Firearms have been in my life since birth. I grew up in a rural area outside Richmond, Virginia, where our neighbors were deer hunters or farmers who kept a varmint rifle on hand. My father had a .22 that we were permitted to admire but not handle. I learned to shoot first with air rifles, then gradually with rifles and shotguns. When I turned 21 my father gave me a Ruger Mark II 22/45 target pistol.
Around that time, I became a member of the National Rifle Association. Their shooting range in Fairfax, Virginia, was near my home and much less intimidating for a young woman than many of the other ranges in the area. Eventually, I even went on to work at the NRA and became a Life Member in 2010.
But that ended today.
Today I sent a letter resigning my lifetime membership in the NRA. My choice was directly related to the NRA’s response, or what I saw as a non-response, to the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
I am a bisexual, gender-nonconforming woman. I’m not as out of the closet as I would like, but I spent Saturday afternoon at Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., basking in the love and support and togetherness of the LGBT community. To find out the next day that 49 of my brothers and sisters were killed in what was supposed to be a safe space for them was a sickening contrast.
The NRA, an organization I once supported financially, politically, and emotionally, waited to respond for three days after the shootings and then made them entirely about “radical Islam.” In an op-ed to USA Today, chief lobbyist Chris Cox makes no mention whatsoever of fact that Pulse is an LGBT venue or who the victims were. By omitting this, he strips the victims of an important part of their identity. This is simple erasure, and it ignores the hate our community experiences.
It has taken me years to arrive at this decision. In 2008, I applied for a job there after a conversation with a shooting range employee. I ended up working in the member services division for two years. It was an office environment as professional as it was unusual. People would bring firearms to the office and show them off nearly every day; I sold my Ruger to a colleague in finance after listing it on the company message board and used the money to buy an antique rifle. The members could be rude over the phone, but that’s every customer service job. I liked working for the NRA.
But my doubts about the organization have mounted alongside the death toll from gun violence. Like many other people, the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary were a major turning point for me. I started to believe more strongly that there were places where guns should not be, that some people should not be able to buy and own guns, and that some guns should not be for sale. I was uncomfortable with the “more good guys with guns” rhetoric I saw from the NRA and other pro-gun advocates. It felt like victim blaming.
But I had bought deeply into the idea that gun laws are a slippery slope. I also had no idea what I thought the solution might be to the problem. I trusted the NRA to steward the best interests of gun owners. When tragedies like Orlando occur, I expected them to respond. Instead, they buried their commentary.
I will continue to own and responsibly use firearms—but I refuse to be associated with the NRA any longer. Here is the text of my resignation letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
I, Sarah Elizabeth Boyle, member number 14XXXXXXX, do hereby resign my fully paid Life Membership in the National Rifle Association. Consider my membership terminated immediately as of the receipt of this letter. Please provide confirmation that my membership has been successfully terminated, and then do not contact me again.
As a proud member of the LGBT community, I found the NRA’s absolute lack of response to the events of the past weekend in Orlando to be galling. It is the last straw for me after keeping silent through multiple tone-deaf responses from the organization after episodes of mass gun violence. All I can do is to withdraw my tacit support by resigning this membership.
Sarah Boyle is an artist and former college professor in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.