“The Secret History of Gun Rights: How Lawmakers Armed the N.R.A.,” the prominently displayed 5,000-word lead story in Sunday’s New York Times, was the work of investigative reporter Mike McIntire, who spent the Obama years hassling the Tea Party and the GOP with hostile investigations before turning his attention to the National Rifle Association, the oldest civil rights group in America which defends the Second Amendment rights of citizens.
The online subhead read: “They served in Congress and on the N.R.A.’s board at the same time. Over decades, a small group of legislators led by a prominent Democrat pushed the gun lobby to help transform the law, the courts and views on the Second Amendment.”
That “prominent Democrat” would be the late Michigan Representative John Dingell.
Let’s have one cheer for the headline phrase “gun rights” — but the breadth of the article was hostile toward the concept. This “Secret History” bespeaks of a long dark conspiracy dredged to light, though the pattern sounds familiar, and could apply to any number of liberal movements that capture Congress and the bureaucracy.
Beyond the novelty of the Times running such a prominent story critical of a prominent Democrat, the standard bias prevails, with the NRA having “tightened its grip on Congress” with appeals to “fear” and “manhood-affirming accessories” to AR-15 rifles.
Long before the National Rifle Association tightened its grip on Congress, won over the Supreme Court and prescribed more guns as a solution to gun violence — before all that, Representative John D. Dingell Jr. had a plan.
First jotted on a yellow legal pad in 1975, it would transform the N.R.A. from a fusty club of sportsmen into a lobbying juggernaut that would enforce elected officials’ allegiance, derail legislation behind the scenes, redefine the legal landscape and deploy “all available resources at every level to influence the decision making process.”
McIntire doesn’t seem to appreciate the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
To understand the ascendancy of gun culture in America, the files of Mr. Dingell, a powerful Michigan Democrat who died in 2019, are a good place to start. That is because he was not just a politician — he simultaneously sat on the N.R.A.’s board of directors, positioning him to influence firearms policy as well as the private lobbying force responsible for shaping it.
The paper got its hands on a trove of Dingell’s documents, and as McIntire reported breathlessly:
The files, many of them only recently made public, reveal a secret history of how the nation got to where it is now.
Over decades, politics, money and ideology altered gun culture, reframed the Second Amendment to embrace ever broader gun rights and opened the door to relentless marketing driven by fear rather than sport….
The lawmakers, far from the stereotype of pliable politicians meekly accepting talking points from lobbyists, served as leaders of the N.R.A., often prodding it to action. At seemingly every hint of a legislative threat, they stepped up, the documents show, helping erect a firewall that impedes gun control today.
Dingell presented a memo to the NRA board in 1974, resulting in a national lobbying push and grassroots fundraising, and the rest is history.
….Handwritten notes reflect just how radical his plans were….
The Times‘ morality tale concluded with a happy ending for the Times’ liberal readership, with Dingell having learned his lesson:
By the time Mr. Dingell retired from the House in 2015, his views on gun policy had evolved, according to his wife [and successor], who said he no longer trusted the N.R.A.