A REPORT FROM THE NRA FRONTLINE
"Two full halls, displaying enough raw guns and ammo to maintain a cozy dictatorship in South America for a few months. If you can shove it into a gun and blow it out of the other end, they've got it here on the floor. Smokeless gunpowder. A guy in camouflage that's so mind-bendingly real a dog may well come over to piss on him at any second. I keep my eyes peeled, but no such luck."
by Cliff Montgomery
Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Mention the NRA to the average American and you're
be met with a savage reply. Immediately the eyes fire and begin to
the voice rises sharply, the words of praise or damnation come to the
with a definite crispness and clarity that wasn't there before.
The question is why; what is it about this particular group
so arouses American passions? Some of their ideas - like the simple
that an armed person, properly trained, can damn well take care of
themselves - even make a lot of sense to most Americans. So what is it
them that make most of us so Goddamn nervous?
I spent 48 hours at the 129th annual NRA convention in Charlotte and
discovered an organization of businessmen, alcoholics, political
decorated soldiers, wanna-be cowboys, junkies and armless vets. But
while, I also began to realize that the 'average' NRA member, away from
political honchos and spin doctors, is hardly the "gun nut" he or she isportrayed to be, and is on the whole even more particular and concerned
gun safety than those who protest against them in the first place.
They're a mixture - sometimes putrid, sometimes a breath of fresh
They're bankers, binge drinkers, reverends, and molesters huddled
for a common cause . . .
The average NRA member is as frightfully conservative and as
independent as you could ever find on these shores.
God help us, they are us.
The man with the duffel bag knew he was in the right.
It was a hell of a scene last night, just a few blocks from where theconvention started today. The ol' boy was gettin' hot, tired of bein'
harassed by "them".
"Goddamn it, you tellin' me an honest man can't even git some good
'round here? Jesus, I just . . .", he went on, but no one I talked to
make out what else he drunkenly told the cop who was trying to move him
the front of the fried chicken place.
Was he here for the convention? I couldn't find out for sure, but
hanging out with some of these people my gut tells me he probably was.
In any case, the ol' boy was ready to stand up for his rights. He
that cop right in the eye and told him point blank that he had an AK-47
that duffel bag and was going to stay where he damn well pleased.
It was getting tight now, and they say you could see that on the
face and smell it in the air. The cop knew enough about guns to know
guy couldn't have all that in that little duffel bag - but he had to
just what was there to surprise him.
The cop tells him if he doesn't leave he'll have no choice but to
him to jail. The cop's hand slowly crawls up to his holster and sits on
business end of his own gun, just in case. The man with the duffel bag
thinks, then slowly begins to leave. He's muttering God knows what, butother than that "didn't say a fucking thing to anybody".
It hit me the moment I walked through the main entrance of theCharlotte Convention Center; that acrid odor of the body politic, that
strange twisting of reality that could only find its full breath on thewinds of a political cause. It's a distortion only David Lynch could
appreciate. Heston's face lingers high above on my right, on a long
hanging from the ceiling that has him saying proudly, "I'm an NRA
Timothy McVeigh was an NRA member, too; his picture is nowhere to be
It's about ten minutes to 10 a.m. and the main concourse is already
of people. The crowd is strewn throughout the thoroughfare but balloonsobscenely thru the middle like a stuffed, bloated whale - and brother,
don't take you long if you try to work your way through all that to
become hungry for space. It seems the crowd problem isn't really the
of a bigger than expected turnout, but is due to a bizarre
A surprisingly fair number of these people can't seem to understand why
guards at the escalators won't let them descend to the completely
exhibit halls crammed with weapons ten minutes before the show actually
begins, or why anyone has to be there to watch over them in the first
They stand outside the escalators impatiently, like boys trying to take
peek at dad's 'Playboy' for the first time. Only they are not exactly
giggling nervously as the anticipation hits; and the mood, while still
subdued, is beginning to get just a little tense . . .
As I squeeze by two men, the one in the blue suit and blue-and-white
striped tie is looking at his friend (who I couldn't see behind me) and
"Ah, Goddammit - I can see it all down there Frank, it's like it's
for us. Damn guard won't let a soul thru 'til ten, so we gotta stand
like a bunch of Goddamn idiots, waiting 'til she says we can go
. . .", and throws his head back towards the young black female guard
the top of the escalator.
Apparently the guards won't be winning any popularity contests with
crowd anytime soon. As I somehow find a way to twist, turn, and roll mybody through to the other side of this morass, I hear a few others
away about five feet to the left of me just as I'm pulling out of the
thing. They're pointing to the guard at the escalator and the one in
middle dressed from head to toe in fatigues says to his two friends,
" . . . hey, listen - these are good people, as good as you'll ever
trust me. The NRA's solid; it's just when we gotta deal with the
that the trouble starts . . .", and I'm now free enough of the crowd to
around and see that he's staring right at the black guard, hard enough
burn a hole through her with that stare if he only could. His friends
seem very impressed, though. They're members like the 'fatigues' boy.
is in a simple pair of jeans and white polo shirt; the other one is
and in a blue baseball cap, a plaid shirt buttoned loosely across his
slumping body, and has not one honest tooth in his poor honest head.
wait as the boy in the fatigues turns around to take a call from his
phone - the guy is in full outfit, complete with heavy jacket and
even though it's already humid outside and the temperature's climbing upinto the high 80's - to give each other those short, silent signals
give when someone else's back is turned and they are absolutely
that person is stone-cold nuts.
