Since I haven't been able to get in touch with Billings resident James McGill, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank him.
A few months ago I wrote a column that said what the NRA most needed was responsible gun owners to overwhelm the ranks of the organization and demand reasonable change. I argued that if moderate gun owners didn't start talking with more authority, those of us who own guns may risk losing gun rights when citizens, fed up with shootings, go several steps too far and curtail reasonable rights as an antidote to the all-or-noting approach and overheated rhetoric of groups like the NRA.
I meant to sign up and join, but did not. Yet, McGill gave me a gift membership and I truly am grateful.
Now, I am on the mailing list and receive the NRA publications.
My first magazine arrived last week and the cover story reported in a bold headline, "They won't stop until they repeal the Second Amendment."
Intrigued, I wondered who the "they" was.
Imagine my shock when I found out "they" was me.
Apparently I, as a member of often referenced "mainstream media," am part of a vast, concerted effort to not only repeal the Second Amendment, but also take away guns.
This may come as a relief to my wife, who has patiently endured my love of firearms. Apparently, if I get my way, I'll have more free time and more money once I take away my own guns.
By my count, though, the first 20 articles in the magazine were political or opinion columns. I noticed the magazine was less about guns and more about policy.
Granted, it's hard to separate love of sporting or shooting from the policy that goes along with it, but it seems like the only thing the NRA loves more than talking about guns is talking about the people who apparently hate guns.
I didn't know I was part of the latter group until I became a member.
The opening column by editor Mark Chesnut talked about "the so-called 'mainstream' media," whose sins include not questioning those who chant, "Hey, hey NRA, how many kids did you kill today?" Blanket condemnation for the entire media was also applied because we had the audacity to cover school walk-outs and broadcast what students were saying.
Truthfully, it's hard to take this criticism from a fellow editor who should know that covering what people say or reporting what is going on in a community is different than endorsing it. Surely, even the NRA would have a hard time arguing that high-school students walking out of class was not newsworthy.
Turn the page.
The next column, by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, was literally a call to arms.
"Our enemy has revealed its true self, and there is no doubt about its ultimate goal: They want to repeal the Second Amendment," he begins.
LaPierre never mentions who the enemy is, but he cites seven media sources of proof that "mainstream media" is out to repeal the Second Amendment.
That's the danger of such a far-reaching, all-encompassing phrase like "mainstream media." LaPierre and his folks are guilty of the same sin they've leveled at their opponents. He's painted all media as opponents of guns and enemies of the Second Amendment, just as others have falsely portrayed gun owners as some red-necked, paranoid rubes. Both are unfair and ultimately not helpful to understanding the issue.
When citizens become rightfully outraged by the horrific acts of violence committed using guns, they want solutions and responsibility. Wanting better enforcement of gun laws, more background checks and different security measures does not equal a repeal of the Second Amendment any more so than getting a speeding ticket might lead to the death penalty.
Furthermore, the media has a responsibility to portray the key issues as they play out in our community. Publishing these events, whether they are marches or guest opinions calling for more control, doesn't mean that the media agrees with any point of view. For example, when The Billings Gazette sends a reporter to cover court, it doesn't mean we're endorsing felonious acts. Instead, reflecting the issues, debates and controversies in our community and country is part of our purpose, not part of an agenda.
We cover news, and if that news is students walking out, calling for banning guns, that's what we cover. We go where the news is, and do not only cover events when they fit our world view.
The war on "mainstream media," of which we are undoubtedly a part, also ignores the stories we've covered on hunting, firearms and gun rights. In the past year, The Billings Gazette has done stories on custom ammunition loaders, different firearm manufactures in Montana and the best hunting equipment, and had numerous opinion pieces published supporting gun ownership and hunting rights.
The "so-called 'mainstream' media" isn't quite as monolithic as Chesnut and LaPierre would have you believe. And what could be more mainstream than, say, Fox News?
It would also seem that targeting a free press — one that's guaranteed by the First Amendment — would only seem to weaken the Second. That is, tear down the First Amendment or weaken it, and it only makes it easier to take the Second Amendment rights. Who is going to be there to sound the alarm on other rights if there is no free press?
The NRA's vilification of the media may be a case of them simply shooting the messenger.