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23 September 2020

The disturbing world of gun rights activism

NPR podcast No Compromise investigates the movements around gun control within America's far right. 

By Anna Leszkiewicz

For British audiences, it can be hard to comprehend the fanaticism of the gun lobby in the US: the devotion to the Second Amendment right to bear arms can approach the pitch of a religious cult. No more so than in No Compromise, a podcast from NPR that investigates “gun rights” movements in the country. These far-right activists believe the Trump administration, Fox News and the National Rifle Association are all too soft on gun laws (joking that NRA stands for “negotiating rights away”), and insist that – as the US constitution states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed” – all gun laws are unconstitutional. In fact, the movement’s leaders cite an even higher power, calling unregulated gun ownership “a divine right from God”.

So says Aaron Dorr, who, along with his brothers Ben and Chris, is one of the movement’s most prominent figures. Reporters Lisa Hagan and Chris Haxel investigate a series of pro-gun groups (such as the Missouri Firearms Coalition, Georgia Gun Owners, and the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance), attend rallies, and speak with the Dorr brothers and their supporters. There’s Carolyn Ricker, who watches pro-gun videos while sat at her sewing machine. “It’s like pulling up your hot chocolate and sitting down [with a friend],” she says, and the podcast cuts to the kind of content she is referring to – a rant about “Hollywood left-wing Democrats” who “want to kill babies, eat them for dinner and then choke down one of your AR-15s and steal it from you”.

Hagan and Haxel take such figures seriously. They are sympathetic, well-informed listeners, genuinely curious to discover why and how these Americans became so extreme in their stances. There is much discussion, in episode two, of Facebook’s role in right-wing radicalisation: how the platform pushes videos with “high engagement” (like the Dorrs’) to its users. This is rigorous, thoughtful and arguably necessary reporting, but at times I had the nagging feeling that No Compromise was falling into the same trap: directing attention to a movement that craves it; its well-intentioned scrutiny perversely legitimising a poisonous fringe campaign that thrives on interest, outrage and fear.

No Compromise 
NPR

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