I'm pulling out my pen and pad when I see, directly before me and notmore than 30 feet away, a man covered in black - black polo shirt, blackpants, black tennis shoes, black hair, black beard and mustache, black
- approach the flight of stairs found at the end of the main concourse
begin what could only be described as an epic struggle with the
I can't tell you exactly what was doing war with the Man in Black; he
came clean about the whole thing, but from what I could get from him hisblood was nicely congealed with equally mad hits of downers, pot, and a
good shots of the liquors. "The liquors are what really does it", he
like William S. Burroughs after a particularly brave evening as he
that top step. I felt like someone interviewing a great Olympic
the doer of a fine, worthless achievement - and I guess in a way I was.
can only tell you that whatever was coursing through my friend's aching
veins, I'm sure it was very expensive and probably not from this
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the NRA. Jesus, if the whole
is like this I'm in for one hell of a ride . . .
Ten o'clock comes and goes as I mill around until an
opportune moment, then make that great descent into the bowels of NRA
myself. Two full halls, displaying enough raw guns and ammo to maintain
cozy dictatorship in South America for a few months. If you can shove
into a gun and blow it out of the other end, they've got it here on the
floor. Smokeless gunpowder. A guy in camouflage that's so
real a dog may well come over to piss on him at any second. I keep my
peeled, but no such luck. The guy looks like a talking bush that can
under its own power for Chrissake. I'd give my left eye to be here when
Man in Black comes down and stumbles across this one . . .
There's a revolutionary new gun here this year called an "iGun" -
a take on the very successful iMac computer, it even possesses an eerie
likeness to the Apple. Made of the newest and toughest polymers, it's
much computer as gun; I'd prefer calling it 'RoboGun', but you can't
everything. Put out by iGun Technologies of Daytona, Fl., it possesses
chip programmed to search the user's fingers for an encoded ring; the
scans the code, compares it to a code programmed in the gun's memory,
unlocks the trigger mechanism if the code found on the ring is a match.
It's a damn good idea whose time has come, and it shows - however
surreptitiously - that the NRA members are not living in a bubble and
understand the need for trigger-lock mechanisms themselves. When I went
interest in it seemed reasonably high. The problem with it is that it's$10,000 and is, for all its laudable intentions, really just a
battery-operated trigger-lock mechanism.
So why does the NRA hate the idea of the usual trigger-lock so much?
despise the Clinton Administration for trying to enforce a relatively
alternative to something the NRA members clearly know needs to be done
the first place - else why have the iGun company there at all?
I've been down here a while; I check my watch - damn
1pm. The Opening Ceremonies are happening in 15 minutes, and I've
blown a good chance to see Heston and the big boys strutting their stuff
a cozy seat. I sure as hell don't want to be standing as I try to writedown in my small notebook all that's going on around me.
Even though I know the Center quite well, I can't seem to find where
ceremony's being held. Common sense dictates that it be held in the
ballroom; but I go there and discover, along with a few older
redneck boys and one nice-looking, "Brady"-like family that there's no
there at all. Clearly we are on the wrong path.
"Is anyone in there?", the family's young dark-haired son
Judging by his seemingly constant look of confusion and what could only
described as a dull, aching kind of fear that shines from his eyes, I'd
he's about 18 going on 12.
"No honey, no one. Don't you worry though, babydoll", the still
attractive, raven-haired mother says to her pride and joy soothingly,
pale hand reaching out to touch his right arm, "we'll see him, by
She says this without a hint of viciousness, but with a gentle
that says she's as serious and believing as a heart attack; they will
Heston, by the grace of God. God is good, and He lays us down in the
pastures of the righteous, His love a gift of incense like the trees of
Christ, now I know why the poor kid is terrified. I pull back and
with the rednecks in case something happens. All in all, I'm less
"I'm sorry, are y'all looking for the Opening Ceremonies?" a voice
from behind. We all reel around at once to see a small, thin woman
40ish, her blonde pageboy haircut still able to give some justice to hergood-looking but somewhat tired face. "Well", she says in a drawl that
could only be from Texas, "that's in 217A thru D - just go straight
here and - ya'll see the li'l, um, hallway there just to the riight? Gothru that and it should be there directly in front of yew. Need
We said "no" almost as one, and she wished us all a fine time at the
convention. As for her, she's working for the NRA in one of the
registration booths downstairs on the main concourse, was coming by and
us clearly confused and thought she could help. She's 44, indeed from
told me about a few other things going on and where I could find them,
NRA member, and is so petite, informed, attractive and so disarmingly
nice that I actually start whistling as I'm walking away from
Any organization that can attract and hold people who can make you
and make your step a little lighter as you go on your merry way can't be
bad . . .
