Recently I had the opportunity to attend the National Rifle Association's 141st Annual Convention, held in St. Louis, Missouri.
While I'm not currently a gun owner, I have nothing against guns or gun enthusiasts. I've owned guns in the past. I was raised around guns. And I enjoy emptying a few rounds just as much as the next guy.
I imagine very few things in life relieve stress better than completely destroying a life-size zombie target down on the family farm - except, maybe, playing the drums or having sex, the latter, of course, being the most fun.
In fact, my father-in-law is an NRA member. Both he and my stepfather have conceal-and-carry permits. And it's not uncommon for either one of them to surprise me with, "Hey, check out what I got."
So I don't have a problem with the NRA, or with most NRA members. But, like my father-in-law and stepfather - and probably hundreds of thousands of other gun owners - I'm terribly concerned about the NRA's right-wing politics and support for anti-union political candidates.
When I first got to the NRA Convention I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew there would be a huge exhibit hall full of gun manufacturers hawking their latest designs. I figured there would be exhibits for merchandise peripheral to the gun industry - people showing off their new gun-sights, binoculars, hearing protectors, deer-scented sprays, turkey grunters and other hunting related products.
Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to see charities for disabled service men and women and police officers. I was pleasantly surprised to see NRA sponsored firearms training programs, NRA emergency roadside assistance and gun safety rules brochures.
The NRA even has a youth magazine - The Eagle Eye - highlighting volunteers who work with youth and teach gun safety.
Eddie Eagle, the NRA youth mascot, says: "If you see a gun - Don't touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult." It's good advice.
There was even a NRA wine drinkers' club!
However, I did not expect to see booths for silencers and specialty bullets. I didn't expect to see scantily-clad women holding semi-automatic weapons and signing posters, sexualizing an already over-sexualized weapon.
Nor did I expect to hear crazy Ted Nugent ranting and raving about "chopping their heads off in November." He was referring to President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton, all of which, according to Nugent, are "criminals."
I didn't expect the blatant disrespect heaped upon our Commander and Chief. Agree or disagree with our President, but he is still our President. He was elected by the majority of the American people. And he doesn't deserve to be likened to a "coyote pissing on your couch" that should "be shot," as Nugent said.
Which leads me to ask: Has the NRA been taken over by crazy, right-wing nuts?
The exaggerated masculinity - of which there can be no better example than the loaded gun - the just a little crazy Ted Nugent, and the right-wing shock jock conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck, mixed with guns in a highly charged political context is not a good combination. In fact, it's a little scary.
Additionally, why are all of these people so paranoid? Do they honestly believe that the president is going to take away their guns?
From what I can tell - in spite of all of the pronouncements to the contrary - there seems to be no shortage of "freedom" and "liberty." The Second Amendment is safe!
Most Americans - those without criminal backgrounds - can openly sell or buy semi-automatic weapons, silencers and specialty bullets. Which Second Amendment rights are being infringed upon here?
And as for Nugent or Beck, are they demented marionettes paid to keep people in a state of frenzied shock and fear so they'll buy more guns?
They both say our Second Amendment rights are in danger of being taken away. However, the evidence just doesn't support the conclusion.
In fact, I would argue that the biggest threat to the Second Amendment right now is the right-wing co-opting of the NRA. These people give all gun owners a bad name.
If the average NRA member is like my father-in-law or step-father - people who like to hunt, shoot targets and want to feel safe in their own homes - which I believe is the case, then the NRA needs to do some serious house cleaning.
And they should start today!