Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/4/2012 (2863 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
ST. LOUIS — "Take a sticker," urges the woman from Ambush Firearms. "We are giving away two free guns every day to people wearing them." What your correspondent would do with an semi-automatic rifle, let alone one that also comes in pink, was not obvious.
Welcome to the annual convention of the National Rifle Association — this year held in St. Louis.
It is a yearly celebration of freedom, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and, above all else, a festival of guns. Seven acres, to be precise, of guns and gear.
Americans like firearms. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service there were 294 million guns in the country in 2007, up from 192 million in 1994.
More guns might be expected to mean more influence for the NRA, except that the number of households with guns has actually declined fairly consistently since 1973.
The people who buy guns, it seems, are usually those who already own them.
One probable cause of this decline is a shift to urban living. Moreover, safety conscious Americans are increasingly aware that, statistically, a gun is a far greater risk to friends and family than it is of potential use in self-defence.
Nonetheless, some Americans hang on to their weapons because they enjoy hunting or target practice, or live in places with too many wild animals or too few policemen.
The right to gun ownership is enshrined in the U.S. constitution and is regarded by many as an issue of civil liberty — something that Europeans struggle to understand.
So even as outrage is sparked over shootings such as those of Trayvon Martin in Florida and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, there is little appetite for gun-control legislation.
Quite the opposite. Behind the march of pro-gun laws across America (such as "stand your ground" ordinances that allow for the use of force in self-defence, without any obligation to attempt to retreat first, now in effect in more than half the states) is the NRA and its lobbying arm, the mildly named Institute for Legislative Action. The NRA's influence on introducing legislation has been remarkable. The debate about guns is no longer over whether assault rifles ought to be banned, but over whether guns should be allowed in bars, churches and colleges.
The NRA also claims to be a potent force in elections; it says it defeated 19 of the 24 congressmen who were on its hit-list back in 1994.
But a recent article in American Prospect disputes such assertions, arguing that the NRA's impact is marginal these days because it spreads itself thinly and tends to support Republican incumbents.
Although the NRA is ostensibly an organization seeking to protect the civil rights of its four million members, critics such as the Violence Policy Center, or VPC, a gun-control group, contend that the level of funding from firearms manufacturers makes it, in effect, just a trade association for the gun industry.
Some of the NRA's fundraising comes directly from gun sales. For example, Sturm, Ruger & Co., firearms manufacturers, donated $1 for each gun they sold last year and thereby collected $1.2 million for the NRA's lobbying arm.
Looking ahead, the NRA's combative executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre, says the NRA is "all in" for the fight to defeat President Barack Obama.
Obama might be supposed to have done little to upset the NRA, having meekly signed legislation that allows guns to be brought into national parks and onto trains. But his quiet first term is, say many at the convention, actually part of a conspiracy to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.
There are signs, though, that the NRA is growing out of touch with modern Americans and even with its own members — who, according to surveys, now tend to support restrictions such as mandatory background checks on buyers of weapons at gun shows.
The future does not look bright, either. Despite attempts to attract women, most convention goers in St. Louis were white men over the age of 40 — a segment of the population on the decline. The classified sections in NRA magazines such as American Rifleman feature, besides all the weaponry, advertisements for gardening equipment and Viagra.