I know enough about the building to be surprised when
learn that the ceremony's being held here - a rather small venue in
officially kick off something of this magnitude. I get there, walk
and am even more surprised to find plenty of empty chairs there to greet
There's about ten minutes left until the whole thing starts, and even
though there's only a few hundred seats here, only a third are taken.
Something's up, that's obvious . . . but what?
I go over to an aisle seat close enough to the cozy one I had in my
and begin to sit down - only to spy a few items that's seconds away frombeing crushed by my reasonably large ass. I stop at the last moment andlook around; they're on all the seats in here - a baseball cap and a
accompanying pin proudly promoting a new "NRASports" idea the group's
have found intriguing, and topped off with a nice little American Flag
me and all the other people here to struggle with, lose, and finally
to the ground in secret frustration.
I sit down with my new toys and, as best I can, read what we can
here from the NRA's Program Guide:
"A celebration of YOU the Proud NRA member. Take a glimpse of the
view the present and see the future of YOUR NRA. Electrifying remarks
NRA guest speakers, a motivating video presentation spanning many years
gun owners victories and lots of fanfare.
Don't miss this great event!"
I do hate to miss a great event, so I'm thrilled to be here . . .
Even though I've seen these people all morning, it only strikes me
how terribly old most of this crowd is; I'd say their age tends
start at around fifty or fifty-five. Many are here with families - a
of them seem to have brought their grandsons (granddaughters appear to
distinctly absent from this group). If they're not with the family or
least with a wife who's as much into the NRA as they are (while it's notoverbearingly so, there's a pretty big lack of committed females here),
seem to be much more susceptible to drink; terribly susceptible
drink, to tell the truth. The older man who is either here alone or hasbrought an uncaring wife and holds a taste for any of the harder stuff
to be in the minority - that distinction clearly goes to the younger men
fit that mold. It almost seems that women and family act as even more
counteraction against a heavy alcohol and drug use with the NRA crowd
you usually find with American males as a whole. And, like anything the
member tends to do once he gets his heart set on it, it becomes a
the hardest kind. The NRA member doesn't know the meaning of the term
speed'; that's the kind of thing that's "almost ruined this here
and it's something he's certain is done only by "New York City liberals
faggots". The NRA person tends to be the kind of individual who will dosomething to death or won't do it at all.
Most are from the south and west, and they are all - almost to a
lily white. I searched a hard while to find a single black person
time there, and only found three the second day. Two were a middle-agedcouple; the third was a very tall black guy nobody but me seemed to messwith at all. He appeared to be alone, and when I talked to him I found
to be quite sober, intelligent, kind in nature, and totally committed
the cause of the NRA.
Just when you think you've pegged them, someone like this guy or the
sweet lady from Texas comes along and blows your fine theory all to
It's getting close to showtime, and a small band
the far wall starts up and plays, "God Bless America", at which the now
swelling audience claps heartily, then falls into the WWI classic "Over
There", at which the audience seems suddenly stumped. It's getting
but there's still enough room in here for an interesting show. I can
few lights are starting up and falling over the crowd, and that the
large screen at the front has begun showing a few stills. The flags arewaving now, and a few women have taken their small flags and placed theminside the back of their caps like people do at political rallies. The
fake political flavor that one found in the concourse but lost in the
and in meeting with the members themselves has now come back with a
vengeance. One wonders in looking at all this if this is really
testing of the waters. Could he be thinking at this late hour in his
of throwing his hat into the Big Ring? He's always been a political
though he switched affiliations some years ago, somewhat "like Reagan" -that's a phrase you hear falling from a lot of mouths around here, young
old, male or female, high or sober. If Heston hasn't thought of it, the
members certainly have.
Just as I'm beginning to take a few small notes in an effort to be asunobtrusive an observer as possible, an guy about sixty asks if the seat
my right is taken; it's not, and so he sits down quickly - too quickly
either me or anyone else around to tell him what we know from experience
about to happen. No problem, his ass tells him soon enough. He gets
bit wiser now, freaks out just a bit as we tell him there's also a pin
on the seat ("Where is it? Do you see it? Is it on me? Oh God, is
he asks me frantically), and slowly sits back down - but not before
his wrinkled hand over the seat quickly. He's learned his lesson.
He's from Asheville, NC, so he's "right over from Charlotte". He
me he's an NRA member, has been for a while now and admits to me that
here mostly to see Heston. He's a bit excitable, but certainly nice
talkative - until he sees me holding my notepad and taking notes. A
sense of woundedness, a hazy paranoia sweeps over him now; he seems
perplexed and a little worried about my notetaking.
