Belly of the Beast

Me [Clickety clickety keyboard clack]: “Hey, who here is going to NRAAM next month?”

Black Female Gun Owners FB Group: [Cricket chirp… Cricket chirp…]

Me: [Digital blank stare…. Thinks to self: Hmm… Did I spell it wrong?]

Group Moderator: “Hey Tiffany, maybe you could explain what NRAAM is for those who don’t know.”

Me [feeling guilty for assuming]: “So sorry, everyone. NRAAM is the National Ri…..”

Record scratch! Thunder, lightning, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, nuclear blasts, global annihilation and stuff.

In a nutshell, I got three responses. The first (the overwhelming majority) was deafening silence. Utter non-response. It wasn’t quite hostile. It was more like the sort of benign neglect that one affords to a barely tolerable stray dog roaming the neighborhood – not menacing enough to oust; not endearing enough to welcome. The second response was a chorus of taut, crisp, efficient knock-out punches. “No, I don’t support the NRA.” The “Period, end of story, and don’t try to convince me otherwise” was implied, though not stated. Or even worse, the dreaded pinprick: “No.”

Now, anyone who’s ever spent much time with black women knows there’s a big difference between “No” and “No.”  The former can be safely interpreted as, “perhaps if your next report card is impressive, No could turn into Maybe.” The latter is more like this:

I got the latter. And once again, in most of the “No” responses, an embedded “I dare you to ask me that one more time” just oozed from every pixel.

The third response came from one lonely dissident, who didn’t engage much in the thread but sent me a private message. She asked if I was open to having a roommate at NRAAM. And that was the one, tiny, solitary opening that emerged from my otherwise innocent but ill-fated post. I did make a few modest pleas in the thread, but it became apparent to me in short order that few if any inroads would be had at that juncture. So, I retreated from the battlefield and lived to fight another day.

I completely understand why those women don’t f*ck with the NRA. Lots of people I highly respect have resigned their memberships recently. I’ve contemplated doing so many, many times. I also debated whether to return to NRAAM after my last trip, when I could have sworn I saw SS bolts tattooed on sumdood’s arm (I could be wrong about that) and a white associate of mine casually spewed the n-word in my presence (definitely not wrong about that). I came real close to giving the NRA a savory melanin-soaked middle finger.

But then, I was reminded of a scene from the 1998 Touchstone Pictures sci-fi joint, Armageddon:

Hey, black folks! Hey, people who don’t like country music! Hey, [insert NRA-alienated demographic de jour]! If you really wish the asteroid would change its trajectory, you have two options (bear with me while I mix metaphors). You can either get off the bus and watch it keep rolling without you, or you can be like:

T-shirt available on Amazon, BTW.

I haven’t resigned my NRA membership yet. It’s still a possibility as long as the media campaign keeps driving away fresh perspectives. But for now, I’m in. In fact, I’m in pretty deep. I was an annual member, then I beefed it up to a five-year renewal, then to a life membership. Then I snagged one of those fire sales and bumped it up to Endowment, then Patron, and finally I lost my mind and threw in all my chips: NRA Patriot Life member, Benefactor Level. Now they’ll stop harassing me with donation campaigns, right? Ok, maybe not. But I digress.

I pushed for one more NRA upgrade recently. I’ve been a certified instructor for years, but I finally took the Training Counselor plunge. Two weeks ago, I jetted myself over to that infamous, nebulous, ominous building in Fairfax, VA and successfully completed the now-four-day (formerly three-day, soon-to-be five-day) Training Counselor Workshop. That means now, not only can I teach NRA stuff, but I can teach people how to teach NRA stuff. Kinda excited about that.

I also got to take a rare peek under the hood while milling around over on Waples Mill Road. The NRA has some redeeming qualities that rarely catch headlines, due in part to what I consider to be the missteps of its own media campaign. Setting aside for a moment the rabble-rousing political faction (which always screams the loudest), the Training Division is more quietly making some major changes – changes I welcome. It’s moving away from the old school tin-can-popping type stuff and leaning more into the modern self-defense world. It’s discouraging politically-driven, dogmatic finger-wagging in favor of more objective, approachable education. It’s updating stale assumptions and clearing out some cobwebs. And it is here, in the right-to-protect-yourself ranks, that I think we can find common ground. Not everyone agrees that abortion is murder and immigration gives you cooties and gay people burn in hell and country music powers the earth’s rotation, but everyone can relate to the basal instinct of self-preservation.

Andy Lander (former Training Counselor Program Coordinator) is gone now, but I had the privilege of being in his very last TC class, and he honestly renewed my faith in the NRA. So now I’m excited to be a training counselor and raring to teach my first instructor certification class (team teaching one this month, actually – thanks, Aqil!). And just imagine the potential ripple effects. If I teach teachers, and they go out and teach, and then their students talk to their friends, and so on and so forth, is it possible we could eventually start to counter the devastating effects of the Ted Nugent wing of the NRA?

I don’t know the answer to that. But here’s my bet for the time being: if there are aspects of the NRA that I want to blow up, I stand a better chance of doing so from the ballot-casting inside than from the sign-wielding, social-media-saturating, external periphery. I can look to folks like Adam Kraut to help get things done rather than just idly simmering in my distant discontent. Like dude from Armageddon said, out on the sidelines, all you can hope to do is inflict a minor, temporary burn. And right now, I just don’t think that’s enough to right the ship on Waples Mill. Don’t worry; I have no desire to blow up the NRA completely. But there are some wormy parts that ache for metamorphosis. And I never saw a butterfly emerge from outside the cocoon.

So, into the belly of the beast I go. Wish me luck. But I’m only one chick. I need some help! That means, hey, NRA, stop alienating people. And hey, alienated people, hold off on ditching the NRA. Instead of scoffing at how ignorant everyone is, perhaps we could help educate each other. Who knows, maybe one day we won’t need a separate Facebook group for black female gun owners. Crazy idea, huh?

Happy Easter!

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