The Politics of Labelling the NRA ‘a Domestic Terrorist Organisation’

Terrorism is arguably a political construct which encompasses dynamic interests that change over time. With international terrorism being at the forefront of counter-terrorism policy-making, currently, there is no specific federal crime covering acts of terrorism within the U.S. that are not linked to officially designated international terrorist organisations. However, ideologically motivated domestic attacks, specifically, mass shootings are creating social and political tension regarding restrictive gun control policies.

As gun violence continues to divide the US political sphere, on September 3, the San Francisco city government unanimously passed a resolution formally labelling the National Rifle Association (NRA) a “domestic terrorist organisation”. After a series of devastating mass shootings, the resolution passed states that “the National Rifle Association spreads propaganda that misinforms and aims to deceive the public about the dangers of gun violence, and … the leadership of National Rifle Association promotes extremist positions, in defiance of the views of a majority of its membership and the public, and undermine the general welfare,” according to the Washington Post.

While this ruling can be argued to align with U.S. definition of “domestic terrorism”, the charges stated are misrepresented in which the lacking  adequate gun law reform and gun violence are politicised and attributed to the pro-gun lobbying organisation.

Increased political pressure to address mass shootings as acts of terror has resulted in the introduction of the “Confronting the Threat of Domestic Terrorism Act” which proposes to create a federal domestic terrorism crime applicable to terrorist acts by domestic actors. The problem with San Fransisco city government’s ruling is that it misrepresents domestic actors of terrorism and extremist ideology with the NRA’s opposition to stricter gun laws and the promotion of gun ownership. This misrepresentation and label of “domestic terrorist organisation” functions to subvert the political and social influence of the NRA by undermining its legitimacy. During a period of increased social unrest, this label, therefore, is more political rather than objective because it aims to address unbalanced power relations which prevent perceived liberal laws restricting gun ownership.

The apparent polarisation of U.S. politics regarding gun laws associates the NRA as a “Republican” actor in which delegitimising functions to support “Democrat” goals and objectives. For example, this polarisation was prevalent after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting where President Trump urged that permissive guns laws were not a causing factor as well as adding “if they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation, but they didn’t. And he was able to do things that unfortunately he shouldn’t have been able to do.” This is in contrast to democrat held positions who on September 10 advanced new gun control bills aimed at curbing gun violence.

The politicisation of labelling the NRA a “domestic terrorist organisation” raises concerns regarding the subjectivity of terrorism through which personal interests seem to be unavoidable. Terrorism inherently is perceived through an accompanied political narrative, however, San Fransisco city’s ruling appears to reflect broader political and social tensions. The NRA embraces the second amendment and actively promotes gun ownership, however, this does not fit the criteria of being a ‘domestic terrorist organisation’. Following the FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism, the NRA does not promote or encourage the commission of violent crime as a result of extremist ideologies. It does, however, stand on hard-line policies in regards to gun ownership. For example, after the Las Vegas shooting, in a joint statement, the NRA urged Congress to pass National Right-to-Carry reciprocity. This difference between promoting ideologically motivated violence and policy interests associated with conservative America exemplifies the political function of labelling the NRA a “domestic terrorist organisation”.

Following this idea of political interests, legislative bodies should refrain from designating opposing actors as “terrorist organisations” in order to fulfil political goals and delegitimise political opponents. While increased social tensions regarding gun violence cultivate an environment to hold an individual or organisation responsible, it important to not address domestic terror attacks and weapons used to enact those attacks as a single issue. Gun ownership should be treated as a national security issue, however, it does not constitute the NRA or other political groups promoting gun ownership to be responsible for extremist ideologies, specifically the increasing right-wing extremism. Ideologically motivated violence need to be addressed in a bipartisan environment, in which legal and social aspects are dealt with.