The Ethical Spectacle, July 1995,

Defending NRA Rhetoric

A lot of fuss was made after the the Oklahoma City bombing about the NRA's use of phrases like "jack-booted thugs" to describe federal agents. The thesis was that the NRA was promoting violence against federal agents by demonizing them with this kind of rhetoric.

Now, I believe that the NRA is a dangerous and dishonest organization, because of where it spends its money and the laws that it supports. So I was ready to jump on that bandwagon, when I realized that those bashing the NRA for the "jackbooted thugs" quote were laboring under an immense double standard.

In a recent article, I called the CIA a "serial killer in the basement of government". There is no moral difference between this statement and the NRA's "jackbooted thugs". The only argument that I can think of, that I am not knowingly addressing an audience of gun owners and the NRA is, won't wash. The minute we start trying to differntiate identical speech based on the audience it is addressed to, we are in a world of double standards. I believe in the elimination of double standards, not their promotion.

Did I make a mistake with my "serial killer" rhetoric? I don't believe so. I think the statement is well within the borders of normal, lively expression of strongly held beliefs. So is "jackbooted thugs."

No-one bashed me for my "serial killer" remark, and those criticizing NRA conveniently forget that BATF, the target of the "thugs" remark, was badly out of control in both the Branch Davidian and Weaver incidents. Most of us would likely welcome an investigation into the abuses of a law enforcement agency, if we weren't so fearful that a far right wing agenda was being advanced in the process. But it is a strange day when the left in America defends police brutality and the abuse of power. Unlike the NRA, I believe Randy Weaver was-- is--a criminal. But he was entitled to his day in court. The sniper killing of his unarmed wife, with her baby in her arms, was shocking. The FBI should have to explain it. If it is not murder, it is at least homicide committed in gross negligence of human life. To defend the rights only of criminals and suspects precious to the left, and to allow BATF and the FBI to have a field day with those of the far right, mires us in an unconscionable double standard.

If you want to criticize NRA rhetoric, target the words that really go over the line of fair political discourse, such as the board member statement envisioning the murder of Mrs. Brady of Handgun Control . But don't penalize the NRA for the same strongly opinionated rhetoric you would endorse in support of your own political agenda.