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Ahead Of Annual NRA Convention, A Member Says It's Sacrificing His Rights

May 3, 2018
Originally published on May 6, 2018 9:47 am

The National Rifle Association's annual meeting begins Friday in Dallas, and some members of the organization plan to voice their discontent with the positions the NRA has taken in the past year.

Lifetime member Tim Harmsen, the owner of Copper Custom Gun Shop in Valparaiso, Ind., and the creator and host of the Military Arms Channel on YouTube, says he's bringing boxes of T-shirts that reflect his disappointment.

"The shirts say 'NRA: Not Real Activists.' So, we're not happy with the direction that [NRA leaders] Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox have taken," Harmsen says. "They think that the resolution to all that ails the country is constant compromise on our constitutional rights, and there's a growing number of us who are dissatisfied with that."


On why Harmsen is unhappy with NRA leadership

They constantly negotiate our rights away. And my opinion is this — that in a compromise, it's assumed that both parties will get something of equal value, and that's not what happens. We don't really compromise — we surrender our rights, endlessly trying to appease the factions that simply want to erase the Second Amendment as though it never existed....

Two issues that they've recently pushed through with the assistance of Trump is their NICS fix, which is an expansion of the NICS background check system, which has about a 97 percent false positive rate. ... The NRA originally wrote the bill during the Clinton administration, and then they had President Trump expand it, which is a de facto waiting period for most Americans. It inaccurately flags most people.

Then, the second thing that they did is bump stock regulation. It's really poorly written, and it goes so far as to tell you how to get around the regulations change.

On why he's still going to the convention

I'm going for two reasons: First of all, I'm a voting member, and I plan to vote — and we keep trying to vote in a board that more reflects the opinions of the membership, which is myself and a large number of NRA members. If you get online and look, go through the discussion forms and the pro-Second Amendment forms, you'll see what I'm saying is true....

Word is that they're not gonna allow us in if we're wearing the shirts. And so the NRA is always saying, "well, the Second protects the First," and that's what I'm gonna say if they ask us to leave. And we're gonna record the whole thing on video and we're gonna say, you know, "Guys, you're being hypocritical here. You say the Second protects the First. I'm here with my First Amendment rights. I'm here to vote for change within my own organization, and you're, you know, telling me I can't." ... I mean, we may be escorted out, they may leave us alone; we don't know what to expect. But we're gonna go and we're gonna make our voices heard.

Lauren Hodges and Jessica Deahl produced and edited the audio story.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This past year, deep divisions over gun policy have come into sharp relief, including within the NRA. Members of the National Rifle Association are gathering in Dallas this week for their annual meeting, and they are not all on board with the positions the NRA has taken over the last year.

One of these dissatisfied members is Tim Harmsen. He is the creator and host of the popular Military Arms Channel on YouTube. He has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and he is a lifetime NRA member. Tim Harmsen, welcome.

TIM HARMSEN: Thank you.

KELLY: I gather we have caught you actually on the road driving from Indiana where you live down to the NRA meeting in Texas. Where exactly where have we caught you?

HARMSEN: You caught us in Arkansas. So we're about four hours from Dallas.

KELLY: All right. And you have got I am told a box of T-shirts in the car with you.

HARMSEN: We do. We have a bunch of shirts. And the shirts say, NRA - not real activists. So we're not happy with the direction that Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox have taken.

KELLY: The leaders of the NRA.

HARMSEN: The leaders of the NRA. They think that the resolution to all that ails the country is constant compromise on our constitutional rights. And there's a growing number of us that are dissatisfied with that. And we're ready to dig in our heels. We've given enough.

KELLY: And what is it specifically that you're unhappy with about the direction NRA leadership is taking the group?

HARMSEN: They constantly compromise. They constantly negotiate our rights away. And my opinion is this - that in a compromise, it's assumed that both parties will get something of equal value. And that's not what happens. We don't really compromise. We surrender our rights endlessly trying to appease the factions that simply want to erase the Second Amendment as though it never existed.

KELLY: So specifically, what is it that you feel like the NRA has caved on that you wish they'd held a firmer line on?

HARMSEN: So two issues that they've recently pushed through with the assistance of Trump is their NICS fix, which is an expansion of the NICS background check system, which has about a 97 percent false positive rate.

KELLY: This was legislation to strengthen the FBI's background check. And as you say, it passed with NRA support.

HARMSEN: Yes. The NRA originally wrote the bill during the Clinton administration. And then they had President Trump expand it, which is a de facto waiting period for most Americans. It inaccurately flags most people. Then the second thing that they did is bump stock regulation. It's really poorly written. And it goes so far as to tell you how to get around the regulations change at the end of it. If you pull it up on the Internet, read the very last page, it'll tell you how to use a rubber band or other options on how to achieve the exact same thing if you don't want to buy a bump stock or now that they're banned.

KELLY: Well, let me ask you this. If you are really unhappy with the direction the NRA is taking and don't believe they're taking a hard enough line in terms of protecting the rights of gun owners, why go to this convention? Why make this big road trip you're making?

HARMSEN: I'm going for two reasons. First of all, I'm a voting member, and I plan to vote. And we keep trying to vote in a board that more reflects the opinions of the membership, which is myself and a large number of NRA members. If you get online and look, go through the discussion forums and the pro-Second Amendment forums, you'll see what I'm saying is true.

KELLY: Are you going to wear your T-shirt when you get there to the convention?

HARMSEN: Yeah, we are. And we've been told that the NRA obviously knows what we're about to do. And they're not happy with it. And they're kind of in an untenable situation. And the word is that they're not going to allow us in if we're wearing the shirts. And so the NRA is always saying, well, the Second protects the First. And that's what I'm going to say if they ask us to leave. And we're going to record the whole thing on video. And we're going to say, you know, guys, you're being hypocritical here. You say the Second protects the First. I'm here with my First Amendment rights. I'm here to vote for change within my own organization, and you're, you know, telling me I can't.

KELLY: Sounds like you have an interesting next couple of days in store.

HARMSEN: (Laughter) It will be. I mean, we may be escorted out. They may leave us alone. We don't know what to expect. But we're going to go, and we're going to make our voices heard.

KELLY: Tim Harmsen, thank you for speaking with us.

HARMSEN: Well, thank you for your time. It was my pleasure.

KELLY: That's Tim Harmsen. He is host of the Military Arms Channel on YouTube and the owner of the Copper custom gun shop in Valparaiso, Ind. We caught him on his way to Dallas for the annual NRA meeting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.