Bobby Jindal’s speech to the NRA Convention today reminded me of a criticism I leveled at the organization last year: Namely, that it needs to be careful not to forget why it is so successful. For a few minutes this afternoon, Jindal talked about firearms, reminding the crowd that when the ATF attempted to “ban green-tip ammo, we rose up,” and assuring the president that there was nothing wrong with people who “cling to our guns and religion.” But then, once he had dispensed with the niceties, he moved quickly on to what he really want to talk about, which was religious liberty and the importance of the First Amendment. “I am gravely concerned about things in our nation,” Jindal said, “and that is what I would like to talk about today”:
This month we have seen something very dangerous happen in our country.
If you saw the news out of Indiana and Arkansas, I’m sure you are just as concerned as I am.
Those two states debated laws to protect the religious freedom of their citizens – laws to keep government from compelling anyone to participate in wedding ceremonies that are incompatible with their deeply held religious convictions.
We saw something in those states uncommon in our history.
We saw Hollywood liberals and editorial columnists form a new alliance with some of the biggest corporations in our country.
They came together to bully the elected representatives of the people.
And let’s not mince words about it.
It was bullying.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this argument. Indeed, I agree with most of it myself. But it should be remembered that this is the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, not of the Republican party, the Becket Fund, or the American Conservative Union. The NRA is an organization that exists to do one thing and to do one thing only: to protect the right of the people to keep and bear arms. So why is Jindal talking about RFRAs?The answer is simple: Because most of the people who come to the NRA convention are pretty conservative. And yet here’s the rub: Those who support its aims are not always so. Certainly, polling shows that support for the Second Amendment is a touch stronger among self-described Republicans than it is among Democrats. But, across the country, Democrats both within Congress and without constitute a vital part of the gun rights movement and have been crucial to its recent successes. As far as I see it, there is a real danger at the moment that, because its most vocal advocates are full spectrum conservatives, the NRA will begin to allow itself to become a vehicle of the conservative movement writ large, and not a grassroots movement for the protection of a fundamental civil right.
Jindal ended his speech by returning to guns. But by leaving the topic — and interweaving it with other hot-button questions, with the use of the word “liberal,” and with frequent references to “Hollywood” — he gave the impression that “conservative” and “Second Amendment advocate” are synonymous. Mistake.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.