Guest Columnists

To my (second) cousin Pete Brownell, newly elected president of the NRA

Brownells CEO Pete Brownell at their headquarters near Grinnell, Iowa, Thursday, March 31, 2016, with the sheep breed used for the company logo. Company founder Bob Brownell selected the Dall Sheep Ram as the company’s official logo in 1947 because of its beauty, size, instinct and strength.
Brownells CEO Pete Brownell at their headquarters near Grinnell, Iowa, Thursday, March 31, 2016, with the sheep breed used for the company logo. Company founder Bob Brownell selected the Dall Sheep Ram as the company’s official logo in 1947 because of its beauty, size, instinct and strength.

Congratulations, cousin Pete, on your election as President of the National Rifle Association, one of the most influential offices in America. Wow! You have the ear of movers and shakers in government, business, and finance.

But I don’t get it. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen you, so I’m going to need your help in coming to grips with this new role of yours. I’m confused. It doesn’t make any sense. How do I reconcile what I know about you with what I observe about the NRA?

Pete, I do know you. You and your brother proudly showed me the sea anemone you were growing in your bedroom aquarium. My wife and I still have the camping tent your grandfather gave us for a wedding present. You and I cried together when your mom died, and your dad came over for my mom’s funeral. We spent countless hours riding bikes, running, and swimming together training for triathlons. You and your wife attended my church. We did coffee and lunch. My daughter spent a summer as your nanny. I’m named after your grandfather, for heaven’s sake. I know you, buddy. I know you.

I believe you to be a caring, compassionate, intelligent, and honorable human being. Your family’s business, Brownell’s Inc., is a good neighbor in your rural Iowa county, generous in supporting causes like Relay for Life. You come from good stock.

So help me understand your role in the NRA.

In my view, the NRA is one of the biggest, meanest bullies on the block, buying influence with legislators simply to sell more guns, with utter disdain for the public good. There’s already a gun for every man, woman, and child in America, for God’s sake. Why do we need more? The NRA has long ago abandoned arguments based on common sense, public safety, or fact. More firearms in the hands of more people will not make us safer. We’re not the Wild West anymore. “Good guys with guns” are not the deterrent to “bad guys with guns.” That’s just stupid, Pete, and you know it. I love you like a brother, but you’re a knucklehead if you buy into that crap. More guns put us all at ever greater risk.

Why is the NRA pushing for guns in schools, statehouses, bars, and churches? Who thinks it’s a good idea for children, or mentally unstable people, or no-fly passengers to own guns? What other civilized nation is so enamored with weapons? Demonstrably, sensible gun regulations save lives. Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. are killed by firearms each year, but statistics are hard to come by because the organization of which you are now president has lobbied hard to exclude gun violence data from CDC public health studies. How much money has the NRA poured into the legislative process in opposition to the will of the people who, when polled on this question, consistently support common sense gun regulation?

Pete, help me out here.

You were a member of the Law Enforcement Assistance Committee of the NRA. How many times have law enforcement agencies themselves opposed the extreme positions held by the NRA, fearing they would make their jobs more difficult and less safe?


I’m in a quandary. As I see it, Pete, there are three alternatives to consider. First, maybe I’m wrong about the NRA and its belligerent “Pry it from my cold dead hands” rhetoric. Maybe with even more guns on the streets we will all be able to sleep soundly at night. How many is the NRA shooting for, another hundred million, or is it some other number that will ensure our safety?

Second, maybe with you at the helm of this powerful organization, we will see some positive change. Perhaps the words “well-regulated militia” from the Second Amendment will come into sharper focus under your leadership. A gentler tone. The recognition that firearms aren’t going away but might not be appropriate in every single setting in American life. That’s the option I’m hoping for.

But the third alternative, Pete, scares me. And that is, that it is true what they say about power, wealth, and corruption. You’re a smart guy, and a brilliant businessman. But business has a social context and a community impact, a reality we tend to overlook in this country. A few years ago you reported that Brownell’s had sold three-and-a-half years’ worth of 20-round ammo clips for the AR-15 rifle in the three days after the Sandy Hook massacre. You and I both know that outdoorsmen don’t buy high capacity AR-15 magazines for hunting deer. Profiting from human tragedy in this way is obscene.

Lots of people have their loyalties tested in their professional lives. Lawyers have to defend both the innocent and the guilty. Police must ensure the safety of protesters no matter what their cause might be. Pete, are your personal values in any way conflicted by the public roles you play? One can only hope.

Maybe we can get back on our bikes again someday to talk about this. You can try to help me understand. I warn you, though. It could be a long ride.

• The Rev. Bob Molsberry is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Iowa City.



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