Warsaw, Poland – -(Ammoland.com)- Despite all of the criticism directed at the National Rifle Association (NRA), I find their presence beneficial to democracy in the U.S. and I wish a similar organization appeared in my own country, Poland.
As a Marshall Memorial Fellow, I recently met with NRA representatives in Washington, DC. This marked the first time I was confronted with a comprehensive set of arguments for bearing guns.
I was fascinated by the actual power of an organization that was founded in 1871 to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”
There is abundant research on the NRA and its influence on the political life of the U.S. It claims to have over 5 million members, of which over 3 million regularly pay their dues. Most of their income is from contributions, grants, royalties, advertising, and the firearms industry. Many would characterize the NRA as one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the U.S. In addition, it seems to be an organization with the ability to successfully engage average citizens in debate and encourage them to participate in the political life of the country. One of the most notable results of their efforts seems to be a large number of bumper-stickers devoted to this subject.
These stickers are fun, but don’t let that distract you from their impact. The NRA is able to encourage people not only to post a sticker, but also to be engaged in political life. It runs voter registration drives; Get Out The Vote campaigns at the national, state, and local levels; it recruits, trains and mobilizes Election Volunteer Coordinators; and it remains politically active throughout the United States despite being a “single issue” organization. I witnessed a political rally in Rapid City, South Dakota, where a former governor was endorsed by the NRA as a Senate candidate. About 200 people participated in the event, which featured the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the former NRA president and current attorney general of South Dakota. The candidate, Mike Rounds, hoped he would gain from the campaign organized by NRA supporters, who cheered loudly at every promise he made about the right to bear arms.
How can such a marginal movement (marginal in terms of their area focus of) have such a beneficial influence on the political activity of an average American? It might be due to a very controversial yet simple subject, and a strong reference to the Constitution. By basing their rights on the Second Amendment, the NRA constantly reminds Americans about the importance of the Constitution and the necessity to respect it. Leaving aside the debate of whether the Founding Fathers meant single-shot, muzzle-loading muskets or semi-automatic shotguns, the discussion is anchored in the law, as citizens always coming back to individual liberties, directing individuals’ attention to their rights and responsibilities.
Upon reflection regarding civil society in my country, Poland, I see a need for such an organization to mobilize citizens. It has been only 25 years since the fall of communism and yet the turnout in general elections rarely reaches 50% of eligible voters, not to mention the low participation in NGOs or civic actions at both local and national levels. The quality of public debate is also poor. Is there any issue in my country so contentious that it would spark permanent civic involvement throughout the country? Is there any organization with, at least in theory, comparable potential outreach? Unfortunately, I do not think so.
Would I be willing to pay the price that Americans do to have such an organization? In addition to violent crime, there comes the knowledge that everyone around you can have a gun.
However strange it may sound to opponents of the NRA, I would be willing to pay this price for the benefit of democracy– so essential do I find civic participation.
Lech Marcinkowski, Advisor, Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, is a 2014 Marshall Memorial Fellow.
Lech Marcinkowski currently serves as key advisor to the Chief of Staff at the Chancellery of the President of Poland in Warsaw. Prior to this he was director general of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland, where he was responsible for the 500+ staff of civil servants at the centre of government. His previous professional experience includes leading internal inspection functions in the government, where he introduced performance auditing into the Polish administration. Marcinkowski worked for several years for the National Audit Office and holds a number of professional certificates (CFE, CIA, CGAP, CCSA). He was a Hubert H. Humphrey fellow in 2008-2009. He is a graduate of the National School of Public Administration and the University of Warsaw