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Opinion Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, NRA

A video recording of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is played in Houston on May 27 during the National Rifle Association's annual convention. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
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John F. Seymour is a longtime resident of Arlington.

The National Rifle Association, considered among the most powerful and well-funded special-interest lobbying groups in the United States, has occupied its headquarters in Fairfax since 1993, when it left D.C. Recently, however, it announced its intent to move once again — this time to Texas. The proposed move is motivated, at least in part, by a series of scandals that caused regulators in New York, the NRA’s state of incorporation, to begin investigating what they described as long-standing greed, self-dealing and lax financial oversight at the highest levels of the organization. Faced with internal lawsuits, criticism within its own ranks and growing financial liabilities, the NRA sought to reorganize in bankruptcy and reincorporate in Texas, thus escaping “escalating government hostilities” in New York and relocating to a state that welcomes it “with open arms.”

Although the NRA’s bid for bankruptcy protection was denied, the organization continues to explore a move to Texas. It seems that Virginia is not the Virginia of 1993. In 1993, the successful Republican candidate for governor, George Allen, was endorsed by the NRA, which has, since then, consistently awarded him its coveted A-plus pro-gun rating. During the past several decades, however, the commonwealth has become less gun-friendly. During the 2019-2021 era of Democratic control of the General Assembly, legislators worked with then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — a former Army doctor and practicing pediatric neurologist with a deep understanding of the trauma of gun violence, particularly against children — to enact a package of gun-control measures. It included universal background checks, a red-flag law allowing authorities to temporarily seize handguns, limitations on the number of handguns that can be purchased monthly, and tougher laws requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms and keep firearms away from children. The new laws prompted rebukes from the NRA, an F rating for Northam and a massive gun rights rally in Richmond that drew more than 20,000 gun activists.

In contrast to Virginia, Texas is one of the most pro-gun jurisdictions in the country. The NRA supports Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection this November and has awarded him an A-plus rating. Abbott, a Republican, recently signed a package of pro-gun laws, including a new permitless carry law, allowing nearly every Texan to carry a handgun in public without a license. His declaration of Texas as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State” helps shield Texas from gun-control laws that might be passed at the federal level, and he even signed a law prohibiting state agencies from contracting with any entity that “discriminates” against the firearms industry or its trade associations. The latter law is directed at financial institutions with environmental, social and governance policies that, for example, discourage loans to businesses manufacturing assault weapons.

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Texas’s history as a frontier state with a long tradition of gun ownership might also make it more palatable to the NRA. Although numbers vary, as many as 400,000 NRA members are said to live in Texas, the largest membership of any state. In its recent tweet responding to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., however, the NRA was forced to concede the presence in Texas of the occasional “lone, deranged criminal.” An anomaly, it seems, along with similar anomalies responsible for mass shootings in Texas in recent years (the El Paso Walmart shooting of 2019, during which a far-right gunman murdered 23 and injured another 25 victims; the 2017 First Baptist Church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Tex., during which a gunman murdered 26 worshipers and wounded more than 20 others; the Dallas shooting of 2016, in which a lone gunman murdered five police officers and injured 11 others; the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, during which a student murdered eight students and two teachers, and wounded 13). Regrettable, certainly, but still anomalous. Nothing, according to the NRA and Texas legislators, to suggest the need for new gun-control measures.

Texans might wish to know what they’re getting if the NRA moves its headquarters to Texas, other than executives mired in the nether regions of corporate malfeasance. Well, the NRA does host a shooting range where employees only occasionally shoot themselves by accident. Texas would also acquire a firearms museum devoted to promoting firearm ownership as a kind of secular religion. There, galleries are filled with ranks of highly polished weapons displayed under soft lights, floors cushioned by deep carpets, walls paneled in mahogany, and spacious brown leather couches placed at intervals to allow for quiet reflection — settings that, except for the objects of reverence, would not be out of place at the National Gallery of Art or even Washington National Cathedral. The America envisaged by the NRA in the museum’s historical tableaus is one in which modern Minutemen take up arms against a tyrannical government, where local militias, well-provisioned with assault weapons (the museum dubs the AR-15, the most common civilian assault weapon, as “America’s Rifle”), protect against those who do not look like them, where the myths of the Lost Cause are preserved as historical truths, and where — in a diorama of unintentional heartbreak labeled “A Child’s Room” — a 10-year-old boy’s bedroom is crammed with toy weapons, laid out as cherished playthings. Guns as “rites of passage,” for certain. But where to: honorable manhood, toxic masculinity or armed madness?

The NRA’s solution to mass shootings in Texas or Virginia, like those of the GOP and the gun manufacturers, is very simple: more guns. State and local officials are urged to “harden” soft targets such as schools, churches, shopping centers and, presumably, all communal settings in the United States, with more and better security devices and armed guards. “Blaming the target” might be less disgraceful than blaming the victim’s lack of firearms — a stratagem difficult to pursue when the victims are fourth-graders. But the “good guys with guns” approach has been tried, and has failed miserably, as weapons sales and mass shootings have risen in tandem. In 2020, firearm-related injuries became, for the first time, the leading cause of death among children and adolescents. The FBI recently documented 61 active-shooter incidents in the United States during 2021 alone. This year appears to promise new records.

As the current hosts of the NRA headquarters, Virginians can give no more fitting benedictions to Texans than those the NRA and its enablers in the Republican Party have used for decades to comfort the families of mass-shooting victims. Our thoughts and prayers go with you. If the NRA relocates to Texas, you’ll need them.