By Dan Gifford
First published in Firing Line magazine
Appeasement is the tactic of offering concessions to an aggressor in order to prevent attack. Problem is, the peace it brings is temporary.
As Rudyard Kipling put it:
" ... we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane."
If there is an exception to that, I don't know of it.
The Athenian appeasement of Philip of Macedonia did not prevent him from taking over Athens and all the other Greek city states. His son, Alexander the Great, couldn't be appeased. Appeasement of Napoleon and Hitler did not keep them from running rampant in Europe. Ghengis Khan's murderous "Golden Horde" could not be appeased. The reason those and the other historical appeasements didn't work, is that the aggressors had a clear, stated evangelical political goal they were prepared to pursue to the death. Like those military aggressors, our present day "gun control" movement is on just such a mission to destroy the Constitution's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, by all means necessary, to achieve its vision of an America where only police, soldiers and other government agents possess firearms. If that sounds ominous, do remember one of NRA Director Wayne LaPierre's irrefutable stated truths: "The guys with the guns make the rules."
How do we know that's the desired scenario despite the denials of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Scarborough and others of his ilk? We know because "Pete" Shields, the founder of today's gun control movement, plainly said so in a 1976 New Yorker article: “We’re going to have to take one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily — given the political realities—going to be very modest,” adding, “Right now, though, we’d be satisfied not with half a loaf but with a slice. Our ultimate goal — total control of handguns in the United States — is going to take time.” That total ban goal has since expanded to banning other firearms by any means necessary.
Those means include large doses of lies, deceptions of language and fact omissions about history, law and culture. They have been ineffectively refuted because the National Rifle Association (NRA), through its public relations mouthpiece of Ackerman McQueen (AM), is inept regarding the sort of public relations shiboleths that win hearts and rational minds outside its own choir. Lacking that, it has sought to appease its strengthening political opposition of cultural underminers by not promoting the Second's raison d'être: That is to assure an armed population to oppose foreign invasion, usurpation of power by rulers and provide personal defense against the criminals that the rights of due process make it impossible to jail. I have been an NRA member since 1955 and have never seen such a plain talk public relations effort to tout the Second as the right necessary to the survival of the American republic that it is. Have you?
* Ever seen open NRA justification for civilians having "assault weapons" or "weapons of war" for use in citizen defense forces like those organized by a number of states during W.W.II when a Japanese West coast attack was legitimately feared?
* Ever seen the NRA tout the 1946 armed citizen rebellion in Athens, Tennessee against its power usurping officials for predatory policing, police brutality, political corruption, and voter intimidation? Seen Eleanor Roosevelt's endorsement that "The decisive action which has just occurred in our midst is a warning, and one which we cannot afford to overlook?"
* Ever seen NRA saturation ads to counter the lie that citizen self defense is a rarity? Seen NRA weapons trained police endorsement of armed citizens who defended themselves?
Yes, the NRA has an armed citizen compilation in its own publications, but few outside the membership ever see them. And that's a major point. While some of the above or related subjects may have gotten scant mention or reference, they were not publicized in ways that get heard and resonate within political and popular culture.
That has set the stage for appeasement to be one of the most commonly used words on both sides of Second Amendment issues -- and for good reason. Hardcore advocates on both sides believe their softer core comrades have uselessly given in to the other instead of going for a winning kill. But that appears to have changed. Unanimity has hit town, resolves have stiffened and each side now demands the death of appeasement as a policy option. It's a switch reflected in headlines like these:
* "Gun Control Supporters Are Counting on NRA Appeasement."
* "Progressives Must Take a Stand: No More Appeasement of the NRA."
"No more appeasement" and its variations are political catch phrases intended to buck-up activist esprit de corps. But on the pro Second side, it has the unwieldy elan of a Moose -- elan being French for Moose.
