Back in 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing and the flap over its infamous “jack-booted thugs” fund-raising letter, the National Rifle Association went into damage-control mode. Distancing itself from the militia movement, the gun lobby ridiculed all the paranoids crouched in their bunkers with loaded rifles just itching for U.N. peacekeepers to make their move. Its Information and Research Division published an exhaustive report concluding U.N. black helicopters were nothing more than “flights of fantasy” and distributed an editorial mocking the militias’ belief that the United Nations was about to seize their guns, saying that: “They’re silly to worry about the UN, which can’t even handle the Serbs.”
Those were simpler times. Today, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is shrieking that the United Nations is engaged in nothing less than “a worldwide effort to crush any culture that does not submit to voluntary civil disarmament.” NRA members have opened their mailboxes to find a fund-raising letter warning that it could be only a matter of time before the United Nations “demands gun confiscation on American soil.” And the NRA Web site broadcasts round-the-clock investigative reports on the United Nations’ global gun-grab to mobilize the Second Amendment faithful in an all-out war against Kofi Annan and his minions—a veritable world war that knows no borders and encompasses a dozen countries. A war that the NRA is winning.
The NRA would probably have been content to stay at home and focus its efforts on fulfilling the Founding Fathers’ vision that no American be denied the right to own an unmarked, plastic, automatic rifle loaded with Teflon-coated bullets. But, in the mid-1990s, the rest of the world was in a decidedly anti-gun frame of mind. The Untied Nations was brokering a series of conferences to address the spread of small weapons and light arms—ranging from pistols and submachine guns to grenade launchers and anti-tank guns—that was fueling civil wars and killing millions worldwide. A global coalition fell in line to support the effort: human rights advocates, arms control experts, church groups, and gun control organizations that had been outraged and emboldened by mass-shootings such as the Dunblane massacre that had left 16 Scottish schoolchildren and a teacher dead. For the National Rifle Association, it was a slowly tightening global tourniquet that meant restrictions on the multibillion dollar U.S. gun industry and possibly upon gun owners themselves.
So, faster than anyone could say “you’ll pry my gun from my cold, dead, multilateral fingers,” the National Rifle Association decided to fight globalism with globalism. Only one year after the NRA had derided the United Nations as an ineffectual organization, it went ahead and joined the United Nations. It won the right to lobby the world body by securing permanent accreditation as a nongovernmental organization from the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council, where it pledged to prevent salad-eating do-gooders from imposing “their values on hunting societies.” And, just as the United Nations had its own support network of peaceniks and clergymen, the NRA went ahead and built its own global coalition of gun nuts and merchants of death. In 1997, it joined with pro-gun groups and firearm manufacturers from 11 other countries—including France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain—to establish an international lobbying group, a sort of EuroNRA called the World Forum on the Future of Sports Shooting Activities, now headquartered in Belgium.
And, unlike the United Nations, the NRA is not restricted by an inconvenient charter that prevents it from interfering in a country’s domestic affairs. Recognizing that the best way to undermine global consensus on gun control was to attack the problem at the national grass-roots level, the NRA contributed money to pro-gun political candidates in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, and waged public campaigns against gun regulation in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. And, when necessary, the NRA could still count on the long arm of the U.S. Congress. In 1998, when the war-torn, cash-strapped Economic Community of Western African States imposed the world’s first-ever small arms moratorium and asked for money to help enforce it, Sen. Jesse Helms, R.-N.C., dutifully blocked U.S. aid, expressing his opposition to using the taxpayers’ money to “promote policies in foreign countries that may very well be a violation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—if the federal government attempted such activities here at home.” An NRA lobbyist argued that such policies could have an inadvertent effect on hunters and sport shooters—despite the fact that all the big game is located farther east on the continent.
The global NRA has not won friends as it has sought to influence people. The Scottish press has derided the NRA as a “sinister” organization of “right-wing fanatics” eager to “stick their noses into Britain’s business.” The Australian attorney general accused the NRA of offensive, inaccurate, and outrageous tactics when it broadcast an infomercial last year claiming that violent crime had skyrocketed after the government tightened gun laws following the Port Arthur shooting massacre that left 35 people dead in 1996. Michael Beard, the president of the U.S. Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, expressing frustration at the United Nations’ slow pace to produce binding restrictions on the global gun trade, complains that the NRA “has corrupted the U.S. position on international arms control as it has at a domestic level.”
It’s tempting to wonder if such complaints ever entered the mind of Wayne LaPierre as he delivered a fire-and-brimstone speech against U.N. gun control at the Conservative Political Action Conference last February. He warned that the next generation of Americans would not reap the benefits of freedom “if it is globalized.” But the truth is that LaPierre is not against the globalization of freedom, so long as it is the type of freedom endorsed by the NRA. For all the talk of drawing a line against globalization, the NRA is actually one of the forces driving global integration, as long as it is globalization on its own terms. Despite its devotion to the principle of sovereignty, it has no compunction about interfering in the political affairs of other nations. The “global NRA” is the living embodiment of the U.N. caricature it once ridiculed—an unelected, supranational organization seeking to imprint its cultural values on the wretched of the earth who have not embraced its interpretation of the right to bear arms.
Or, put another way, the black helicopters have come home to roost.