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NRA “On Life Support:” Fear Mongering to Sell Guns and Stoking Anti-Quarantine Protests

According to a new report by Mother Jones, the NRA has “sought… to stoke fear and suspicion during the country’s darkest hour,” “repeatedly pushed out alarmist messaging suggesting that the pandemic will lead to a societal breakdown,” and “encouraged the [recent anti-quarantine] demonstrations.” 

This fear mongering comes at a time when, according to Mother Jones, the NRA is “basically on life support” amid layoffs, legal difficulties, and rampant financial mismanagement. The report, written by Matt Cohen, tells the full story: 

Mother Jones on NRA encouraging anti-quarantine protests: 

  • NRA board member Anthony Colandro attended a New Jersey anti-quarantine protest. In videos on his Facebook page, Colandro encouraged others to attend the rally and claimed the virus was “a bunch of bullshit,” and “a media virus” He added, “we are being spoon-fed socialism every day and 8.5 million people are just bending over and taking it… Y’know what? I hope you all get an anal probe with a microchip in it because this is what we’ve become: sheep.” As noted by Mother Jones, Colandro has been previously known to traffic in hate speech.
  • On Wednesday, the NRA endorsed Republican congressional candidate Dan Rodimer in Nevada who led an anti-quarantine march to the governor’s mansion in that state.”
  • NRA board member Bob Barr wrote in an op-ed that the government response to the pandemic endangers “the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” and that it “appears the federal government is readying additional measures that would undercut one of our Founders’ deepest fears—use of the military for domestic law enforcement purposes.” 
  • Several other board members were blunt in their support for the protests: Board member Ted Nugent called protesters at Michigan rally “my people;” Allen West, another board member, tweeted, “Doggone, open up our economy, get the American people back to work!” and added that “the most dangerous virus in America right now is not COVID-19…[it] is tyranny;” and board member Willes Lee tweeted that “lying media and corrupt Dems want America closed. First they bitch that Trump isn’t a king to order states to open…then they whine that he needs to order Kemp to keep GA closed.”

Mother Jones on NRA fear mongering about COVID-19: 

  • One NRA video from March features clips of looting and a voiceover that says, “I know from history how quickly society breaks down during a crisis, and we’ve never faced anything like this before, and never is a Second Amendment more important than during public unrest.” 
  • Another video featured musician Charlie Daniels saying, “Left up to some politicians, all you’d have to defend your home with would be a stick, some rocks, and if you’re lucky a slingshot, because they want your guns. They want them all.”
  • An op-ed written by NRA board member Bob Barr “echoed NRA messaging about the importance of having a gun during the pandemic, writing, ‘It is precisely in times of emergency, when the risk of looting and other criminal behavior increases, that the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment become most important.’”

Mother Jones notes that John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, has “seen this playbook from the NRA before.” Feinblatt told Mother Jones that “[the organization is] exploiting people’s fears during this pandemic, and they’re doing it in order to… raise money.” Feinblatt added that the NRA has “two lines that they are going on: that the only way to stay safe during a pandemic is to buy a gun—despite the fact that you can’t shoot at a virus—and that…criminals are on the loose, food shortages will lead the looting, and COVID-19 responses are a sign of the apocalypse. It’s a tragedy, because in a time when there’s already a risk of heightened domestic violence and suicide, this type of fearmongering is making matters all the worse.” 

The Mother Jones piece underlines these heightened risks, noting several incidents of COVID-related gun violence:
 
“At a bank in Alpharetta, Georgia, according to police, a man allegedly pointed a gun at two people wearing masks and gloves and yelled at them to back up because he feared contracting COVID-19 from them. A man who allegedly fatally shot his 13-year-old cousin by accident told police that ‘he was arming himself for protection amidst the COVID-19 scare,’ in the words of the Albuquerque Journal. And on an island off the coast of Maine, a group of local vigilantes with guns allegedly tried to force out-of-towners renting a house into quarantine. More recently, a security guard at a Family Dollar in Flint, Michigan, was shot and killed after he told a customer that she had to wear a mask, as required by a state executive order, according to law enforcement officials.”

When confronted with rhetoric used by its own board members, the NRA distanced itself from them, telling Mother Jones that “board members don’t speak on behalf of the organization.” The organization also sought to deflect, saying, Everytown was “resorting to blatantly false narratives.” 

The Mother Jones report comes at a time when the NRA is struggling mightily: the Trump administration is reportedly “aggressively reaching out to other gun groups” due to the NRA’s struggles, and a recent NPR report caught NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre saying that the NRA took “about a $100 million hit” and had to be taken “down to the studs” to “survive.” A newly released database of NRA news, legal cases, and IRS filings is available at NRAWatch.org

Gun sales have also skyrocketed during the pandemic, making the Charleston loophole even deadlier and increasing the risks of unintentional gun violence, domestic violence, and gun suicide. Everytown and Moms Demand Action have created a factsheet to underline the increased dangers of the Charleston loophole during the pandemic, and also sent a petition to the administration signed by more than 100,000 people demanding it prioritize public health over the gun industry’s lobbying for special treatment.