President Trump arrives to speak at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association on April 26 in Indianapolis. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Columnist

Liberals often wonder where conservatives get the notion that they are hated and despised. Wonder no more: Just look at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ resolution labeling the National Rifle Association a “domestic terrorist organization.”

Words matter, and there are few words that stigmatize a person faster than calling him or her a terrorist. A terrorist by definition is someone who engages in terrorism, and terrorism is defined as “the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” To be a terrorist organization, therefore, the NRA would have to intentionally encourage and support the use of violent attacks on U.S. citizens with the intent of creating general fear so as to force submission to its political agenda.

The NRA clearly does not do that. It does not advocate, fund or support violence, nor does it try to create “a climate of fear” to advance its policies. It does support an expansive view of gun rights, but that is not a terrorist act — unless political disagreement is now a criminal offense.

But that is exactly what the resolution says. It contends that any use of a firearm with the “intent to endanger, directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals” is “terrorist activity.” In other words, every murderer is a terrorist if they used a gun, regardless of whether they had any political motives behind their act. It then states that “the National Rifle Association through its advocacy has armed those individuals who would and have committed acts of terrorism.” You can’t get clearer than that: Constitutionally protected speech supporting the private ownership of guns is an act of terror.

Nor is the resolution isolated to NRA leadership. While it states that the leadership “promotes extremist positions, in defiance of the views of a majority of its membership,” it also states that “any individual or member of an organization” commits a terrorist act by giving support to a group that this person “reasonably should know” gives “material support” to any “individual [who] has committed or plans to commit a terrorist act.” It closes the noose around NRA members’ necks by stating that the NRA “promote[s] gun ownership and incite[s] gun owners to acts of violence.” Congratulations, average NRA member: Your $30 one-year membership makes you a terrorist.

This is McCarthyism, pure and simple. Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy was rightly condemned for trying to stigmatize the American left in the 1950s by labeling it Communist and “un-American.” McCarthy’s witch hunts destroyed the careers of many people whose only “crime” was supporting a larger federal government and supporting a different foreign policy toward the Soviet Union. San Francisco’s policy toward the NRA commits the same sin.

This can only make our already toxic political atmosphere worse. Liberal democracy rests on the idea of the “loyal opposition.” In modern democracies, simply advocating a political position or a change in government is not, as so often was the case in the past, an act of treason. The First Amendment exists to provide citizens with a protected zone in which they can engage in heated political disagreement without fear of government suppression.

The San Francisco resolution essentially declares that people who back the NRA cannot be a loyal opposition. It then seeks to reduce NRA support by saying that the city should try to “limit those entities who do business” with the city “from doing business with this domestic terrorist organization.” That arguably sets the power of a government against a set of citizens solely on the basis of their politics. This is called “viewpoint discrimination” in First Amendment law and is unconstitutional.

The city’s rhetorical slander against millions of Americans is just as harmful. We cannot have a free republic if one large set of citizens views another large set of citizens as evil and beyond the pale. President Trump is regularly condemned for his harsh rhetoric that some say stigmatizes Americans on the basis of their race, gender or political beliefs. This resolution trumps Trump.

Conservatives are often told they should denounce Republicans such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) who make outrageous and vile comments. The shoe is now on the other foot. Democrats should immediately denounce the San Francisco board for its insulting and unconstitutional resolution. Failure to do so will tell gun owners and anyone else who dissents from the progressive agenda exactly where they stand.

Read more:

Letter to the Editor in response: Let’s respectfully discuss why the NRA might be a terrorist organization

Dana Milbank: A worried nation wonders: How can we keep Wayne LaPierre safe?

Megan McArdle: If conservatives want to keep their guns, they’re going to have to find a way to stop mass shootings

Marc A. Thiessen: Attacking the NRA is really attacking everyday Americans

E.J. Dionne Jr.: The NRA is imploding. We have fancy clothes to thank for that.