Timothy Murphy’s sharpshooting of Gen Simon Fraser in the 1777 battle of Saratoga during the American Revolution might have remained just another contested historical footnote were it not for the National Rifle Association’s (NRA’s) Cincinnati convention coup in 1977. This transformed it from a stodgy hunting and conservation outfit into Washington’s strongest lobbying operation whose radical interpretation of the second amendment savages even the mildest gun control proposals.
The NRA’s leadership of Conservative America was sealed in 2000 when its president, actor Charlton Heston, assuming his Moses character, closed the annual convention by raising a similar sharpshooter’s rifle above his head, and roared: “Only out of my cold dead hands”, in reference to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s proposed gun controls.
Guns gave America freedom, and as far as the NRA is concerned, the second amendment gives it the constitutional right to resist any federal government that tries to remove them. The polarisation of America that this has encouraged during the past half-century increases NRA membership. It has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Donald Trump, whose narcissistic tendencies would have him “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”. Of all the ingredients in the current American witch’s brew, only the NRA provides both a motive and the means for chaos.
Why should South Africans worry if America implodes? The economic catastrophe would be global, the absence of even a dictatorial global policeman would encourage regional conflict and, as America is still oddly synonymous with “democracy”, its demise would spell the end of this liberal ideal, especially on African shores.
James Cunningham, Camps Bay
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