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Column: Spat with NRA gets political, personal

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INDIANAPOLIS — Last year, when the National Rifle Association made one of its election-year purchases of an Indiana political candidate, I got into a spat with the gun group.

I wrote a column criticizing the transactional nature of the NRA’s relationship with the candidate. The NRA responded by getting personal.

One of their flacks sent a letter to several state newspapers that argued I was an out-of-touch elitist who couldn’t know much about Indiana, its people or its history.

I responded by pointing out that my ancestors had settled in Indiana more than 200 years ago — before it was even a state — and that attacking someone for not being Hoosier enough was an odd strategy for a group with a mailing address in the D.C. beltway. I also pointed out the NRA needed to keep gun owners scared and angry to keep funds flowing into the group’s coffers.

I thought of that exchange when the NRA’s new ad hit the airwaves.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t go looking for it — particularly if you’ve just had a meal. It’s pretty sickening.

The spot goes after President Barack Obama’s children. It says the Obama children have armed guards but the president is denying everyone else’s children the same security because he’s an out-of-touch elitist.

There are so many things wrong and offensive about the ad that it’s hard to know where to begin.

But let’s start with the premise. The reason the children — and spouse — of the president of the United States have Secret Service protection isn’t for humanitarian reasons or because we, as a nation, place a higher value on their lives than those of other human beings.

No, we provide the president’s family with armed guards for reasons of national security. We don’t want the president — any president — distracted from the work of serving us by concerns about his or her family’s safety. We also do not want the president of the United States to be tempted to hand over the nuclear launch codes because some terrorist has a gun to the president’s child’s head.

We protect the president’s family because it is in our interest to do so and because doing so makes all of us safer.

But in some ways all of that is beside the point.

The NRA’s leadership isn’t interested in a rational discussion about this or any other aspect of the debate about guns. If the gun group’s leaders were interested in being reasonable, they would realize a couple of things.

The first is the proposed reforms of the nation’s gun policies and laws are mild ones. The big three are calls for better background checks on people who purchase guns, a limit on the number of bullets in a magazine or ammunition clip and renewing the ban on military-type assault weapons.

There are no calls to take away a hunter’s rifles or shotguns — nor any attempts to make handguns illegal for personal protection.

Yet the NRA’s leaders scream as if the president had proposed something as crazy as putting out an app that teaches 4-year-old children how to shoot people. That’s another brilliant NRA public relations move.

Why? Well, the NRA’s leaders have a curious take on the Second Amendment. They say that it guarantees the right to have any weapon so that citizens can resist law enforcement officers or U.S. military personnel if those citizens oppose the government.

If the NRA’s interpretation is right, then private citizens have the right to own their own nuclear and biological weapons, which is absurd.

It also means that the Founders of this country drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as a kind of suicide pact, another odd notion.

The second thing the NRA’s leaders have been slow to realize is that the organization’s members aren’t with them on this fight. Every survey of NRA members — almost all of whom are rational, law-abiding citizens — shows that they support background checks, limits on magazines and an assault weapons ban.

Why then does the NRA leadership react this hysterically?

Because the group gets a lot of money — not from gun owners, but gun manufacturers and dealers. And the gun manufacturers and dealers want to keep selling assault weapons and heavy-duty magazines to anyone with a pulse, no questions asked.

To do that, the gun merchants need the NRA to keep gun owners scared and angry.

So that’s what the NRA will do, even if doing so means taking aim at decency itself.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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