Where to go on an average Sunday in Indianapolis? There is always the trusty mall. Church is an important part of the routine, for many. And at the Indianapolis Convention Center on this particular Sunday, an entirely different kind of shrine, where one could purchase such family reading as “Cutting Edge Bullets: Lethal by Design, Proven by Performance.” Or pick up a GSG 110 round rotary magazine—similar to the one used by the movie theater mass murderer in Aurora, Colorado. Or even attend a book signing by admitted serial statutory rapist Ted Nugent.
I’m referring, of course, to the 2014 National Rifle Association Convention.
As I walked through the long halls, adorned with flags bearing the likeness of NRA executives and celebrity board members, flanked by uniformed police, plenty of options were available. I entered the main atrium, where coffee and pastries were being served beside a group of heavyset men in baseball caps and jackets covered in camouflage and bearing the NRA insignia. Here and there were posters featuring seminars you could attend, such as the “Refuse to Be a Victim” workshop. There was also an NRA Youth Event—which in this hall might mean anyone under 60. Finally, there was a themed meal, “The NRA Women’s New Energy Breakfast.”
But all the real action was to my left, in the cavernous exhibition hall, where those you might call weaponry exhibitionists offered to help you saddle up with all the necessities should Red Dawn hit your town within an hour of a Sharknado.
Through the entrance to the hall were rows, probably a dozen of them or more, each filled with one booth after another of salesmen hawking their wares, going on for as far as the eye could see. The NRA had a banner outside the convention center describing it as “9 Acres of Guns & Gear,” and for once it wasn’t exaggerating.
As I entered the room, directly in front of me were T-shirts for sale with assault weapons on them, bearing the likenesses of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, President Obama and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Two coastal Jews and an African-American from Chicago—what’s known in Alex Jones land as “The Trifecta.” As I moved past the T-shirts, two guys walking past me looked back, and one chuckled. “Bloomberg,” he said, and shook his head.
Military-style weaponry of every kind occupied almost every inch of the terrain to my left and right as I began the long trek down each aisle. Not your father’s hunting rifle, for the most part—although there were a few of those here and there—but the kind of arms you use to start a war. Fifty-caliber rifles, which can take down small aircraft. Assault rifles—rebranded “sporting rifles,” in case your sport might be decimating a small village in under a minute. High-capacity magazines of the variety used in so many recent massacres at malls, schools, and universities.
Some weapons were in glass display cases, while others were right out in front to touch at will. At first the constant clicking of of triggers and magazines being secured in place was a bit unsettling. Soon it just blended into the background, What was hard to not notice was the look of glee on so many men’s faces—white men, for the most part, generally of less than athletic appearance—whose communal id had been unleashed. They looked like kids in a candy store, boys with toys, with a type of porn their political ideology can get behind.
And then there was the gear.
Bulletproof vests, handguns with laser sighting, thermal-imaging binoculars, sound suppressors (also known as silencers), and those cutting-edge bullets. All around. All were available, just in case you run into that stubborn moose that just won’t go down on the 109th shot.
This is the modern NRA laid bare, the inevitable result of its chosen path, to go all in with arms dealers looking to sell ever more exotic military weaponry as their market has shrunk with the decline of hunting in a more urban and suburban America. As long as Sig Sauer and Remington and Winchester are profiting, there can be no gun too lethal, no weapon too powerful, no shooting tragic enough for the NRA to alter course.
It has embraced this new mission to militarize the streets of America with zeal, scaring the bejesus out of its most faithful adherents with ghost stories about preparing for the breakdown of civilization, to destroy any faith they might have in our democracy or our first responders. You’re all alone, in their telling. Just you and the one thing that’s always faithful: your gun.
As I walked past a row of AR-15s mounted on the wall on my right, I noticed a J.Crewed-out family who might have come from Bethesda or Greenwich—two parents and their son, 12 or so—checking out the action on the wall. I looked around for more like them and started to notice that while in the minority, they were definitely there, wandering the halls looking at the merchandise. For a moment it was comforting, but it suddenly occurred to me that their nonchalance about taking their kids to an arms bazaar might be even more eerie than the shaved-headed, ZZ Top-bearded guys who smelled like month-old cheese and looked like they’d been locked in their bunkers the past week making love to their antique Lugers.
The thrust of the NRA’s push is these guys. It is for them that the NRA runs a terror campaign, pure and simple, to sell a lethal product by making them think everyone from the black president to the United Nations to minorities and terrorists is coming to start a war with them—probably by kicking in their door and stealing their guns. And their barcalounger. Maybe the big-screen TV.
The NRA’s executive vice president and foaming mouthpiece, Wayne LaPierre, made this crystal clear during his stump speech at the convention. Here is a sliver of what Good Time Charlie had to say to the assembled:
“We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and car-jackers and knock-out gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, road-rage killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids, or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse the society that sustains us all,” he said.
LaPierre, of course, is never held responsible for this rhetoric, even though it is not too much of a stretch to say that its repetition in all of the NRA’s magazines, radio show, emails, newsletter, speeches, on Fox News, and on right-wing talk radio and beyond clearly contributes to the killing everyday American citizens and members of law enforcement.
Nor do members of Congress with close NRA ties who scare the populace and encourage sedition face any consequences. That includes board member Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who took the stage with radical militia leader Schaeffer Cox in 2011 and signed a declaration in direct contravention to the oath he swore to the United States government, of which he is a member. It read:
“Let it be known that should our government seek to further tax, restrict or register firearms…thus impairing our ability to exercise the God-given right to self-defense that precedes all human legislation and is superior to it, that the duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them.”
Would you be shocked to know that Schaeffer Cox is now in the pokey for a long time for planning to kill Alaska state troopers and a judge? Thought experiment: How do you think that would have worked out if President Obama had signed such an oath, one produced by a U.S. citizen called Schaeffer Islam?
LaPierre, Young, and their allies give those in the far-right bubble a completely false sense of our world, when in reality crime rates are steadily falling and the threat of terrorism has receded at least somewhat. That’s with the exception of the easy access any would-be terrorist like the most recent Fort Hood shooter has to military firepower at events such as the NRA convention and stores such as Guns Galore …because of the handiwork of LaPierre and his NRA.
Before leaving I struck up a conversation with a burly, dark, wavy-haired hunting enthusiast who had a “family site” for those who still engage in his passion. He told me he didn’t like the direction he’d seen the “pro-gun movement” take in recent years, away from hunting and sporting to more “aggressive” and “militarized.” They had started to forget their heritage, at least in his opinion, after attending “these types of events” for years.
A recent Pew poll shows he is correct, that the propaganda campaign by the NRA & Co. has worked its free-market magic. Whereas as recently as August 1999, 46 percent of gun owners said they owned a gun to “hunt” and only 26 percent cited “protection,” now that number has been flipped on its head, with 48 percent citing protection and 32 percent owning for hunting purposes.
After a few hours I’d had enough and decided it was time to go home. But in the exhibition hall, the business of preparing for the armed conflict LaPierre has warned is inevitable continued unabated.