In this case, that Moose is the NRA. It may look formidable, but it's really a wounded Bullwinkle surrounded by a wolf pack of anti-Second snarlers who demand and get concessions like this: "Bump Stocks Are Now Illegal, Thanks to NRA Favorite Donald Trump." NRA and other Second hardballers see that sarcastic headline and its referenced deal as an unprincipled sacrifice to the wolf pack in hopes it will appease their stated appetite for ever more restrictive laws until there is no Second Amendment. That tack is costing the NRA members.
“The NRA is appeasing to the middle, they're not pro-gun enough” is a common complaint. They also see Trump's acquiescence and that of the NRA as betrayals of a fundamental Constitutional right and reject the NRA's explanation that the bump stock deal was strategic political appanage. As would be expected, that has exacerbated internal hostilities and made more Bullwinkle appeasements likely.
For anti Second activists, "no more appeasement" reflects the fact its pack leaders smell NRA blood from their nipping tactic of relentless "reasonable restriction" demands followed by reneges on agreements to not make new ones. The pack can do that because its funders, media, academic and pop culture propagandist allies give it the power to create the negative NRA perceptions that pass for truth and reality even though they know the NRA is correct in its positions.
NRA and other pro Second defenders have never really understood that so far as I have seen. Most I hear believe their opposites don't know "the facts" and believe education will change their opposite's minds. It won't -- at least it won't in the absence of a meaningful culture and political shift toward individual liberty reclamation. The real fact is that anti-Second activists know the facts as well or better than do Second defenders.
That was admitted in a memo found in the Clinton Library by Tucson attorney David Hardy. It was written by Jody Powell, President Jimmy Carter’s press secretary, to George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton’s new press secretary, warning Clinton to back off from gun control because … "it just doesn’t work ... Much as I hate to say it, the NRA is effective primarily because it is largely right when it claims that most gun control measures inconvenience and threaten the law-abiding while having little or no impact on violent crime and criminals.”
So yes, the wolf pack knows.
It also knows the surprise conclusion of Jimmy Carter's own blue ribbon study that it thought would confirm that firearms cause crime: "It is commonly hypothesized that much criminal violence, especially homicide, occurs simply because firearms are readily at hand and, thus, that much homicide would not occur were firearms generally less available. There is no persuasive evidence that supports this view."
It also knows a 2020 study by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University concluded there is no Evidence ‘Assault Weapon’ Bans Reduce Mass Shootings."
There are way more facts the wolves know that are favorable to the NRA, but the Association and Ackerman McQueen have shown so far they are clueless about how to use them. The pack leaders know why.
They know the NRA's bare knuckle "reward friends and punish enemies" tactic former Association president Marion Hammer told me about is becoming less effective. They know they have the NRA Bullwinkle surrounded and that it's suffering not just from their words, paradigms and media control, it's also ailing from those previously mentioned self inflicted internal injuries that include scandals, bickering, splinter groups and bonehead public relations that are repulsive or befuddling to a meaningful portion of the body politic.
Among the many examples, there was the NRA TV episode that showed its Ackerman-McQueen (AM) public relations strategist, Tony Makris, shoot an elephant in the face and then toast the kill with champaign.
The champaign toast has apparently been scrubbed from the internet leaving only great white hunter Makris (left) and his guide proudly standing by the dead pachyderm. Public outrage canceled the TV show but the anger continues. It's a classic example of NRA cultural tone deafness made worse by Makris' incomprehensible Bullwinkle logic response.
Makris said his critic's outrage was a “very unique form of animal racism” akin to Hitler's racial doctrine. "[T]hey said but [elephants are] so big and special and they're smarter," Makris said. "And I went, you know, Hitler would have said the same thing."
In another example of Bullwinkle funded convoluted thought, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesche dressed Thomas the Tank Engine, the children's cartoon character, in Ku Klux Klan robes on her NRATV show to make a point that is equally as befuddling as Makris'.
Loesch blasted "Thomas & Friends" for partnering with the United Nations to increase diversity on the program by introducing two new female characters, one of which was painted with an African-inspired face. She then showed them on screen wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods while on flaming train tracks. "That's where it gets really strange to me, said Loesch. "Am I to understand this entire time that Thomas and his trains were white? Because they all have gray faces. How do you bring ethnic diversity? I mean, they had to paint what I guess they thought was some sort of African pattern on the side of Nia's engine."
