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The genuine sportsman’s voice is seldom heard in the outcry against gun-control laws. The dominant note is the shrill voice of the superpatriot. His sentiments were once well synthesized by Goldwater’s ghost-writer: “The question of freedom, therefore, when stripped to its steel center, is just this: Who has the guns?” he wrote. “It is the sort of freedom which, based upon an ideal and an urge, was born in gunfire, preserved in gunfire, and which is, even today, maintained by a ready strength of arms.” These sentiments are enthusiastically shared by such rabidly anticommunist groups as the Minutemen. In fact, guns are valued accessories of the ultras, antis, and other fanatics.

In May, New York City police seized more than twelve thousand rounds of ammunition belonging to a Harlem gun club and served summonses on two of the club’s officers in whose homes the ammunition was found—one third had come from the government through the club’s affiliation with the NRA.

There was no evidence that this club was an extremist group. The seizure was simply the result of a city ordinance that requires a permit for the storage of more than two hundred rounds of ammunition in a residence. Nor is there any direct evidence linking other NRA clubs, also receiving free government aid, with extremist groups, black or white.

But in recent months, the question has been raised as to whether the government’s civilian marksmanship training is being abused. One skeptic, Texas congressman Henry González, read into the May 26, 1964, Congressional Record a newsletter from the Paul Revere Associated Yeomen, Inc., which predicted a Goldwater–Nixon ticket defeating the Democrats by a 60–40 vote followed by an attempted “revolution-insurrection” by the “diehard liberals and Reds.” Readers were urged to “stock up on rifles, shotguns, pistols,” and to join the National Rifle Association and the Minutemen.

Some months later, the national leader of the Minutemen explained that it is a common tactic for Minutemen, without disclosing their affiliation, to organize or join gun clubs to gain access to rifle ranges. Believing the United States will be subverted by Communists within ten years, Minutemen are preparing to resist as guerrillas. Thousands of them, he said, have joined the NRA to get free ammunition and, by their dues, to support the NRA’s fight against gun-control legislation.

The NRA has vehemently disclaimed connection with “any group which advocates or condones activities of violence.” However, one wonders how closely the credentials of would-be members or affiliates are examined. The NRA bylaws specify that applicants must be endorsed either by a member in good standing, a public official, or an officer of the U.S. Armed Forces. To test this rule, I recently sent for an NRA membership blank and had it endorsed by my brother-in-law, who is not an NRA member, nor a public official, nor an officer of the Armed Forces. I was accepted as an NRA member nonetheless. And so far as affiliated groups are concerned, there is nothing to prevent, say, ten Minutemen from forming a gun club and then applying for affiliation. Approval is routine after the adjutant general and NRA office in the club’s home state “review” the club application, supposedly to determine whether the officers have criminal records. Once it has its NRA charter, the club can then apply to the Army for its free quota of guns and ammunition.

Like most organizations, the NRA is concerned with its self-perpetuation. To this end, “Keep and Bear Arms” is an ideal rallying cry, which becomes irresistible to gun lovers when coupled with the enticement of free or cut-rate government arms. The result is a formidable—and dangerous—coalition of diverse pressure groups.

From “The Traffic in Guns,” which appeared in the December 1964 issue of Harper’s Magazine

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December 1964

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