After a Minnesota police officer fatally shot a black man on Wednesday, gun control advocates weren’t the only ones criticizing the National Rifle Association. Some of the blowback was coming from within the organization.
The NRA is facing internal division as its members argue that the group did not do enough to defend gun owners’ rights by speaking out on behalf of Philando Castile of Falcon Heights, Minn., who was shot to death during a traffic stop.
Castile had a valid permit to carry a gun. He also reportedly informed the officer who shot him that he was armed in an attempt to head off a misunderstanding.
Still, Castile was killed by police, prompting outrage that following the rules was not enough to save him from a violent death.
The NRA appeared to drag its feet on the Falcon Heights shooting, taking more than a day and a half to address it publicly. When a statement was posted on the NRA Facebook page, the group obliquely referred to “reports from Minnesota.” It neither named Castile directly nor took a position on the shooting.
“It is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing,” the organization said. “Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”
From the NRA’s Facebook page:
As the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization, the NRA proudly supports the right of law-abiding Americans to carry firearms for defense of themselves and others regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing.
Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.
Unlike its reaction to the Minnesota shooting, the NRA released a statement hours after the attack in Dallas early Friday morning left five police officers dead. The Dallas NRA statement did not mention the officers killed in the line of duty, emphasizing instead the “right of law-abiding Americans to carry firearms for defense of themselves and others.”
The NRA’s approach bore a close resemblance in tone to its statement after last month’s mass shooting in Orlando. Two days after the massacre, a lobbyist for the gun rights group wrote an op-ed in USA Today going on the offensive against stricter firearms regulation.
“Destroy radical Islam, not the right of law-abiding Americans to protect themselves,” wrote Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. Cox’s broadside against greater restrictions was viewed as tone-deaf by many gun-control advocates, while gun proponents lined up on the other side.
This time, however, the NRA faces criticism from its members who argue that the group did not do enough to defend gun owners’ rights by speaking out on behalf of Castile.
The delay in addressing Castile’s death, compared with the promptness of the NRA statement after the Dallas shooting, has sparked complaints of a double standard in how the organization defends gun owners.
“Your lack of message concerning the Castile case disappoints me and makes me question my membership,” Marco Gallologic wrote on the NRA’s Facebook page. “…What do I pay fees for if you do not represent gun owners and our rights?”
“Your silence is causing NRA members such as myself to question/wonder what exactly you do and don’t stand for,” Facebook user Bruce Johnston wrote.
That sentiment was reflected across social media this week, with NRA members and non-members alike demanding that the group voice its support for Castile.
Other firearms groups have reacted with alarm to the shooting. On Thursday, the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights group based in Bellevue, Wash., said that “exercising our right to bear arms should not translate to a death sentence over something so trivial as a traffic stop for a broken tail light.”
As David Graham wrote in the Atlantic magazine, U.S. history is strewn with cases of uneven observance of the Second Amendment, with some Americans — mainly whites — benefiting disproportionately from the law over others. But those criticizing the NRA believe the advocacy group should be protesting Castile’s death as an unjust violation of the Constitution.
“Philando Castile had a valid concealed weapons permit but was shot and killed,” wrote Dennis Gesker on Facebook. “As an NRA member I urge you to take a strong position in favor of this man.”
The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This post has been updated.