Zero Tolerance

While the Second Amendment has traditionally been a sacred cow for pro-gun activists, it would appear that the First Amendment isn’t accorded the same degree of respect in their ranks, as evidenced by the unfortunate case of Dan Cooper.

On October 28, USA Today published an interview with Cooper, the president and founder of Cooper Firearms of Montana, Inc., in which he admitted—to the horror of pro-gun extremists across America—his support for Democratic presidential candidate (and now president-elect) Barack Obama. Almost immediately, thousands of angry comments flooded the internet, including missives such as “This guy needs to be crushed as an example to others” and “Cooper Arms is unrepentant, arrogant, and needs to be bitch slapped HARD!” Simultaneously, pro-gun activists obtained Cooper Firearms’ dealer list and posted it online, urging gun buyers to contact these retailers and threaten a boycott if they didn’t stop selling the company’s rifles.

The outrage that Dan Cooper’s endorsement sparked in right wing circles had its genesis in the National Rifle Association’s $15 million political campaign to portray Senator Obama as someone who would ban all firearms and go down as “the most anti-gun president in American history.” Never mind that FactCheck.org and Newsweek, among others, thoroughly debunked these claims. Never mind that Dan Cooper spoke to Senator Obama personally and concluded that “he is a staunch supporter of the right to hunt and the right to bear arms.” His punishment for breaking with gun lobby orthodoxy—for having his own political views—was swift and brutal.

Just two days after the USA Today interview appeared, the Board of Directors at Cooper Firearms asked Dan Cooper to resign. Dan agreed to do so, stating, “There is nothing on this earth I will not do for my employees … we have fought through 20 years of building what I believe to be the finest rifles built in America … When the internet anger turned on these innocent people, I felt it was important to distance myself from the company so as not to cause any further harm.”

This is not the first time that pro-gun activists have attacked one of their own. Last year, Jim Zumbo, staff writer forOutdoor Life magazine and the host of a television show on the Outdoor Channel, saw his career destroyed when he wrote about assault rifles: “Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity. I’ll go so far as to call them ‘terrorist’ rifles.”

It is notable that none of Dan Cooper’s critics have questioned his management of his business, or the quality of the long guns that Cooper Firearms manufactures. Cooper’s only “sin” was to embrace Senator Obama’s vision regarding “the retooling of America, which involves the building of middle-class jobs and helping American small business be competitive with those overseas”…an important issue for Americans across the country who handed the Democrat a landslide victory in the presidential election on November 4.

By forcing a man into resigning from a company that he himself created, the National Rifle Association and its supporters on the far right have provided America with a stark reminder of the lengths they will go to in order to silence debate within the gun industry. Bob Ricker, executive director of the American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA), has said that the campaign against Dan Cooper is “really McCarthyism at its worst.” AHSA president Ray Schoenke has called on “rank and file gun owners who have no political ax to grind…to stand up, reject such underhanded tactics and have their voices heard.”

We hope they will heed this call—and maybe save a good man’s career before it is too late.

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