Loesch is the brunette looker who appeared as the NRA's spokesperson shortly after several association board members had asked me for suggestions about shaping up the NRA's media image. I don't know if my points for a new spokesperson had anything to do with her hiring or whether she simply excited the hormones of someone at the NRA or Ackerman-McQueen, her actual employer. If that's it, it's a whole lotta excitement since she's paid over a million per year by Ackerman-McQueen from its Bullwinkle bucks, according to published accounts. Whatever the reason she was hired, Loesch is the wrong face for the NRA in today's culture. So is Wayne LaPierre.
I have never met LaPierre, but have been told by NRA insiders he's a visionary genius. However, that was not my impression both times I saw him speak. He entered the room surrounded by men in blue blazers. He then left their protection to mount the stage where he gave an angry rant to the shilled cheers of his blazered entourage. When finished, he did what in my sideshow working days was called the walk of indignation into the protection of his blazered entourage. Most have seen that walk shtick before without realizing it has several purposes. Those can range from shaming an audience into handing over more money to a faux intimidation to hide insecurity, which I suspect LaPierre has in large quantities.
All but the most strident NRA friends understand the messenger matters and that Wayne LaPierre, Dana Loesch and gloating elephant hunters like Tony Mackris are the wrong Second Amendment messengers for today. They are not only reprehensible to a large swath of the public, they are lampoons that put the NRA in positions where it must accept or even seek appeasements, tiny as they may be for now, with those wanting to destroy both the NRA and the Second.
So what are the faces with the shibboleths that could build common ground connections with gun owner's enemies? What faces could successfully advocate for a portion of the Constitution the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on which I was a five year board member, foolishly won't defend. What is the face the NRA needs? Well, take a look at the faces of those responsible for the 2nd Amendment's major Supreme Court gains as an individual right equal to all other rights.
The late Don B. Kates was a civil rights attorney with radical lawyer William Kunstler and a former law professor. Kates was a "Freedom Rider" against segregation in Mississippi. Both he and his wife were arrested and suffered mightily in jail there. That background gave Kates massive "street cred" with the liberal-left establishment that controls academia. With that, he was able to shame its esteemed anti-Second law professors into admitting that the Second guarantees an individual right to guns with which to defend themselves against the sort of Klan and government tyranny blacks experienced. Thanks to Kates, many ivory tower eggheads came to see the Second was an individual right that is as vital to American's scheme of individual freedom as the rest of the Constitution they defend and that, in turn, inspired them to write law reviews that formed the intellectual foundation for future 2nd gains.
The big future gain came when PhD Robert Levy of the libertarian Cato Institute think tank got the case before the Supreme Court that established the 2nd Amendment as an individual right. Neither Kates nor Levy could be attacked and unjustly smeared by stereotype as right wing, racist nut cases as can the likes of a Loesch, Makris or LaPierre. So what type person should be the NRA's face?
As I have noted in other venues, that person should be one with serious civil libertarian academic credentials and the institutional relationships that go with that. In addition, the NRA face should be one with the gravitas to hold center stage and have a sharp tongue to put down the disingenuous sophomoric commentary that characterizes so much anti Second sniping.
My choice would be a pro-Second British barrister (and yes, there are some that my British professor friends have suggested) who is not overbearing, but who can weaponize both rhetoric and the natural deference we American colonists somehow feel toward our cousins from the mother country. In addition, this ideal NRA face should be capable of producing pointed op-eds and serious, academic quality prose about law and history in support of constitutional Rights -- particularly Rights as an interwoven barrier against the totalitarian desires of the politically powerful and clever. Finally, this face should be able to socialize in favored power centers and have the ability to make friends, and more friends, and still more friends.
That's a whole different path than the one the NRA is now on that leads away from appeasement and eventual capitulation.