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A 159er Goes to the NRA Convention: This is His Account

By Marvin Lim, 159 Board Member

On Friday, April 28, I attended the NRA convention, by choice — not as a protester, and not as a mole, but to listen and learn. Growing up in Georgia as progressive, I have always prided myself on being able to listen to others with completely different viewpoints.

I remember in March 2001, a few of my high school classmates and I were chosen to attend George W. Bush's first presidential visit to Georgia, when he gave a speech at Fernbank. I knew this experience, Donald Trump's first presidential visit to Georgia, would be different from that. That said, I figured what I would get from the experience was to learn more about a radically different viewpoint about guns from mine. What quickly became apparent, though, was that the NRA convention was so much more than about guns.

Donald Trump

The most glaring example: Donald Trump, who was the first sitting president to address the NRA convention since Ronald Reagan, spoke more about immigration than he did about his stance and policies on guns. ("We will build a wall." "Don't even think about it; we need a wall.")

The NRA and its push for guns literally everywhere is part and parcel of a broader push to perpetuate fear of others (like immigrants) in our society. And, ultimately, this is a push to militarize society against these groups — giving more arms both to more private citizens and to state police force alike.

This is seen in the organization’s rhetoric: addressing academic, political and media elites, which he called the greatest threats to American society, NRA CEO LaPierre accused them of having "weaponized the First Amendment" (with his colleague Chris Cox also arguing that this media has spread fake news — fake news about gun owners).

At the end of Donald Trump's speech, a good quarter of the audience — which, as an Asian-American, I eyeballed as at least 90 percent white — left. At first, I thought: that is no way to support gun rights.  But, eventually, it made sense: the agenda is far broader than even guns in private hands. That the NRA convention was far more than about guns — and, ultimately about issues immediately impact Georgia — became clear throughout the convention.

David Perdue

Walls would become a consistent theme throughout the Leadership Forum: Georgia's Sen. David Perdue — who has refused to hold town halls in his district, as highlighted by 159 Georgia Together's "Missing David Perdue" campaign — saw fit to show up at the convention and, beyond talking about guns, promise to "build that wall" and "stop sanctuary cities." He also saw fit repeatedly to lament the, according to him, historically small sizes of our various military forces.

If Sen. Perdue can take time to address a special interest group — and about subjects that go far beyond the official mission of the NRA — he can take time to address his constituents.  We, at 159 Georgia Together, must continue to keep pressure on for him to meet.

6th Congressional District Run-Off 

Continuing on the subjects extraneous to the NRA and the Second Amendment, Donald Trump also took his time to push Karen Handel. For me, this has an interesting dimension: while Donald Trump took the opportunity during his speech to reintroduce his false claims about suppression of conservative votes, I remember clearly that, as secretary of state of Georgia, Handel vociferously defended vote suppression measures like voter proof of citizenship laws — which impacted me personally in 2008.  

We must continue our efforts to Flip the Sixth.

Campus Carry in Georgia

Of course, guns certainly were talked about the NRA convention. Of particular salience to Georgia, which is facing a campus carry bill (HB 280) on Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.

Throughout the day, I heard a variety of comments, from attendees and presenters alike, about arming kids. Nelson Lund, one of the NRA's top lawyers, suggested that training and proficiency in firearms be a condition of earning a high school diploma. An attendee to whom I spoke, a college student from Alabama, expressed how awesome it was that Alabama would permit 18-year-olds to carry.

But, the most salient comment may be from one Leadership Forum speaker, Antonia Okafor from Texas, which passed a campus carry law in 2014. Shortly after Donald Trump recognized Gov. Deal as a Second Amendment supporter during his own speech, Okafor called on Gov. Deal to sign the campus carry bill.

We must continue to push Gov. Deal to veto campus carry.

The Experience

The NRA convention was a sobering experience. But, more than being sobering about gun policy in America, it also shed light on so many issues troubling our state and nation — from fake news, to voter suppression, to anti-immigrant policies, to police militarization. In this way, the convention reminds us why we, as 159 Georgia Together, must continue to act.