Saturday, May 4, 2013

NRA Comments Channel John Calhoun

After leading discussion with my 8th graders of John Calhoun's address
to the Senate in 1837 opposing the rise of abolitionism, I am struck by
parallels between his comments and the comments of incoming NRA President
James Porter.

Porter recently argued that, "This is not about gun rights." He argued that instead the NRA was fighting a "cultural war". See a ABC News article on the speech here. It seems fairly evident, even without invoking the most extreme stereotypes, that the NRA gains much of its support from a significant minority group genuinely concerned with what they perceive as a threat to their way of life.

Similarly, Calhoun argued that abolition was pursued by some "with a systematic design" and a "general crusade against us and our institutions." In 1837, Calhoun called it a "deadly war" but could hardly have imagined a civil war so deadly as that which broke out 23 years later. The death he so feared, was a way of life. His speech can be found here.

Understanding the link between the 'refuse to give an inch' attitude of the NRA and the perception of a cultural war, is essential in explaining how gun rights advocates are gloating after defeating the recent mild and middle of the road gun-control legislation in the Senate. The NRA's message of cultural resistance has been highly effective. Rather than get caught up in fruitless quibbling about the specifics of "common sense" gun control, the NRA has deftly allowed the 2nd Amendment to speak for itself, while invoking a powerful argument of cultural crisis that translates into whatever it is their base is feeling anxious about at the moment. Its "not about guns" (or slavery), but a "crusade against us and our institutions."

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Porter and the NRA are not just channeling Calhoun, they are taking a play out of his playbook.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a good analysis! We need to take care to think outside our cultural ghetto. Too often we swallow hook, line, and sinker all that our particular culture considers mandatory.


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