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Fear, Paranoia and Loathing: Inside the NRA's 2013 Convention

To swing the door on a National Rifle Association annual meeting is to enter a world where Freedom comes from a gun.

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It was another statement that only looks absurd until you don your NRA Freedom Goggles. It then becomes clear what Potterfield meant: Without the NRA, private property and the shooting sports would not survive, because Congress would pass popular gun reform regulations, thus destroying the Second Amendment, which is the foundational Freedom upon which everything else rests, including Larry Potterfield's ability to sell rifle rounds and a wide range of duck hunting boots.

Each of the speakers following Potterfield reiterated this idea in their own way. Rick Santorum said Europe was "dying" because it failed to enshrine rights, including gun rights, as God given. Unmentioned by Santorum was the fact that, for all its secular sins, the "dying" countries of the EU continue to extend their life-expectancy advantage over the U.S., a trend that might have something to do with the fact that they don't lose 30,000 young citizens annually to gun violence.

The man who followed Santorum symbolized the safety of the status quo in the age of the 60-vote hurdle. Texas senator Ted Cruz drew a standing ovation and sent the "Don't Tread on Me" flags waving when he promised to filibuster any gun bill to hit the Senate floor on his watch. John Bolton followed Cruz, urging vigilance in opposing the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which he described as "the Obama administration's back-up plan for failed domestic policy." Radio host Mark Levin, who joined the NRA and bought his first gun only 18 months ago, sent a taped message about the "ominous forces" gathering against his new favorite Amendment. Texas governor Rick Perry said something to the effect of loving guns and people with guns, but not liking people who hate guns and people with guns. At the meeting's keynote speech the next night, Glenn Beck unveiled an image of Michael Bloomberg giving a Nazi salute, setting off yet another round of condemnations from national Jewish organizations.

These were the voices of the "culture war" promised by Chris Cox. None of them hold much promise as recruitment tools for the 30-plus million gun owners who don't belong to the NRA. In contrast to the their friends in the RNC, which finds itself in a similar dilemma, the NRA appears utterly oblivious to its smoky Southern regional odor. Last week Media Matters reported that the new NRA president, an Alabama lawyer named James Porter, refers to the Civil War just like his grand pappy did, as the War of Northern Aggression. Things like this just don't play well outside deep Dixie, though it may endear Porter to the several hundred NRA members who attended last weekend's seminar on "Civil War Sharpshooters," which included the heartwarming true story of the "black reb" Holt Collier, a talented sniper who stayed loyal to his owner after Emancipation and fought for the Confederacy. 

I lasted about 20 minutes in the Civil War seminar before slipping out to explore the exhibit hall and talk to more gun dealers. Among the companies still on my list to visit was Sig Saur, whose Jumbotronic display anchored one of the biggest and flashiest sets on the floor of NRA 2013. The company had recently initiated a big marketing push around its new line of MPX submachine guns, and large digital screens looped promotional videos of the sleek black guns unloading 30-round magazines on full-auto mode, with long black suppressors reducing the noise and flash. As configured in the ads, the MPX would require a raft of special permits, including the signature of a local sheriff, before a sale was approved and logged in a federal registry. But the exhibit was mobbed just the same. As one gun blogger explained it, "Those little machine guns are like the Lamborghinis at a car show."

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