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January 3, 2008

Crisis, Anyone?

A former lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, Richard Feldman, recently published a book (Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist) in which he reveals that the organization has purposely manufactured crises over the years to stoke fear in its membership and generate fundraising dollars. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, who is bankrolled to the tune of approximately $1 million a year in salary and benefits, long ago realized that a terrified NRA membership is a generous one, and there’s no better Boogeyman than the old myth that the government is preparing to confiscate all private firearms.

A recent story from the Associated Press demonstrates just how hollow the Confiscation Myth really is. The NRA’s latest scheme involves Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the devastation caused by the storm, most Americans immediately asked “How can I help?” and donations to assist those affected by the storm poured in in record numbers. The NRA, however, saw an opportunity to buffer their own coffers. Pointing a finger at the New Orleans Police Department, they accused law enforcement officials of engaging in widespread confiscation of private firearms in the storm’s aftermath, claiming that New Orleans residents were disarmed and left “at the mercy of roving gangs, home invaders, and other criminals.” The organization got Congress to pass a law prohibiting the confiscation of firearms from law-abiding citizens during future states of emergency and then filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley.

The NRA had found their latest, treasured crisis and the fearmongering was in full swing. Consider this appeal from the organization’s leaked “Freedom in Peril” pamphlet for high-dollar donors:

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for the first time in American history, New Orleans and other government officials ordered law enforcement officers to go door to door to confiscate firearms from law-abiding citizens at gunpoint … Katrina became the proving ground for what American gun owners have always predicted. The day came when government bureaucrats threw the Bill of Rights out the window and declared freedom to be whatever they say it is.”

The problem with all this? Despite their assertion that more than 1,000 private firearms were seized, the NRA has only been able to locate about 75 individuals who claim their gun(s) were confiscated. Desperate to substantiate their lawsuit, the organization has hired private investigators to find others whose firearms might have been seized by the New Orleans police. They have even asked for a delay in the lawsuit’s trial date because these folks just aren’t turning up.

And maybe that’s the point. New Orleans law enforcement officials have stated all along that they only took guns that had been stolen or found in abandoned homes. Katrina was a natural disaster that displaced thousands of residents in the area. New Orleans police officers were undoubtedly acting in the interest of public safety in collecting abandoned firearms that could have easily been retrieved by looters and criminals. They should be saluted for their heroic work in dangerous conditions, not vilified.

With egg on their face, the NRA recently took down a website devoted to the pending lawsuit, www.givethemback.com. Perhaps it should be relaunched under a new name, www.helpusfindthem.com.

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