North's Inflammatory Rhetoric Is Not What the NRA Needs

I wrote earlier about whether it was wise of the NRA to choose Oliver North as its public face. So far I’d say the needle is moving in the “NO” direction.

I think he’s using exactly the wrong type of rhetoric to achieve the organizations goals, assuming those goals involve more than just whipping Second Amendment supporters into a froth with red meat comments like this North made in a Washington Times interview.

“They call them activists. That’s what they’re calling themselves. They’re not activists — this is civil terrorism. This is the kind of thing that’s never been seen against a civil rights organization in America,” he said.

“You go back to the terrible days of Jim Crow and those kinds of things — even there you didn’t have this kind of thing,” he said. “We didn’t have the cyberwar kind of thing that we’ve got today.”

In terms of influencing public opinion, white people who represent traditionally Republican causes likening themselves to blacks during the fight for civil rights is something should only be done…well…never. Even if the nature of the struggle is technically similar (i.e. stopping government from depriving individuals of civil rights), that sort of rhetoric is only going to win you points with some of your base.

When you’re someone who (whether justly or unjustly) is already a big, slow-moving target for Alinskyite demolition it is probably even more inadvisable.

He said the young survivor-activists who have emerged as representatives for gun restrictions — and as fierce opponents of the NRA — are getting swept up by a broader propaganda machine.

“What they did very successfully with a frontal assault, and now intimidation and harassment and lawbreaking, is they confused the American people,” he said. “Our job is to get the straight story out about what happened there, and to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again because the proper things are being done with the advocacy of the NRA.”

North does state that building the NRA membership rolls is a primary concern for him but I wonder if in doing so he’s making the actual Second Amendment advocacy more difficult.

Mr. North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, talk show host and now the incoming president of the NRA, said his first goal will be to add 1 million people “as fast as we can” to the organization’s membership, which is already at a record, approaching 6 million.

Is I’ve said before, I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment but I’ve never been a member of the NRA. In so far as they protect the Second Amendment I support them and they are certainly free to run their organization as they see fit.

I just wonder if reducing the right to bear arms to just another tribal, identity politics group is going to achieve  anything. Adding membership dues from people who probably already vote your way will buy a lot of advocacy. If that advocacy is just going to be more preaching to the converted, then I think North’s strategy does little to move the ball. Doing that will require persuading people to change their minds.

Fighting to defend the Second Amendment is a political task and requires carefully crafted messaging.  The kind of language North used in this interview should be reserved for the pundits. I think the NRA would be better served by a not-so-easily demonized political lightning rod as its public face. They need someone without political baggage who can provide a calm, reasoned voice against the hair-on-fire anti-gun hysterics.