have helped enact positive legislation–such as allowing firearms carry in National Parks under the same conditions that carry is allowed in the rest of a particular state, and changing the federal statute on switchblade knives so as to thwart the Obama administration’s proposal to administratively ban the import of about 3/4 of folding knives.
So now, some Republican activists are furious that the NRA is endorsing Democrats. (The Sept. issue of The American Spectator covers the controversy, and includes some quotes from me.) Well, if you follow the advice of people who insist that the only candidates who can be endorsed are hard-right Republicans, then when you face (as in 2009) a Congress with an overwhelming Democratic majority, blocking anti-gun legislation will be extremely difficult, and passing constructive laws will be close to impossible.
From the very earliest days of the NRA, which was founded in 1871, the Association has understood that preservation of Second Amendment rights depends on broad support across the political spectrum. Shortly after Republican Ulysses Grant finished serving his second term as President of the United States of America in 1877, he was elected President of the National Rifle Association of America. In 1880, another Union hero of the Civil War, General Winfield Scott Hancock, became the Democratic nominee for President. Had he won the swing state of New York, he would have been inaugerated President of the USA in March 1881. Instead, in 1881 the NRA chose Hancock as its own President.
Civil liberties organizations which tie themselves exclusively to one party put liberty at risk. In a two-party system, it is inevitable that each party will dominate some of the time. Civil liberties are safer in the long run when they have friends in both parties, and when those friends know that civil liberty organizations will reciprocrate their support, especially during tough elections.