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Is Donald Trump bailing out the NRA — or is it the other way around?

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Donald Trump meets with NRA's Wayne LaPierre (AFP)

Here’s a good one for you. Wayne LaPierre, the executive director of the National Rifle Association (NRA) sent out a fundraising appeal in March pleading with its members for donations. “We’re facing an attack that’s unprecedented not just in the history of the N.R.A. but in the entire history of our country,” LaPierre whined. “ cannot survive without the N.R.A., and the N.R.A. cannot survive without your help right now.”

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Then what did LaPierre do? Why he stepped-up NRA lobbying against The Violence Against Women Act, which the House of Representatives reauthorized a few weeks later. Because of course the NRA doesn’t need the donations of women who might benefit from the provision in the Violence Against Women Act which prohibits sales of firearms to anyone who has been convicted of stalking, assaulting, or otherwise harming a domestic partner.

The NRA can’t afford to lose too many lobbying battles like that one anymore. As The New Yorker reported this month, “the N.R.A. is troubled; in recent years, it has run annual deficits of as much as forty million dollars.” LaPierre has presided over a reduction in the main mission of the NRA – gun safety, training, and representing hunters – to less than 10 percent of its budget. What do they spend the other 90 percent on, you might ask? Messaging, according to The New Yorker. “The N.R.A. is now mainly a media company, promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away.”

The only thing the NRA loves more than guns is Donald Trump. The gun organization spent more than $30 million on Trump’s campaign for the presidency in 2016, more than three times what they spent in 2012 in support of Republican candidate Mitt Romney, according to McClatchy. Total NRA election spending in 2016 was close to $70 million, according to an NRA committee member McClatchy spoke to.

It’s no wonder the NRA has been running in the red financially. Total NRA spending during 2016 “exploded to more than $419 million, up from $312 million the previous year,” according to OpenSecrets.org, a website that keeps track of campaign spending and is owned by the liberal-leaning Center for Responsive Politics. The NRA recently sued an Oklahoma-based public relations firm it has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to over the last several decades, and there is speculation that the group might be facing bankruptcy in the near future.

When Trump stepped before the NRA’s microphone yesterday in Indianapolis, he was riding to the rescue. Or is it the other way around? On his way out of the White House on Friday morning, Trump was asked about Vice President Biden’s citation of his speech after the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville in 2017, when he said there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville. “I’ve answered that question and I was talking about people who went because they felt very strongly about the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn. “Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.”

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Facing a chorus of calls for his impeachment by the House of Representatives and continuing questions after the release of the Mueller report about whether he obstructed justice, Trump decided that his best course of action was to double-down on his support of the slave-owning general who presided over the defeat of the Confederacy and signed the surrender at Appomattox. That one ought to get him big cheers from the surrender-monkeys of the NRA, because there is nothing like surrendering your army and your weapons to get your juices flowing in the morning.

Aaaahhh, for the days when it was good enough to trundle out a tired old has-been like Charlton Heston in front of the NRA rowdies and have him hold up a replica of a flintlock rifle someone gave him backstage and wave it over his head and scream, “You’ll take my gun from my cold dead hands!” That’s what Heston did at every NRA convention he addressed after assuming the presidency of the gun rights group in 1998. He screamed the slogan a year after two students killed 13 and wounded 24 at Columbine High School. NRA members opened their checkbooks and flooded the gun rights organization. Heston remained the NRA president until 2003.

I got myself in the NRA’s crosshairs in 1998 when I wrote a prominently featured op-ed for The New York Times on the killings by two boys in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The two shooters, aged 11 and 13, took rifles and ammunition from the home of one of their grandparents and killed four students and one teacher, wounding 10 more before they fled the scene. One of the students pulled the fire alarm, causing the teachers and students to be outside the school. The shooters fired on them from a nearby hillside.

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Coverage of the killings emphasized that the boys had attended NRA-sponsored “practical shooting courses” before they fired on their schoolmates and teachers. My Times op-ed explained that the 11 and 13-year-old boys had been taken by their parents to the “practical shooting courses” where they underwent live-fire combat-style training and were taught to shoot at human silhouette targets.

This revelation earned me multiple invitations by television shows. One of them was the Today Show, where I appeared opposite Tanya Metaxa, then the spokesperson for the NRA. During the show, I asked Tanya if the NRA thought it was a good idea for parents to teach their children how to shoot at human silhouettes. She fumbled around for an answer, and finally after Katie Couric pressed her said that in fact, the NRA supported such training for children.

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The next day, the NRA, under the direction of its executive director Wayne LaPierre and president Charlton Heston sent out a blast email to all of its chapters nationwide telling them not to provide an NRA representative to appear opposite me on any radio or television interviews. In the following days, I received numerous requests to appear on shows around the country, but when they couldn’t get an NRA person to debate me, they canceled the appearances. Suffice to say I wasn’t the NRA’s favorite person.

I had no idea how much of a pariah the gun nuts considered me until I ran into Mr. Cold Dead Hands himself in the restroom of the L.A. Public Library at a big fundraising dinner at which both Heston and I were honored guests since both of us had published books that year. It was the classic standing-at-the-urinal moment but in reverse. I was standing there doing my business when Heston walked up and took the next urinal and recognized me.

“You’re Lucian Truscott, aren’t you?” Heston asked, as we both stood there pissing. “And you’re Charlton Heston!” I replied sarcastically. “How does it feel to be the president of an organization that supports training 11 and 13 year-olds to shoot at human beings?” I asked him.

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Heston looked like somebody had just ripped something from his warm, living hands. “Your grandfather would be ashamed of you!” he practically shouted at me as he zipped up and stepped over to the wash basins. I took the washbasin next to him and looked straight at him in the mirror. “You know what, Chuck?” I said, smiling at him. “I grew up with my grandfather. I knew him, and you didn’t. He wouldn’t have taken the time out of his day to piss on the NRA and you and your cold dead hands. So fuck off.”

Heston finished washing his hands and walked away.

I think I speak with some authority when I say that grandpa wouldn’t have taken the time out of his day to piss on Trump, either.

 


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