How can the National Rifle Association oppose something as checking whether someone is legally barred from buying a gun before they purchase one, i.e. universal background checks? Because the NRA is not reasonable anymore. Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks, and the NRA itself supported the policy in 1999. You can see the group's paranoia grow in a year's worth of covers from its Freedom magazine, posted by Talking Points Memo. Particularly paranoid is its November 2012 issue, in which a black-gloved clenched fist hovers above the words "How and When Obama Will Come For Your Guns: The Election Before The Knock On Your Door."
The NRA will present its alternate plan to prevent mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary on Tuesday, as it looks triumphant in stopping an assault weapons ban and has a good chance of stopping universal background checks. Why block a law it once supported? Because the NRA now believes the intention of universal background checks is to create a government list of gun owners, tax the guns, share the list with other governments, and take the guns away. The NRA was not always so paranoid. Old copies of its American Rifleman magazine show cheery sportsmen hunting wild animals, or photos of cool new handguns.
At left is a cover from 1969.
When hippie Baby Boomer Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, the NRA didn't look so freaked out.
In 2004, also an election year, the NRA did not push massive looming tyranny. Only one issue featured a gun-taxing John Kerry:
Now the threat of tyranny is ever present. Freedom and American Rifleman don't always share the same covers. But many overlap. they both used this image in April:
They both used the image of writing a check for an anti-Obama campaign donation on an Obama check.
It appears only Freedom used the threat of bringing South Africa stateside:
After a rise in violence following the end of apartheid, South Africa instituted new gun control measures. Though there are far fewer guns per person in South Africa than in the U.S. (12.7 guns for every 100 people versus 88.8 guns for every 100 people here), South Africa still has a higher gun homicide rate. The country is probably the NRA's best example of "if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will own guns." The best counter-example is all of Europe.
Unlike South Africa, the crime rate is not high in the U.S. It's been falling for two decades. Even in Chicago, the murder rate fell sharply in the first quarter of 2013. In the 1990s, the NRA used crime rates as a reason to encourage more people to buy guns. That enemy doesn't exist anymore. Looks like the government is a good replacement. The NRA makes its support look broader by blurring the lines between the people on its old covers — people with a family tradition of hunting — with the people who like its new covers — right-wing paranoiacs.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.