If I weren't so much bigger and so much younger I'm picking up the
that I'd have a fight on my hands. Over what I couldn't really say; and
doubt my former friend could exactly describe it either. I guess it's
that, after belonging to a group that is eyed so suspiciously by
else for so long, you can't help but eventually become suspicious
even if you're a good-natured, somewhat excitable man from Asheville.
Finally, the 'great event' itself begins. Wayne LaPierre, Executive
President, comes on. One gets a strong indication in between his pauses
he's the day-to-day man running things; it's when he starts to talk that
doubt sinks in. His only memorable characteristic is that no one can
to remember a thing about him the moment he's gone.
The harsh lights from the lighting truss and cameras the NRA has for
event are shining dead into in my eyes, blinding me. Look at the tape
it's available (if they don't judiciously edit me out), and you'll see
lone soul near the middle on an aisle seat blinking his eyes like a
caught in the headlights.
Here it is, the moment my former Asheville friend and the really
interesting family at the ballroom doors came for, the man the members
jammed in to see; Heston himself. Heston, the deliverer. Heston, time
again Man's last hope. Heston, on tape. He says he can't make
today unfortunately, though the bigwigs must have known about it for a
they have a fully edited, very professional looking video with Heston's
explaining the whole thing for the deflated crowd. Most of those
along the wall leave at once. We'll see him tomorrow, he says, but
his thoughts. The man from Asheville mutters, ". . . on tape". He
Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory shows up; "This is the first time I've
had to follow Moses", he's says - all right, that's not bad. One can
why he's a politician; he thrives under the falsity of these
He describes this fair city to the crowd, and is proud to say that it's
banking city and "a very clean city" - as opposed to all those other
cities that are putrid cesspools. Before he leaves the podium he
wishes everyone here "a fine time in this very good, clean city".Cleanliness is very important to Charlotte's mayor.
Roy Firestone of ESPN is hosting the event (Christ, if Bobby Knight
up, I'm thru), and is primarily introducing people the NRA feels are
role models for their campaigns. Goddamn cameramen are making it hot
now, shining their tools right in my eyes and the eyes of the crowd
me for the "stirring" crowd shots; the Asheville guy moans, and I'm
blinking and shaking my head now like a deformed madman - probably not
drama the cameramen wish to convey. After that my section of the
would be left alone like people shaking with the plague, but I never get
much as a 'thank you'. Go figure . . .
After a brief sportsmanlike statement about how we must 'fight for
we know to be true' (that's close enough), Firestone begins by
Medal of Honor winner Lewis Millet - a real hero from WWII whose
asset is to make any American who disagrees with him feel like shit for
A pilot from the same era, Joseph Foss, himself a brave hero (and, itseems, once President of the NRA), comes out next. Firestone can't help
mention as he beams with pride that good ol' Foss was big in sports
I don't know who he is from a hole in ground. The man from Asheville
"Mmmm, yeah, Foss", but with so little conviction it's obvious he's not
sure himself exactly what it was the man did. He's sure it was
Notice I say Firestone "introduced" these people - probably the most
impressive individuals taking the stage that day, average NRA members
went on to do great things and whose exploits demand respect - but
not allowed to utter a single word.
James Jay Baker, the man who run the political and public relations
(or 'Minister of Propaganda', for those of you who are truly spectral)
on right after that, making a quick point that there are good laws
on the books nationwide - and others in SC and NH especially - to
people from their own guns. He has a point, but refuses to mention that
NRA usually fought against every one.
NRA rep Craig Sandler comes next, and is convinced that "(the art of)hunting makes us a great nation". A person might question his exact
definition of "greatness", but a few people in the audience are
he's on to something. A few random claps and shouts make the rounds.
Asheville man is watching me write all this down with an ever more
suspicious eye. I believe he thinks I'm a Communist.
Firestone comes back on, bringing on kids who "did well" with
shootin' . .
. They include an Olympic star who won her medal for rifling, a young
who fought to have a picture of herself as a member of the school gun
actually holding a gun put back in her high school yearbook (it makes
I'll give her that); but they really don't stir an impartial observer.
But one boy that was brought on - Jake Ryker of Pennsylvania - knew
enough about guns and shooting from hunting expeditions with his dad to
perceive when a kid gunman at his school ran out of ammo; he then took
opportunity to act. Now this is impressive, and makes a very good
knew what to do and when to act solely by virtue of his past experience
guns. All the anti-gun protests in the world won't change that fact.
these times are so vicious and violent, it is imperative that we
when and how to act against an armed assailant, so the NRA is onto
One thing, though; the shooter was armed to begin with, probably by a
he stole from his father's den, a man who is himself possibly a proud
holder of the NRA. It's still an excellent point, though . . .
Lapierre returns to briefly mention the NRA's newest attempt at spin;
idea of shooting as a clean, fun, and safe "outdoor - and indoor(!) -
(hence the "NRASports" tie-in), with NRA shooting centers built to
it - beginning with one in Times Square.
