One feature of the NRA’s regular magazine, America’s First Freedom, is a column called “NRA Country.” It highlights contemporary country music artists who adhere to the so-called, “NRA lifestyle.” No, I didn’t know what that means either. Fortunately, they provide a definition on their internet page. It more or less boils down to being patriotic, respecting the military and, naturally, supporting the 2nd Amendment, while showing background photos of exclusively White people waving flags or engaging in sporting activities. In other words, it portrayed a carefully cherrypicked version of America.
This is no accident. A curious aspects of the NRA is how doggedly it reinforces its own stereotypes. That causes problem for everyone who takes the right to be armed seriously. A hazard often encountered defending gun rights is how enmeshed the 2nd Amendment has become with regressive social politics. Of course, the NRA bears major guilt for this because of their strict party line Republican support and non-firearm related conservative causes.
You might think, when linking themselves to a subject like modern musical acts, the NRA might relax a little bit, but no. Only country music. Well, why not tweak perceptions and include other styles? There are Americans musicians from rockabilly to electronic noise who enjoy shooting. Why not, say, hip-hop?
An obvious reason is that firearms are lyrical staples among gangsta rappers, which in some people’s minds IS hip-hop, and the NRA would dislike association with a sub-group known for celebrating gun use while drug dealing or amidst gang warfare. However, is country music really much better? The artists they feature may be clean cut, but as a genre, country isn’t all ballads about hound dogs and pickup trucks.
(above) Move along, just karaoke murder music, folks
Take two prominent examples. Even a mainstream singer like Dwight Yoakum wrote a song called “Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room” which approvingly describes stalking an unfaithful lover and shooting her in the head. Then there’s Garth Brooks, whose upbeat song “Papa Loved Mama” tells the story of a truck driver who murders his wife for cheating on him. In NRA country, is it morally worse to kill a person you love or just someone who owes you drug money?
As far as I can tell, the NRA doesn’t necessarily pick artists who write songs about guns, only those whose image appears consistent with the “NRA lifestyle.” That shouldn’t disqualify rappers. (1) Take, for instance, the Mississippi artist David Banner, who previously put on shows for US troops, (Respecting the Military, CHECK), testified before Congress about controversial subjects in hip-hop music, (Patriotism, CHECK) and is also a gun owner. (2A CHECK!!!)
Banner has been quoted, saying “…I love guns . . . because I don’t plan on doing anything but protecting myself with my gun. My thing is that I don’t want anybody to be able to tell me that I can’t protect myself.” (2) Now, Banner isn’t seeking out endorsements from the US firearms establishment, but there have been other rappers who did.
Back in 1995, a crew called Smif-N-Wessun released their first fill length record to warm reviews and, soon enough, a cease-and-desist letter from the lawyers of firearms manufacturer, Smith and Wesson. Interviewed ten years later, Tekomin Williams, from the group, still sounded bitter.
“That just let you know, even in this day and time, or that day and time, hip-hop’s still not appreciated in some places. . . If anything, they should have supported us, as many guns as they got floatin’ in the hood or they sellin’ to us. If anything, they should have been our number one sponsor. You know what that could have done for their sales?”
Perhaps a spotlight from the NRA’s magazine might have been just the thing to smooth over their legal dispute. However, we’ll never know, as long as the NRA continues to portray itself as an institution supporting only right wing politics and White music.
- Colt Ford, a country singer/rapper who the NRA has, in fact, featured, doesn’t count.
- Rodrigo Boscunan and Christian Pearce. Enter the Babylon System: Unpacking Gun Culture from Samuel Colt to 50 Cent. Random House Canada, 2007. p. 141.
- Ibid. 33.