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Gun Crusaders

The NRA’s Culture War

Scott Melzer

Publication Year: 2009

Nothing conjures up images of the American frontier and a pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps view of freedom and independence quite like guns. Gun Crusaders is a fascinating inside look at how the four-million member National Rifle Association and its committed members come to see each and every gun control threat as a step down the path towards gun confiscation, and eventually socialism. Enlivened by a rich analysis of NRA materials, meetings, leader speeches, and unique in-depth interviews with NRA members, Gun Crusaders focuses on how the NRA constructs and perceives threats to gun rights as one more attack in a broad liberal cultural war. Scott Melzer shows that the NRA promotes a nostalgic vision of frontier masculinity, whereby gun rights defenders are seen as patriots and freedom fighters, defending not the freedom of religion, but the religion of individual rights and freedoms.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I grew up in middle-class neighborhoods within South Florida’s suburban sprawl, where guns had little impact on our lives. My family and friends neither participated in a rural gun culture nor had to deal with the high rates of gun violence so prevalent in urban areas at the time. ...

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pp. 1-21

“From my cold, dead hands!” shouted Charlton Heston. The audience roared its approval for their President and charismatic leader. Heston was the only person defiantly holding a rifle over his head, but, as I scanned the room, everyone appeared ready to take up arms in the gun wars. ...

Part I: Defending Guns, Defending Masculinity

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pp. 23

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1. Frontier Masculinity, America’s "Gun Culture," and the NRA

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pp. 25-43

On Sunday morning in Reno I caught an early bus to attend the NRA Women’s Breakfast. As we approached the convention center, we passed an adult cabaret eager to drum up some convention visitor business. Missing an apostrophe, a neon sign out front announced something...

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2. Why a Gun Movement?

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pp. 44-69

“Cultural war is fought without bullets, bloodshed or armored tanks, but liberty is lost just the same. If we lose this cultural war,” NRA President Charlton Heston warned, “you and your country will be less free.”1 Heston, the self-anointed leader of the conservative...

Part II: Talking Guns, Talking Culture War

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pp. 71

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3. Framing Threats to Gun Rights

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pp. 73-109

One of the starkest differences between the NRA’s more tranquil past and its current status as a highly politicized SMO is how the NRA talks about guns, gun control, and itself. Though the NRA became a political force after its 1977 internal coup, two decades passed before it...

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4. Under Attack

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pp. 110-130

“An armed resident is a citizen; an unarmed resident is a serf,” Quincy, an NRA lifetime member tells me, repeating one of many phrases widely used by gun rights proponents.1 “Tell that to a liberal, and they think it’s about taking over the country,” he adds and, without pause,...

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5. Fighting the Culture Wars

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pp. 131-168

Moral outrage is a cornerstone of the culture wars, especially surrounding the big three culture war issues, “Guns, Gays, and God.” Cultural combatants and critics of all stripes tend to dismiss their adversaries as naïve, hateful, dishonest, insane, and worse. ...

Part III: Committing to the NRA, Committing to the Right

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pp. 169

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6. The Politics of Commitment

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pp. 171-197

“There’s not a gun law that’s ever been written to promote gun safety,” Bob assured me. Bob is white, in his late forties, grew up in the South, attended a military school, and works in a family business involving precision diagnostics. He has been an NRA member for more than twenty...

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7. Right and Far-Right Moral Politics

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pp. 198-223

NRA Critical Mass member Bob and Reserve member Frank are differently committed not only to the organization and gun rights but also to conservatism. Bob is a highly committed member of a quarter century who donates money to and volunteers for the NRA. ...

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8. The Ties That Bind

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pp. 224-245

The gun rights movement, like any other, formed and became effective for a number of reasons. The NRA has been particularly successful since the late 1990s, because it began to systematically frame threats to gun rights as threats to all individual rights and freedoms, and...

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Epilogue: Tomorrow’s NRA

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pp. 247-256

The National Rifle Association and the gun rights movement both benefited from a modest storm of high-profile (yet unlikely and moderate) gun control threats in 2000, and a clearing of the skies soon after. There was an active, though decreasingly effective, federal gun control agenda...

Appendix: Studying the NRA

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pp. 257-269


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pp. 271-304


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pp. 305-322

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About the Author

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pp. 323

Scott Melzer is Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Albion College.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759509
E-ISBN-10: 0814759505
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814795507
Print-ISBN-10: 0814795501

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Firearms ownership -- United States.
  • National Rifle Association of America.
  • Gun control -- United States.
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