But do those people really need more access to guns? Seems to
they do fine all by themselves.
The big screen is put into use for the first time since Heston's
card" to the members; the video starts, showing members skeet shooting,
hunting, and having (pardon the pun) a blast . . . seems fine, until one
these people popping on the screen says on the voice-over that he is, in
many words, only in his element as a rifle roars away in his excited
He looks just like Oswald. I've never been so scared in all my life.
Firestone then sings (!) "Don't let the Sun Go Down On Me" - a rather
choice of song for a joyous great event. He doesn't embarrass himself,
which is as much as you can ask for, I suppose. Clips appear onscreen
Joe Montana, Michael Jordan (also a strange and unsettling choice, since
beloved father was killed by two punks with a handgun around this very
a few years ago - something not a single NRA member appears to remember)
others ; now why all these sports stars are being shown in the first
is damn well beyond me, the Asheville man and all those around us as
The only logical conclusion is a tie-in of some kind with Firestone's
interests or the "NRASports" turn . . . in any case the members are
the video, but aren't getting the message.
LaPierre adjourns the Opening Celebration, then remembers in his deft
the very purpose of the Celebration in the first place. He steps up
to the podium again, suddenly ready to give the members the 'hard sell'
the "NRASports" concept that he should have given before the film clips
sports stars began; then the clips would have been in context and would
at least made more sense. Instead he only seems to think of all this
moment the members leave the meeting room. "Soon", he begins saying
voice bordering on conviction, "(the NRASports idea) will hit the
New York, and we will prove (to America) that the shooting sports (sic)
the safest sport out there." He works hard, eventually using all his
of charm and appeal to whip what's left of the crowd into a virulent
indifference. I see some members are even moved enough to look back to
podium, convinced they heard a small voice of some kind.
As I ramble about on the meeting floor above the
concourse, I find an interesting potpourri. There's meetings on Gun Law,"Great American Game Calling Championships", and a gun range that had
tongues wagging weeks before the Convention even rolled to town.
People were worried - the NRA insisted it continue a tradition it
it's had for years of giving members a chance to experience the joys of
practicing at a good, well-kept and safe gun range. The local press had
field day; some pressed the idea that laws keeping guns from being firedinside city buildings must be maintained against the organization.
were then said on both sides. Eventually cooler heads prevailed, and
NRA was allowed to continue its tradition, provided it could prove the
display met safety and building regulations the city would set.
this would be something to see.
I find the range up here, and wonder about the lack of any gun sounds
the area. Those championship game callers can't be droning everything
out, can they? It's an event these boys take very seriously;
fierce, and more than one good ol' boy was practicing in the hallway,
blowing his lungs out and sweating bullets as it became his turn to give
judges his all. As I walk up on the range, those piercing shrieks shock
in the halls. The sound is almost deafening, and I'm wondering if I
am proceeding here at my own risk. What if a guy is practicing at the
and starts having one of those weird "Vietnam flashbacks?" What if he
it's Charlie trying to trick him? Christ, I don't stand a chance. As Iwalk into the doorway, my first thought is to fall to the ground and begforgiveness in case some hotshot tries to blame me for the sounds and
ruining his perfect shot.
As I'm about to walk in a guy stumbles up to me and asks in a drunkenhaze if I "know where the bathroom is" - apparently it's a hell of an
emergency. I tell him, he looks around , pushes out a "Thank ye'" and
meanders off in a fairly straight line. Please God, don't tell me he
just in here shootin' up the place nice and good like . . .
What I see is a simple range, already set up and working, using
more than air guns to fire at the targets about thirty feet from the
shooters. If this is what all the fuss is about, someone needs to do
homework. I walked in and watched them there; the range was indeed a
small, but was away from the meetings and, for its size and simplicity,
quite efficient. A man working behind the small two-foot counter asked
if I'd like to try a shot; before I'd even picked up a gun (thereby not
waiting to see if I might handle it efficiently or not), he asked me if
knew a lot about this type of weapon; he could see my visitor's sticker
the left side of my chest, and, it seemed, wanted to make sure
would be as safe and as enjoyable for me as possible. With my poor
eyesight it took me forever to aim and shoot, but it had a kick and feel
it that a person could describe as pretty damn realistic. I stood back
I was finished and watched as the attendants worked with others. They
would never immediately assume that a person knew what they were doing,
always quick and precise with their help, and were so genuinely
for the safety and fun of the whole thing that an honest observer cannotpossibly believe it all to be for the sake of placating city fathers;
even if this were the case, it would hardly explain the obvious care andconsideration the customers (most, but not all, of whom were members
themselves) put into something they so clearly enjoyed.
