When the Obama administration announced plans to halt the domestic sale of most elephant ivory, the National Rifle Association urged its members to mobilize against the ban.
While the NRA said it agreed with the goal of ending endangered elephant poaching, it warned that something far more important was at stake: “This is another attempt by this anti-gun administration to ban firearms,” the organization asserted in an alert.
When it comes to defending gun rights, no issue is seemingly too obscure for the NRA — not even the ivory trade. Amid the high-profile epic battles, including the recent clashes following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, there have been smaller, under-the-radar ones, too — often appearing to touch only tangentially on actual guns.
Indeed, the NRA doesn’t pick its battles: It fights every single one, according to Professor Robert Spitzer, a political scientist at the State University of New York in Cortland and author of “The Politics of Gun Control.”
“Part of their political strategy is to look for any issue, any time, any place, any moment where they can exert some political pressure,” Spitzer said, “because the larger strategy is to be aggressive and always be on the offensive.”
Last fall, the gun rights group joined the American Civil Liberties Union in expressing alarm over the government’s domestic surveillance program, saying that the National Security Agency’s massive data collection was an affront to the First Amendment and a de facto — and possibly illegal — gun registry kept by the government.
In the case of the ivory ban, Spitzer said, the NRA sees it as “another instance of government extending its long, intrusive hand into law-abiding citizens.”
The NRA argues that banning the sale of ivory could prevent gun owners from selling firearms ornamented with ivory. The ban, the group says, would render many collections of firearms valueless. Antiques dealers, as well as musicians with instruments decorated with the material, also oppose the ban, which could go into effect in June.
The way the NRA sees it, any issue could serve as a slippery slope that leads to further government curbs on guns.
In recent weeks, the NRA asserted itself in opposing President Barack Obama’s nominee for surgeon general, a mostly ceremonial post that rarely garners much attention. Yet Dr. Vivek Murthy, the president’s nominee, ended up getting a huge level of scrutiny, much of it generated by NRA opposition.The group pointed out that Murthy once used his personal Twitter account to declare: “Guns are a health care issue.” Murthy’s prior public pronouncements supporting tougher gun laws, including a petition he signed urging action after Sandy Hook, also raised suspicion among gun rights advocates that Murthy would use the post as a bully pulpit for stricter gun laws.
Nor has the NRA sat idly by as doctors and others in the medical profession have condemned gun violence as a matter of public health. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has for years collected data on the matter. Though it might seem unusual for the NRA to inject itself into confirmation proceedings for surgeon general, health care policy is actually very familiar terrain for the gun group.
Four years ago, the NRA drafted language that was quietly inserted into the federal health care law. The little-noticed provision in the Affordable Care Act, under the heading “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights,” bars physicians and health insurers from collecting and disclosing information about a patient’s possession of legal firearms. Insurers were also banned from charging higher premiums for gun-owning subscribers.