Durango’s NRA ultimatum

The Durango Gun Club painted itself into a political corner when it voted in December to change its bylaws to require that gun club members also join the National Rifle Association. Doing so forces club members to align themselves with a position that they might not support, namely that Second Amendment rights are paramount to any and all others.

That may not follow for all gun enthusiasts, and it certainly does not – nor should it – for local governments that provide, gratis, facilities for the Durango Gun Club. The city of Durango rightly recognized this when it asked the club to drop the NRA requirement or vacate the city’s premises on Florida Road.

The NRA’s identity is clear and not at all without merit. According to its website, “The National Rifle Association is America’s longest-standing civil-rights organization. We’re proud defenders of history’s patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.”

But since its inception in 1871, the organization has morphed into a multifaceted complex of groups that works to educate gun users about how to safely handle firearms and to advocate – strongly and effectively – for pro-gun policies. That latter effort has become increasingly political in recent years, given the divisive nature of gun-control conversations.

In Colorado, those conversations produced a suite of gun-related legislation in 2013 that prompted a successful recall of two Democratic state senators. The NRA contributed at least $360,000, through the Committee to Restore Coloradans’ Rights, to the recall effort.

As such, the city of Durango was absolutely correct in expressing concern about being linked to the NRA’s political activities through taxpayer-funded gun club facilities. As Mayor Dick White said, “We heard quite a strident outcry from the public that this is simply inappropriate because the NRA has essentially become a political organization, putting the city in the position of making a de facto endorsement.”

Doing so is particularly problematic, given the partisanship that tinted the gun-control debate during the 2013 legislative session and the recalls that followed.

The NRA has educational and overtly political branches and surely is scrupulous about which arm leads its policy efforts. Other NRA functions include offering grants to local gun clubs – such as that in Durango – to improve facilities and provide training. These are clear benefits to small clubs with limited resources, and requiring NRA memberships in order for clubs to qualify for grants is an adept move. It grows the NRA’s numbers and increases its lobbying strength.

That is all well and good for independent clubs. Those that receive public funding – in the form of free facility space, in Durango’s case – have to be a bit more careful. The NRA umbrella is vast and includes its education and infrastructure efforts as well as its lobbying endeavors. Local governments must take care to avoid participating in the latter.

The city of Durango got it right in drawing a clear line for the Durango Gun Club. However apolitical the club’s intent was in adopting the NRA requirement to access much-needed funding options, the implications are significant from a local government perspective. The gun club cannot have it both ways, and the city was absolutely justified in reminding the club’s board of that. La Plata County should be similarly concerned.

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