The papers around here (particularly the Charlotte Observer) had
believing the NRA was going to make this 'gun nut' central for three
filled days; but that particular charge is a bum wrap, plain and simple.The only "loaded" guns in the building that the public can come close totouching are on this range and shoot bursts of air - potentially
certainly, but hardly the weapon one would use to blow off kneecaps and
spaghetti of bellies.
As I talk and mill around the members themselves, I find that they
fact usually not the rabid 'gun nuts' they're portrayed to be. What
is here, however, is a particular sense of paranoia among most ofthem, especially regarding most forms of authority, which the NRA memberoften despises as if on principle - except for those authority
figures who use guns themselves, that is. Then the feeling tends to
much more complicated, almost a 'love-hate' conundrum that the members
quite comfortable with and can't quite figure out themselves.
But there is still, on the whole, a genuine care and consideration
gun safety that would shame the average anti-gun protester, however
Not that every person here is capable of using a
anytime soon. Many of the drunks and younger pillpoppers (pills seem to
the drug of choice for the younger set) use the convention as a chance
"tie one on, by God", and they grab at this opportunity to live in the
city" with a hunger they'd never show back home where everybody knows
"We can't do any of this back where I'm from", one young buck from
Oklahoma said to me hazily. "It's just - oh God, if people started
'bout the things I'm doin' here, my mama'd be sure to disown me, that's
truth. You live here? Shit, you should be . . . there's the world
man, everything. You can buy whatever you want here . . . and shit, thewomen; there are girls here - I mean just young girls - who'll doanything when you flash some cash and show 'em a bit of attention.
sometimes you don't even need the cash - just dare 'em, that's the
Yeah, you got it made, boy" . . .
But I have to say - if they were running around "tyin' one on", they
never came in to try out the gun range; at least I never saw anyone likethat going in the whole time I was there. I doubt the guys at the
would have given them the time of day anyway - I'm sure they were told
to give any quarter to a bunch of yahoos who can barely stand straight.The image of those boys standing there gun-in-hand is the last thing the
needs right now.
As I write this there are three guys twenty feet in
of me. Two are average looking, and seem, according to their dress, to
fairly intelligent and successful; the other has been dug up by his
Cletus just for the show. They're splitting my head and everyone else'spracticing their cackles and calls for that Game Calling event; is the
contest for the best or the loudest? Pretty soon it sounds like cousin
Cletus and that redneck out back having too much fun with the turkeys on
farm. A pretty girl stops by the table at which I'm writing, reviews
whole scene, looks back at me and laughs hysterically at the whole
episode. The Man in Black suddenly makes an appearance out of nowhere.
looks to me and Donna for help and is clearly scared shitless.
"Who is that, exactly", Donna yells as the Man in Black passes by.
of the 'successful' boys sees the cute member talking to me and - as if
using a mating call sure to make her wet between her gorgeous thighs -
begins roaring even closer to us.
"I - I don't really know - a friend." She can't quite hear me, and
in towards me; she smells wonderful.
"A friend", I scream at once.
"Oh - he's a little, ah . . ."
"Yes, he is", is all I yell back.
It's damn near unbearable now, and people at the phones unfortunatelylocated a mere hundred feet away (who thought of putting the contest
here of all places?) were working like Saint Jude himself at
lost cause of hearing whoever's on the other end. Most of those on the
phones were well dressed, and clearly businessmen of some kind. I
what the hell the people at the other end of those lines were saying as
heard all that rumble thru the wires:
"Jeffrey? Jeffery, are you there? Are you calling from the
a slaughter house?"
Those two successful boys have rather nice calls bought from who
where; the redneck is blowing thru a fucking piece of plastic tube - and
the audacity of that alone I hope he wins first prize. As for me, I'm
looking at them and have never wanted to shoot a gun into a group of
so much in my life. If those air guns were only real, there'd be hell
Finally an end to the madness. An official of some kind rushes up to
three, still blowing what's left of their brains thru those calls and
"What the hell do you think you boys think you're doing? Are you
to drive everybody around here nuts?!"
It was one of the judges from the Game Calling event. They could no
longer even hear the contestants inside, and he'd had quite enough. Thethree stopped, bewildered. They understood enough to know that they'd
probably blown their chances of winning right thru their instruments.
"That Goddamn LaPierre has no business runnin'
one old boy dressed as if he'd just stepped out of a cowboy movie said
well-dressed middle-aged guy off to his right.
"Well, why's that?", the well-dressed guy asks.
"Why?!" Jesus, are you for real? He doesn't respect what this
organization's about, that's why! He's a damn politician, just like hisfriend Clinton."
The well-dressed guy smiles at this and begins to laugh. "Wait,
What about how he stood up to Clinton recently? You know, the
and all that? He didn't give any ground by God, just check it out for
The cowboy isn't convinced. He tells the man to check a number of
websites that "will tell you the whole truth, mister. We need Knox
This is Saturday morning, and the members are running around drumming
support for the candidates they hope to have on the Board of Directors
year. The Annual Members' Meeting is happening at 10am sharp, and the
place is buzzing.
