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NRA members: Group unfairly blamed

Terrorists. Child-killers. Bloody-handed puppeteers. The National Rifle Association and its members have been called unflattering names in the months after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting as proponents of gun control have levele...

Terrorists. Child-killers. Bloody-handed puppeteers.

The National Rifle Association and its members have been called unflattering names in the months after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting as proponents of gun control have leveled their sights on the nation's most prominent Second Amendment advocacy group.

Locally, members of the NRA say it's unfair and misguided.

Phillip Lee, a young father from McIntosh, Minn., takes issue when people believe the NRA advocates violence.

"What frustrates me are folks saying NRA are killing children or whatever," said Lee, an NRA member for about a decade. "I don't think you'll find an organization that encourages law abiding and safety more than the NRA."


On social media, cable news and in the streets of American cities, protesters and pundits alike have rolled out expansive, sometimes inflammatory, rhetoric on both sides of the gun question. Throughout it all, the NRA, and its lobbying for gun rights, has been pulled into the center of conversation. Not long after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman, the mostly pro-gun Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appeared at a forum with survivors of the school attack.

By the end of it, Rubio, who seemed at times stunned, was on the defensive. Student activists pledged to vote out politicians who had accepted donations from the NRA and, just Friday, a group of activists and celebrities announced the launch of a gun control group to counter the rifle association's political reach.

The group-dubbed the No Rifle Association, or #NoRA-described some of their aims in an open letter to the vocal Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president. The "bloody hands" and puppeteer imagery, a reference to the group's political work, are central metaphors in the text.

The rifle association was founded after the Civil War to promote marksmanship. That early mission grew to include gun safety and promotion of shooting sports, including hunting and range shooting. The political aims that most may associate with the NRA began in the mid-1970s as the group adopted a more robust stance toward Second Amendment advocacy.

Lee, who describes himself as "somewhere in the middle" of the gun politics spectrum, believes the background of safety and training has been lost in the noise, a development he attributes in part to a wider environment of political polarization.

He admits some of the pro-gun rhetoric is a bit much for him - "I can see why we shouldn't have tanks or automatic weapons," he says with a laugh - but is grateful for much of the work the NRA has done, particularly in regard to concealed carry law that make it easier to legally transport his guns.

Critics of the organization have labeled it a lobbying arm of gun manufacturers, calling NRA political stances out of touch with most voters.

For Lee, that branding doesn't connect. He says any connection between the group and gun-makers is mostly "irrelevant to me," provided the association maintains its grounding in promoting the Second Amendment in ways that apply directly to him.


Grand Forks engineer Harvey Gullicks had similar thoughts on the NRA.

"They're the best organization out there to speak for gun ownership rights," said Gullicks, a member of the association since the late 1970s. "I think the NRA is often misrepresented in terms of their positions on gun ownership. I think sometimes the media treats the NRA as the enemy of the public, and they're not at all that."

Though he doesn't think recent portrayals of the NRA are accurate, Gullicks does think it's fair that the group and its work enter the conversation after a school shooting like the one at Marjory Stoneman. He attributes the shootings themselves largely to mental health issues, a common refrain after such events.

Generally, when speaking of school shootings, the NRA members interviewed by the Herald say guns are just tools, and the ultimate responsibility for violence lays with the shooters. Violent incidents in schools, some said, captured public consciousness due to the intense terror and tragedy they caused.

Kevin Fire, a Grand Forks audiologist and longtime NRA member, understands why the NRA is discussed in the wake of a shooting. Still, like the other members, he believes the rhetoric isn't fair to the reality of the group.

Fire is an executive officer of the Forks Rifle Club and has spent time in the past teaching hunter's safety and other gun-handling classes. In his spare time, he likes to shoot vintage rifles at the club range outside Emerado, N.D.

There's no debate that the NRA promotes legal access to guns. But Fire thinks the link is tenuous between that stance and any embrace of violence.

"Because of their willingness to stand and not do a lot of compromising about ownership of firearms, that's cast them in the light of folks who aren't concerned that these events are occurring in schools," he said, "and I don't think that's fair at all."

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