The NRA is a powerful, seemingly omnipresent organization. Founded in 1871, the NRA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to defending U.S. citizen’s second amendment right to bear arms as well as educate the public on safe use of firearms and provide kids with recreational access to shooting sports. The NRA also spends considerable money promoting itself and, while it only spends a relatively paltry amount on lobbying ($3.5 million since 1998) it is, thanks to its large bankroll, one of the most powerful and influential lobbies around. According to Newsweek, the NRA spends more money to influence politics than nearly every nonprofit group in the U.S.
In the wake of the most recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, which claimed 17 lives, the organization is yet again the center of a national gun-control debate. Rather than taking measures to help restrict access to assault-level weapons — and after a week of media-silence following the Parkland shooting — the organization instead voiced the need for more armed school security. Per The Washington Post, NRA President Wayne LaPierre event went so far as to say that gun control advocates “don’t care about our schoolchildren; they want to make all of us less free.” Discourse has only escalated in the weeks since.
According to self-reports from the NRA, the organization boasts five million members. One of them is Jason Swindle. A criminal defense attorney, he’s been an NRA member for 25 years and identifies as a staunch libertarian and conservative, and is the father of two sons, Jake, 12, and Reagan, 6.
While Jason is by no means a representation of everyone in the organization, we wanted to hear what he, a father and responsible gun owner, has to say about his affiliation and the way he raises his kids. Here, in his own words, Jason discusses his lifelong commitment to being a gun owner, before explaining how he talks to his kids about gun safety and why his children solidified his convictions about gun laws and ownership.
I joined the NRA in 1992. Even before then, and way before I became a lawyer, I had been around guns. I hunted. I was very comfortable around them. At a very young age, I saw how many people were afraid of guns and did not treat the Second Amendment like they did the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and sort of singled it out. That bothered me a lot. I wanted to do whatever I could to protect the second amendment of the constitution. Not just for me, but for everybody. And that’s pretty much why I joined.
I have two boys. My youngest is six. His name is Reagan. You can guess who he was named after. My 12-year-old is Jason Swindle Junior. We call him Jake. Jake is autistic. I’m the chairman and president of the West Georgia Autism Foundation. We advocate for helping families with autism in our area.
The last thing on earth I’ll ever want to have happen is an accident in my own home with a gun. Reagan and I talk about that more than anything when it comes to guns.
We have a rule in my house. “Every single gun is loaded until you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s not.” That means check and see if it’s loaded or not. You just assume that it is.
With Jake, one of the characteristics of autism is they just cannot be around loud noises. It really freaks him out. So Jake’s never been able to hunt with me, but Reagan, my 6-year-old, has. He has shot rifles. I help him load. But I continue to teach gun safety: “Always unload your gun. Always wait to load it when you’re sitting in a deer stand. Always put on your safety.” The last thing on earth I’ll ever want to have happen is an accident in my own home with a gun. Reagan and I talk about that more than anything when it comes to guns.
I started taking Reagan hunting when he was three. He wasn’t holding a gun or anything like that but he would be with me. Now when we hunt, he’s sitting in a stand with me. For the most part he just wants to be a part of it and learn how to hunt and just be out in the woods. That sort of thing. He’s still young, but we have so many resources locally that it’d be great if the NRA came and did a workshop.
I have AR-15s. I have pistols, rifles. They are either under lock and key or they are so high up that they cannot possibly be attained by any of my children.
I haven’t enrolled my son in any training programs yet. Most of the safety courses, from what I understand, would be for children who are a little bit older. The NRA does a lot for kid’s safety. They’ve got something called the Eddie Eagle program. They have training sessions for kids. They have events for children all over the country.
The people at the NRA have been vilified for purely political reasons, but they know how guns operate. They know about gun safety more than anybody who gets on television talking about gun safety. They promote gun safety. There’s not a single person in that organization that I would think would be happy when a child dies.
After having kids, my reasons for supporting the NRA have probably become stronger. Before I had children, I didn’t have to worry about gun-free zones. My children now go to school. Schools are gun free zones. They go to other places that are gun free zones. That concerns me more than anything. Gun free zones are where people get killed. That’s not my opinion; that’s just a statistical fact.
My children now go to school. Schools are gun free zones. They go to other places that are gun free zones. That concerns me more than anything.
I’ve not been able to figure out why people don’t see that you’re much safer in an area where people have guns. I know exactly how people get illegal guns and how they’re very bold to walk into a place. Being in a gun free zone has got to be, logically, when you don’t get in the politics of it, probably the most dangerous place you could be. My children are in gun-free zones now and that makes my unpopular position with many of my colleagues even stronger.
I think 90 percent of the people out there don’t know anything about the NRA except what they hear from senators and on the news, which are bad things. It is a very, very powerful lobby. Everybody makes a big deal about that. But if you’ve ever been to Washington and see how it operates, it’s just a lobbying playground and that’s all it is. People are bought and sold based on the lobbyists they choose to be with.
It’s funny with children. My plans for Jake were for him to be a star football player like his grandfather. My dad played for the University of Georgia, defensive back. That was my plan. He was also going to be my hunting buddy. Those things did not turn out that way. God had a different plan.
My kids are kind of like me. When my parents pushed me a little bit one way or the other, I pushed back. The hunting and guns and everything else? It’s available if they want to go hunting. But I learned very very quickly that if they’re like me, and somebody tries to make them do something or pushes something, then for some reason my reaction is going to be the opposite.
I know that my grandfather sat down with me for many, many hours over the years and talked to me about politics. You kind of pick up on stuff at a young age. My whole family are basically Republicans and conservatives. I don’t know what effect that has on a young person. But I do hope he’ll be strong enough in the future that when things are maybe even worse, maybe people are actually trying to confiscate guns, that Reagan will be law-abiding and he will have the courage to speak out, stand out. That would mean a lot to me, whether I’m alive to see it.
— As told to Lizzy Francis