The man the cowboy was talking about is Neal Knox, vice-president andmain man around here before LaPierre took over. It was Knox & Co. who
called the ATF "jackbooted thugs" after the business at Waco, and it was
year later that loyal NRA member Timothy McVeigh blew up several
for having the audacity to be related to government officials. LaPierre
smart enough to see the writing on the wall, and worked like the devil
throwing Knox and his boys out on their militant asses a few years ago.
The hard line has never forgotten that indignity, and - even though
they've been purged from the highest ranks - there's a number of them
mumbling about getting their boy Knox and his old lobbyist Tanya Metaksa(who adores saying that her name is spelled: "M-E-T-A-K (as in AK-47)
(as in semi-automatic)) back on the Board, and there's a few others
around leaflets with their golden boy on it. His pic is there on the
with a caption underneath saying proudly that Knox is "Not just a prettyface". And if that isn't enough to convince you, it makes a point that
NRA never supported any gun safety laws when he was
but not everyone's convinced.
"Knox?", says one pudgy guy to a friend holding that leaflet in his
"Man, fuck that kook!"
That's a hell of a way to treat a pretty face.
As I'm meandering down these halls, I swear I see
Jennings - could it really be him? I decide it might be a good idea to
a quote or two from such a respected journalist. He sees me approaching
he talks to a female friend, observes the pad and pen in my hand and,
the committed, respected journalist that he is, turns and high-tails it
from me as fast as is socially acceptable. But I know the building
than he does; I know he's just walked down the wrong aisle, and that
trapped. I have the respected journalist right where I want him. I go
to that short aisle and triumphantly look in; he's just walked quickly
one of two rooms there - the only places he can go. Both are dead
stand there wondering, weighing my options. Should I go in? What if hescreams bloody murder? What if he knows karate? There's nothing more
dangerous than a trapped respected journalist. I'm magnanimous; anotherrespected journalist will live to see another day. He's surely just
the place over, and would never help someone else complete a story -
kind of respected journalist would be if he did that?
Besides, there's no way he could know what's going on here - he's
Canadian, for Chrissake . . .
The NRA Banquet is on Saturday night, and it seems
have plenty to celebrate. After a sharp decline following the signing
the Brady Bill in '93 and the ban on assault weapons a year later, the
organization was on the verge of a financial and emotional collapse.
this year things are different - on paper anyway. The NRA's
dollar budget comes damn close to what it was in the halcyon days of
and it's PAC, The Political Victory Fund, has wheeled in a reported 5.5million bucks in the first two months of 2000, with projections
that it could be their most successful moneymaking year ever.
Certainly the banquet promises to be one hell of a show - proof that
NRA has scrubbed behind its ears, cleaned the corn from its toes, and
Charlton Heston as its famous and respected President, has joined the
hallowed hall of American kingmakers. The lights and effects in that
bulging hall are said to be tremendous, the talent slated was, I'm told,top-notch, and the show would be a clear indication of where the NRA washeaded in the 21st Century.
Only the acts, if indeed scheduled, never appeared; the great show
materialized. Though it's a full five months before the election,
connected to the organization say that the NRA intends to commit so much
their new-found monetary clout pushing George W. Bush through to the
Presidency and poising Republicans to keep control of Congress in
that in truth there will be very little of it left by election day - a
that's quietly held from the rank-and-file, and definitely held from
everyone else. In true NRA fashion, it seems the big boys are betting
farm on this single election year and have vowed to hold nothing back.
extravaganza itself was, I'm told, only pulled at the last harried
perhaps to keep heads from wondering and tongues from wagging.
Then what did happen at the banquet that Saturday night?
much - an honor guard performed for a bit, Representative J.C. Watts
for just about a half hour and gave the crowd what was perhaps the most
reasoned, rational part of the evening, a few of the biggest board
gave their two cents, and Moses himself finally made his grand
"It's not that we didn't appreciate what Watts was trying to do", onethoughtful looking black-haired man working behind the scenes said to meafter the show. "I mean, after all it is necessary - it's about time
somebody said what needs to be said. There really isn't much differencebetween us and them (the anti-gun protesters) - I mean, as people. It'sjust that . . ."
"What?", I asked. "Was there a problem with what Watts was talking
"Oh Lord, no", he says back to me quickly, scratching the bottom of
well-kept bearded face. "But see", he says to me leaning in, "our
are really just average Americans; I mean, when you really get down to
that's the truth. So they're not bothered about 'keeping political
or whatever - they just don't want people telling them what to do with
guns. They're not political animals. If you want to appeal to them,
especially in this day and age, you have to appeal to different
"How do you mean?" Now I was leaning into him.
"You have to rouse them to attention", he said to me with the quick,
clipped manner of a man who'd thought of such things a thousand times.
"You have to find ways to make them mad, to make them furious at what's
going on, especially in Washington. That's always the best way to get
to open up their mouths and their wallets - God, the way he went on for
half-hour almost killed it for us", he ends with the surprised look of a
who's just revealed too much.
