Unarmed and Far From Dangerous
by Jack Anderson
Book Review by John Taylor
Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise
To be perfectly honest, until his new book [Inside the NRA: Armed and Dangerous, Dove Books, 1996] came out, I'd completely forgotten that Jack Anderson ever existed. By way of (perhaps unnecessary) self-defense, I note that, during Anderson's presumed heyday, the late '60s through mid-'70s, I was mostly out of the country, acting as Uncle Sam's firefighter to the world from Aden to Yemen. So perhaps I may be forgiven for not assigning Anderson to his rightful place in journalistic history.
I understand that Anderson sought a reputation like that of his mentor, Drew Pearson. A Washington 'muckraker', albeit a highly selective, highly liberal one, his specialty was uncovering sinister cabals and conspiracies of the Right. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)
Anderson has re-surfaced, in the spirit of Bill Colby perhaps, with this 'hard-hitting ex-poh-zay' of that most feared of Washington special interest groups -- the "gun lobby". About the best thing that can be said about his attack on the NRA is that it is mercifully brief. Too bad Jack probably didn't intend it to be that way.
In fewer than 160 pages of actual text, and set in large type at that, this book will barely outlast a leisurely trip to the 'facilities', which is definitely where it should be read. Anderson apparently forgot whether he was going to go for volume or quality of output, for this book has neither.
It is difficult for me to imagine a book that purports to expose the facts of abuse and misuse of members' trust that has not one single footnote or citation in the entire text. (The only source citation is for the Appendix, which tabulates how much money the NRA gave to various Congresscritters. The reference cites the Federal Elections Commission for one table, and, for the others, Handgun Control, Inc. This revealing sole citation is if anything more damning than the complete absence of references elsewhere.)
Suffice it to say that the premise of the book is that the NRA's members have been somehow duped and hoodwinked by a cabal of unindicted co-conspirators at the top of the NRA, who have seized the organization from its benign roots (promoting hunting and sport shooting) and transformed it into that most hideous of Washington spectacles, a lobbying group that strives to defend the rights of the people themselves.
It might be easier to credit Anderson's insinuations if it appeared that he knew the first thing about the NRA he chooses to attack. For example, a key supporting element of his "disaffected membership" argument is that so "few" members vote for the NRA's Board of Directors. He gives no evidence of understanding that only a minority of members are even eligible to vote for BoD candidates (specifically, those with over five years continuous membership and paid-up Life Members).
Anderson also points out that of the NRA's 3 million-odd members, only 24,000 showed up for the 1995 convention in Phoenix. Excuse me, only 24,000? For a weekend wraparound convention that's held every year? I wonder how that compares to our quadrennial political conventions -- by any standard of comparison? And then, as if to sabotage his own argument, he goes to great lengths to point out how vociferous those attendees were in support of the NRA's 'extreme' stances.
But why should I expect Anderson to have researched the NRA in depth? This is a man who says, in his own defense, and to deflect criticism that he is just another elitist gun-hater (which, by the way, he certainly appears to be):
I am not an anti-gun fanatic. Far from it. In the West, where I grew up, guns were a part of life, and guns were to be found in nearly every home. I have owned and used guns all my life. I taught my children to shoot.
Fair enough, though methinks he doth protest too much. But scant paragraphs later, reminiscing about being mugged in D.C. in 1989, Anderson reveals the depth of his knowledge of guns:
On that afternoon in Washington, if I'd had a .44 caliber Magnum automatic in a shoulder holster, it would have done me no good.
[OK, maybe he's familiar with the AutoMag (tm), and maybe he meant "automatic" in the sense of "autoloading" rather than "capable of full-auto fire", but somehow, I think not. And, parenthetically, this all leads me to wonder just how safe his "children" are with guns?]
OK, so Anderson has conclusively proved that he knows nothing about guns and nothing about the NRA, but is more than willing to write about both. Does he have a point? Does he make an argument against the NRA that isn't shot full of holes?
People who know me are well aware that I am not considered an apologist for the NRA. I've been know to stand on the corner and point out that the emperor is buck-ass naked. Heck, I've been known to enumerate individual warts on its collective posterior -- at length, and loudly. But this Anderson thing is bigger than that.
There is a need on the part of the forces-of-evil to demonize individuals and organizations that work against them. This primarily because the f-o-e are incapable of standing up to their adversaries on the filed of combat. They are incapable of fair fight. Their specialty is the smear, the innuendo -- the back-shooting -- the only venues where they can achieve advantage. They are definitely not capable of going toe to toe with any organization that challenges their affectation of superiority.
This book is a feeble and transparent attempt to convince the rank-and-file members of the NRA that they are being ill-served by their leadership. Anderson attempts to portray the NRA as the stereotype extremist group so artfully categorized by masters of true hate propaganda like Bill Clinton, Louis Farrakhan, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson of -- what? -- is it the Rainbow Coalition still?
This book is the classic liberal writ: we know that, deep down you're really good people; you've just been misled, because you are such sheep; we have the answers; come, follow us and we will tell you truths, and protect you, and show you how you can become part of the great collective.
While I can't speak for the rank-and-file, I can say with certainty that if this is the best that Anderson has, it's a pretty powerful endorsement of the NRA -- an unintended consequence with which Anderson will just have to live. It's hard for me to imagine that any sentient NRA member would be swayed by any of Anderson's arguments, even if each and every one were true.
The myth of the NRA as a conspiracy of angry white males has been shattered. The President and Executive Director for its political arm are both women. Four out of five top vote-getters in its last Board of Directors election were women. The membership of the NRA as reflected by my friends, fellow local club members, and political grassroots allies, is so diverse as to warm the cockles of the hearts of the EEOC and OFCCP (if indeed they have hearts).
This book may have inadvertently crippled another myth -- that of the NRA as evil cabal of right-wing extremists bent on abusing the trust of the members for their own mysterious ends. While I hope that members will maintain vigilance and continue to encourage the NRA down the path toward individual liberty, I doubt seriously if Anderson's curious book will have any lasting effect on anyone. I can't imagine it changing members' minds, or even convincing anyone predisposed to believe its lame assertions. By all means, check it out of the library if you can. Read it when you have an hour to spare. (Just don't waste your money on it!) Then join with me in invoking another icon from a slightly later era (one whom I do remember) -- the late Clara Peller -- in asking Jack Anderson, "Where's the beef?"
John Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an NRA Life Member.
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