In a defiant, combative CPAC keynote address, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre did not address the suggestion raised by President Donald Trump to raise the minimum age for firearm purchases. He also did not address the willingness Senator Marco Rubio expressed at a CNN-presented town hall to restrict high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic firearms.
In fact, his address, though it touched on the Second Amendment, was not really about public policy at all. Instead, LaPierre delivered a Christian nationalist call to arms that should be chilling to us all.
To great applause, LaPierre declared, "The brilliance of America is that all of our freedoms are for every single citizen...[these freedoms are] not bestowed by man, but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright."
In striking contrast, though, the Declaration of Independence states, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."
Thomas Jefferson’s language in the declaration flows directly from European Enlightenment thinking, most specifically John Locke’s theory of natural rights, which asserted the inherent ("God-given") dignity and value of all human beings.
For many Jewish and Christian thinkers, this idea is rooted in the Bible, which states that humankind was created "in God’s image."
Since 1776, the American liberal tradition has continued in the spirit of the Enlightenment project. Judges and legislators, probing what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has called the "growth potential" of our founding documents, continue to extend the lofty ideals they represent to an ever-widening circle of people.
But for LaPierre, the liberties Americans enjoy do not flow from innate human rights. They are, rather, an expression of God’s grace bestowed upon a chosen people - and, presumably, not bestowed upon others.
As a result, he sees Americans, those blessed by God, as perpetually guarding their liberties from those who, unblessed, seek to uproot or co-opt them and thus deny Americans their birthright. The NRA, to LaPierre, is the vanguard of that struggle between "real" Americans and those who threaten them, both from without and within.
In that spirit, LaPierre returned often to the danger that "European socialism" and its adherents pose to the traditionally American way of life, and the importance of gun ownership in defending against that threat.
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In particular, he called out George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tim Steyer as avatars of this looming menace. Though none of them are elected officials, they do share Jewish ancestry, along with wealth and influence acquired in the world of high finance.
The association of Jews with shadowy foreign threats is not new in this political moment.
For example, a Trump campaign ad that aired just before the 2016 election featured ominous music and talk of elite "globalists" secretly conspiring against American interests - set against the images of Lloyd Blankfein, Janet Yellen, and, again, Soros.
It is hard to escape the insinuation that being Jewish is part of what makes these figures "unAmerican."
The ethno-nationalism at the root of the NRA may explain why it reacted so harshly to the movement for gun policy reform being led by a group of high school students with significant Jewish and minority representation.
It is also perhaps why the NRA had little to say in defense of Philando Castile, a legal gun owner and Minnesota educator who was shot by a police officer during a routine traffic stop in 2016.
It goes without saying that, henceforth, every politician who accepts an NRA contribution or endorsement should have to parse whether they share just the NRA’s policy positions, or its worldview as well.
This will likely be harder for the American Conservative Union, which invited LaPierre to address CPAC in a prestigious slot, just before Vice President Pence.
Disturbingly, and ironically, many in the conservative movement have taken on the rhetoric and tone of a European-style ethno-nationalist party, and there is no doubt that LaPierre’s message resonated strongly among them.
But if the NRA is actually less of a civil liberty organization and more of a Christian nationalist club, it should also be harder to take its gun policy positions in good faith.
As Congress reconvenes Monday to take up the gun debate, those of us who find innate human dignity in Scripture and, reaffirmed by our country’s founding documents, conttinue to hope they consult with groups and leaders whose primary motivation is relieving the epidemic of gun violence that continues to wreak havoc across America.
They should stay away from those whose primary goal is furthering their own radical ideologies.
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