May 05, 2002
Why diversity is important

I've been following the dustup about anti-gay remarks at the recent NRA convention with some interest. Ted Barlow has been on InstaPunditWatch throughout (see here, here, and here for full coverage) and documents how Reynolds eventually said the right things about this.

In his latest installment, Reynolds quotes at length from a note he got from David Rostcheck of The Pink Pistols. Rostcheck and Reynolds speak at length about the NRA's image problem. Both of them lay blame on the media (Rostcheck identifies it as more of an "editor problem" than a "reporter problem") for the fairly widespread perception that the NRA is, as CastleBravo on The Firing Line put it "a bunch of paranoid future spree killers, redneck Bambi-blasters and neo-Nazis".

To be fair, Rostcheck, Reynolds, and CastleBravo all recognize that the NRA itself contributes to this image, in no small part by having speakers who, as CastleBravo says, "at best can't keep their foot out of their mouth and at worst has an anti-gay bias and doesn't have the sense to keep it to themselves". None of them, though, really put the finger on what I believe is the leading contributor to this problem and its obvious cure: The NRA's most visible spokespeople are a bunch of angry white men.

Think about it. Who do you think of when you think of the NRA? Well, there's Wayne LaPierre, who at this same convention compared the founder of a gun-control group to Osama bin Laden and whose infamous "jack-booted thugs" remark caused Bush Sr. to tear up his NRA membership card. There's Charlton Heston. There's...well, I have no idea who else. And that's my point.

I believe Rostcheck and Reynolds when they say that the NRA is a largely diverse and welcoming organization. So why don't they act like a smart organization and take advantage of that diversity? I've heard of the Second Amendment Sisters. Thanks to Reynolds and Rostcheck, I've now heard of The Pink Pistols. I forget who pointed me to Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. That's three gun rights advocacy groups whose members would otherwise be associated with the Democratic/pro-gun-control side of things. I'm sure a bit of Googling would find more. Why the NRA doesn't give these folks a more prominent role in making its public statements is a mystery to me. I'm sorry, but if the public at large thinks that gun owners are mostly right-wing white men, the NRA has no one to blame but itself.

If I were an NRA member, I'd wonder why my organization hasn't taken the easy step to blunt my opponents' rhetoric by finding a nice unassuming soccer mom to replace Wayne LaPierre as its public face. Anti-abortion groups figured this out years ago - most of their spoksepeople are women for this very reason. Really, what are they afraid of - being accused of tokenism? A Maureen Dowd column which tries to make a case for that is an irony even a non-gun lover like me would relish.

It's a no-brainer. I fail to understand why they haven't thought of it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 05, 2002 to Society and cultcha