PC Culture

Banning Speech: Next Front in the Gun Culture Wars

Attendees at the NRA’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas, in 2013. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)
Leftists aim to ban NRA TV from streaming platforms. And guns aren’t the only things they want to control.

In the weeks since the Parkland, Fla., massacre, gun-control advocates have changed their tactics. After each past mass shooting, leftists merely denounced the NRA for, as they saw it, obstructing laws that might sensibly restrict the sale and ownership of firearms. But this time, gun-control activists not only blamed the NRA. They directed the passion of the high-school student survivors and those who grieved with them toward the amorphous and largely pointless legislative proposals presented as a response to the latest atrocity.

In short order, the attacks on the NRA led to a movement to boycott the 5-million-member organization. Activists also pressured businesses such as banks, car-rental agencies, and airlines to end any relationship with the NRA — relations that largely revolve around discounts for NRA members. But as bitter as the battles over these efforts have been, a far more troubling aspect of the effort to isolate the NRA is getting less attention.

Gun-control advocates are now pressuring Amazon, Google, AT&T, Roku, and other streaming platforms to ban NRA TV — the organization’s private channel of gun-rights advocacy and other weapons-related programming. This takes the fight against the group to a different and dangerous level. It is one thing to condemn the NRA and even to ask businesses not to work with a group that offends some people. It is quite another to silence the point of view of an organization that represents millions of Americans. If successful, the ban on NRA TV will mark a turning point not so much in the battle over gun control as in the debate over political speech and what is permissible within the public square.

Part of the NRA’s problems stem from its own ham-fisted approach to the post-Parkland political environment. Faced with a vituperative campaign against it in which the group was blamed for mass shootings, the NRA circled the wagons. In his first full public response after Parkland, in a speech at CPAC, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre attributed the current anti-NRA mood to a “socialist” plot to destroy the Constitution and the rights of individual citizens.

LaPierre is correct that the ultimate goal of many of the NRA’s most fervent opponents — such as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has personally funded the Everytown for Gun Safety group — would be to effectively repeal the Second Amendment. But by casting the argument as a conspiracy in which a plutocrat like Bloomberg is a “socialist” plotter, LaPierre persuaded few outside of the NRA.

The NRA is under siege, for sure, but the more its opponents demonize the group, the more likely it is that it will emerge from this crisis with its support intact or even stronger. The companies considering banning NRA TV should consider that. They should also understand that the effort to silence the group goes above and beyond the political struggle over guns.

Enlisting streaming platforms in the anti-NRA crusade is a mistake. In the era of social media, corporations are easily bullied into backing away from controversy. But no matter how unpopular the NRA might be in some quarters, treating the views of its supporters as beyond the pale is still bad for business — as some of those companies that have joined the NRA boycott are starting to learn.

The boycott, predictably, has only strengthened the pro-gun-rights stance of firearm owners and conservatives.

The boycott, predictably, has only strengthened the pro-gun-rights stance of firearm owners and conservatives. They see the boycott as yet another front in the culture war waged by urban and coastal liberal elites, who view guns as horrible and distasteful, against Americans who live in regions where gun ownership is part of everyday life.

Its foes think of the NRA as a Washington lobby whose financial and political clout is based on contributions from gun manufacturers. They forget that it is a mass-membership organization. Its influence on lawmakers does not come from its roster of high-flying campaign donors — Bloomberg’s outfit has outspent the NRA in some key elections in which gun control became an issue.

The NRA’s power comes from its ability to motivate people to vote. NRA members and the many others who sympathize with the group tend to be single-issue voters dedicated to the Second Amendment; gun critics tend not to be single-issue voters. NRA backers see the boycott as an attack on them, not on LaPierre and his staff. And so the NRA’s hold on Red State America will remain secure.

That’s why Amazon, Google, and AT&T should be wary of taking action that, in effect, would place them at odds with about half of the country. But over and above the reluctance they should feel about signing up for a culture war, these companies should also understand that if they ban NRA TV, they’ll be headed down a very slippery slope. Soon, pro-gun opinions would not be the only ones to be censored.

There may be no constitutional right to a spot on a streaming spectrum. But it’s absurd to think that the NRA’s views are so dangerous that they can’t be heard. The celebrities who support such censorship are notable for their hypocrisy. What would be the reaction of  Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski if cable providers took MSNBC off the air because of its obvious left-wing tilt? They would be outraged and rightly so, since it would be censorship. The same applies to actors such as Alyssa Milano and others in the entertainment industry who are cheerleading for the ban. They’d be outraged if their work were censored. In effect, they are trying to turn neutral platforms such as Amazon into thought police on an issue about which Americans have conflicting opinions.

By seeking to silence the NRA rather than defeat its arguments, its liberal critics are overstepping.

Scarborough and Brzezinski have every right to treat the NRA as a piñata on their program. But when they aim to prevent the group from reaching its supporters via streaming platforms, they reveal their bias: Free speech is fine for them but not for their opponents. Like the boycotts, this is bound to boomerang on gun-control advocates. With talk of a “socialism’ plot, LaPierre may’ve alienated the public, but intolerant liberal elites now make the NRA look like a sympathetic martyr.

After the Parkland shooting, public sentiment may have tilted against the NRA, but even the grief Americans feel about the massacre hasn’t delegitimized the notion of gun rights. As long as there are two sides in this debate, each is entitled to a hearing. In culture wars, opponents wish to silence each other rather than agree to disagree. But controlling the flow of ideas in this manner is contrary to the spirit of democracy. By seeking to silence the NRA rather than defeat its arguments, its liberal critics are overstepping. In their overreach, they will not shake the NRA’s hold on the many Second Amendment–supporting Americans who vote.

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