No one wants to take sides anymore. In a noncommittal state every noncommittal idea can contribute to the political framework, and we find ourselves bombarded with singular ‘issues’ or ‘causes’ rather than the actual approaches that connect them. No lobby or interest group wants to alienate itself from its basis of support, and so this strategy seems to dominate within many popular organizations.
Unsurprisingly, this tactic benefited the NRA Political Victory Fund (PVF) during the midterm elections. To bolster the credibility of its endorsements, Chris Cox (executive director of the organization’s Institute for Legislative Action) gave an interview in the National Review Online, emphasizing that policies—and not politics—informed its choices.
And this works quite well. As it is, in its own words, a “single-issue” group, it thereby distances itself from any ideological commitment. Come election time, it’s easy to get people voting your way when you have them “Vote Freedom First,” wherein the Second Amendment becomes a meta-political issue that transcends all political divisiveness.
Though it admits a “right-of-center” slant, the PVF has built a simple route out of any unsavory accusations of political bias: because the Second Amendment is popularly considered a conservative cause, the NRA grudgingly accepts its status as a “conservative” group. It continues to support democrats that staunchly uphold the Second Amendment, and its “single-issue” reputation prohibits it from delving any further into the arena.
Thus, citing its own procedure, we might take issue when the NRA posts a video under the anachronistic rallying cry “Immigration corruption and criminal aliens are destroying US.”
Thoughtfully posted at NRA.org/mexico, the short documentary describes border violence, with anonymous testimonials from masked cartel members and black market arms dealers. It goes on to detail Mexico’s current political climate, deriding Felipe Calderon’s support of the U.S. Assault Weapons Ban and claiming that the Mexican military and the cartels are “one entity.”
For it, all undocumented immigration is “criminal” immigration; all people crossing that border contribute to the state of lawlessness. In the end, the NRA’s call for harsh criminal penalties and an unsympathetic foreign policy is coupled with its own membership plug.
Of course, violence at the southwest border and drug trafficking are serious issues; innocent civilians on both sides of the border are at risk, and the situation clearly needs a decisive solution. That being said, the NRA isn’t a foreign policy think tank, or a task force on international crime. Its idea of an unbiased, “single-issue” approach seems inconceivable; slap a Gadsen flag on that video’s title and you have a pretty convincing Tea Party.
How does a “single-issue” group move not only to border control, but even to downright anti-immigrant sentiments?
The truth is that it’s pretty easy to ride the NRA’s platform. An isolated criterion for endorsements might sound noble around an election, but in the political arena it functions much differently than the PVF’s dissimulating self-portrayal.
Instead of inhibiting forays into other debates, the NRA’s approach actually allows it to carve up the entire spectrum of ideological factions based on their individual relationships to gun rights advocacy. Moreover, these relationships are easily transformed into other issues entirely. The NRA’s choleric mutterings on immigrants have all been connected to issues of gun control, but through tenuous correlations that indicate a broader project.
In the early 2000s, the NRA’s stance on immigration orbited the issue of gang violence, and the popular argument that it was beginning to outgun police officers while offering them no lawful recourse. When public officials called for gun bans, NRA responded not through lucid rebuttal, but by mobilizing against “illegal alien gangs.” Likewise, the aforementioned video alludes to stricter gun controls resulting from perceived smuggling threats. Its argument seems indicative of the “single-issue” approach; ‘protect our rights’ turns into ‘close the border’, as it decries all undocumented immigration as an act of “criminal” intent. Instead of invoking the panoply of interconnected issues with which the Second Amendment converses, time and again the NRA conjures its familiar fetish: the foreigner that threatens your safety.
This isn’t really just “right-of-center” anymore, but the NRA will sustain this façade for as long as the American people allow it. The disingenuous rhetoric of a “single-issue” allows the organization to produce some of the most flagrant anti-immigrant propaganda in the American political scene, all the while legitimating these sentiments for its supporters.
Hiding behind firearms advocacy doesn’t make nativism any less excusable, and drawing dubious correlations to justify it only evidences its inherence in the NRA’s agenda. Ultimately, the single-issue serves these chauvinistic values better than any comprehensive platform ever could, smuggling prejudice into every ‘political victory.’