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As NRA meets, Great Gun Debate intensifies America's culture war (+video)

Both sides in the debate over gun policy are indulging in stereotypes and name-calling, fueled by a distrust bred from previous culture war fights. As the NRA convention continues this weekend, are red and blue America really so far apart?

By Staff writer / May 4, 2013

National Rifle Association members bow their heads in prayer before the start of the Annual Meeting of Members in Houston, Texas on May 4. Organizers expect some 70,000 attendees at the 142nd NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Houston, which began on Friday and continues through Sunday.

Adrees Latif/Reuters

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Outside and inside the NRA convention in Houston this weekend, Americans will witness a central clash over the future of the Second Amendment.

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To proponents of stricter gun control, some of whom will protest outside the convention hall on Saturday, “common sense” proposals such as expanded background checks on gun buyers could immediately improve safety in a country where handguns are involved in about 30,000 deaths a year, two-thirds of them suicides.

But to many of America’s gun owners, some 70,000 of whom have also flocked to Houston, any measure of additional federal gun control is tantamount to a Trojan horse in a broader culture war – a way not only to suppress gun rights, but also to conduct a sneak attack on attitudes, viewpoints, and a lifestyle that they hold dear, all in the name of "gun safety." 

That cultural divide seems only to be growing, as NRA members gather this weekend and as Vice President Joe Biden vowed Friday to try again on expanded background checks. Each side seems intent on playing up the indignity of the other's position – some indulging in name-calling and flame-throwing – perhaps with an eye to rousing their political allies ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, when control of Congress will be at stake. The upshot is a debate that intensifies regional splits and serves to exacerbate the red/blue political divide, say some analysts.

At the NRA convention, the message to gun owners so far has been that they and their values are under siege. Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin told convention-goers Friday that “the lamestream media just plain doesn’t get you.” The NRA’s new first vice president, James Porter, noted that the political clash over gun control is a “cultural fight on the 10 guarantees,” a reference to the Bill of Rights that makes up the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution.

In a video preceding his remarks at the NRA convention, Gov. Rick Perry (R) of Texas fires an assault rifle, then takes his finger off the trigger, removes a magazine, and gives a John Wayne glare past the camera. Bounding onto the stage, Governor Perry yelled “Welcome to Texas!” before conflating dislike of guns with dislike of people who like guns: "You can almost set your watch for how long it takes for people who hate guns, who hate gun owners, to start a new campaign" after a mass shooting, he said.

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