"Are you saying a person can only be effective politically if they
to all the worst human instincts?"
"No no, you said that", he sputtered at once and in a flash
The disappearing man told me earlier that Heston's a
little troubled now with what appears to be arthritic knees, but he
gave the card-carrying crowd the surging talk they've been waiting to
all along. As he spoke he threw his arm up in the air, his aged fingersgrasping a rifle before the enthralled hordes, and proclaimed that Gore
take his gun when "he pries it from my cold, dead hands", all in that
gaze and raspy voice that sent delicious shivers down the spines of
moviegoers for years. I waited for him to flub his lines and refer to
Democrats as a bunch of "damn dirty apes", but he never did. I guess
can't have everything.
The honest truth of the matter is that he's a relic of a bygone time,
he still does it all with a grace and a charisma that must eat at his
friend LaPierre. Clearly the real man behind the strings, he can't
afford to lose Heston. It's easy to see that LaPierre knows that too,
is a good enough politician to realize that, however good and perceptive
wheeler-dealer he is behind the scenes, with the crowds at least, he
ain't got the goods. And if you don't have that in this day and age,
beaten before you begin.
But the relic has "the goods" in spades, which is why the floor for
last few days has been buzzing like a hive about Heston taking on
term as the President and posterboy for the NRA. Besides, this crowd
see the tired, aging man in front of them whose famous voice is becomingmore of a rasp than a roar these days; to them, he's still Moses about
part the Red Sea; Judah Ben-Hur sure to win the chariot race, or
Michealangelo spewing genius on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And,since Americans have always had a tough time separating Hollywood from
life, there's even a sense here that he really is all of these
and not merely a fine actor whose best work occurred almost half a
ago. But then again, that suspension of disbelief has always been the
of the relic. And, like the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, the
is the best moneymaker the NRA has, which is why Heston will continue tohave the title of NRA President for as long as he wishes to keep it.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the NRA is as American as
come - with a few noticeable differences. While they cover a wider
of the public than most pundunts admit, what really stands out among
crowd is an almost religious devotion to their idea of absolute,
freedom - and that the fear factor of guns is the only thing making it
possible. Ask almost any NRA member to his or her face why they feel
need their guns, and they're almost sure to bring up the second
before they bring up any idea of self-protection, or any more aesthetic
such as hunting or gun collecting, and to insist that this amendment
is the key to our individual liberty. Only the small numbers of women Italked to would immediately mention the idea of a gun as self-protection
any great numbers.
Indeed the members are for the most part every bit as safe and
with their weapons as they can be, and there are even a number who will
admit (secretly) that there isn't much reason to allow such things as
armor-piercing bullets on the market - though most shudder at any
restriction, and again really believe that such weapons as these are theonly things that keep a government at bay which is ready to attack them
any given second . . .
The anti-gun people, not realizing this aspect of the NRA members,
believe their aversion to such forced measures to be proof of a flagrantdisregard for safety at least, and possible proof of insanity at worst.
NRA people, in despising anyone who tries to force them into conforming
any standard, see it as an affront to all that this country is -
ultimate place and utopia for the individualist.
But if they're really serious about being players on the national
the NRA people have to overcome that crippling fear that everyone is
and out to get them. Most Americans would be as frightened by an
without the self-protection guns provide as any of them; they simply
make sure that a dangerous product can be made as safe as they can make
and hopefully, at least make an attempt to keep these weapons out of thehands of those who shouldn't have access to them in the first place.
It's the paranoid fear that an inch given will become a mile that
the living hell out of the NRA members - and until they can conquer
and see otherwise, all the money spent in the world won't change where
America's headed. Regardless of what the NRA believes, it's the ballot
and not the ammo box that decides how this country is run - and if they
think it can be bought they should talk to Ross Perot. They can either
become real players and help the rest of us become more understanding of
safety and self-protection, or they can hold on to their knee-knocking
afraid of every sound heard under their beds as they hold an enemy at
point who, like the boogieman, simply isn't there.
The choice is theirs - which, according the NRA members, is just as
Cliff Montgomery is a reasonably young man
(about 28 or thereabouts) who - due to being born in a small upstate Maryland town called Cumberland, about a hard hour's drive from DC - took a very early interest in politics and political issues. Finding very few of his 2nd grade peers interested in his already tired Nixon and Kissinger jokes (they were funny to him, at any rate), Mr. Montgomery had to wait a while to be accepted by those around him. He has been, in turn, a writer and computer engineer for a small computer firm in Charlotte, NC (which he despised), a writer - briefly - for the NC chapter of the Sierra Club (which, being the only man employed with several attractive young ladies between the ages of 15-22, he rather enjoyed), a musician and a freelance writer. He now lives just outside of Charlotte, NC, and is
foolish enough to believe he can make "real money" writing, and now experienced enough to know otherwise.
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