H. Joaquin Jackson is the kind of iconic rifleman that gun advocates welcomed to their board. He spent 27 years as a Texas Ranger and is remembered for following his commander into a jailhouse shootout and capturing an elusive horse thief.
The actor Nick Nolte spent several weeks studying Jackson in preparation for his role as a Ranger in the 1987 film Extreme Prejudice. And Tommy Lee Jones cast Jackson to play a sheriff in the 1995 TV movie The Good Old Boys alongside Jones, Sissy Spacek, Frances McDormand and a young, unknown Matt Damon.
With Hollywood friends and a storied law-and-order past, Jackson was an ideal fit for the National Rifle Association’s 76-member governing board, which he joined in 2001. Today, however, he is under fire from a younger generation of NRA activists. Organizing online, they want Jackson voted off the gun lobby’s board for his past comments criticizing high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons. His comments are making waves again due to the assault weapons ban recently proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The unprecedented amount of pressure for gun control in the wake of the mass killings in Newtown, Conn., in December has both the gun lobby and many gun rights activists worried. At a time when polls show that most Americans favor at least some form of gun control, Second Amendment absolutists who dominate the gun lobby’s base want to ferret out any suspected moderates from the NRA board.
Officials at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va., declined to respond to requests for comment.
NRA board elections are tightly controlled and removing incumbents with name recognition is rare. Back in 2000, Soldier of Fortune publisher and veteran NRA director Robert K. Brown endorsed Grover Norquist, the conservative Republican anti-tax crusader in Congress, for the board. He won, but last year Brown said he would no longer endorse him after Norquist publicly expressed doubts about whether President Obama was planning to seize guns. Norquist, however, was reelected to the board.
“I wouldn’t be with the NRA if I didn’t believe in the Second Amendment,” Jackson told msnbc in a telephone interview. But critics are not convinced. “Joaquin Jackson has a background in law enforcement and he’s a ‘staunch supporter’ of the Second Amendment…or is he?” recently asked one gun rights activist, Joe Levi, on his blog sittingduckpolicy.com.
The Texas Rangers were established in the early 19th century to protect homesteaders back when Texas was still part of Mexico. Hollywood was drawn to its romantic image and Jackson was eager to foster in. In 1994, the Texas Monthly ran an article on the Rangers with a black-and-white cover photograph of the recently-retired Jackson on the cover, riding his horse and holding his Winchester lever-action rifle.
Jackson’s leather handgun holster, leather rifle scabbard, and Ranger belt buckle are all made into replicas available for purchase. The same vendor sells replicas of holsters used by Wild Bill Hickok, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
But none of that was enough to shield Jackson from suspicion after remarks he made during a video interview with Texas Monthly Talks in 2005.
“I personally believe a weapon should never have over, as far as a civilian, a five-round capacity. If you’re a hunter, if you’re going to go hunting with a weapon, you shouldn’t need over but one round. So five rounds would be plenty,” said Jackson in the video now labeled by one of his critics as “The Enemy Within” on YouTube.
On assault weapons, Jackson said: “Personally, I think assault weapons basically…need to be in the hands of the military, and in the hands of the police.”
Two years later the NRA’s lobbying wing posted a statement by Jackson to clarify “misunderstandings” about the interview. Jackson said his comments on assault weapons referred only to fully-automatic weapons used mainly by military forces and some police. High-capacity magazines, he clarified, were not appropriate for hunting.
Some NRA gun rights activists are undeterred.
“If you’re a voting member of the NRA you need to vote this anti-gun clown off the board.” That message was posted by a group calling itself Military Arms Channel in a Facebook campaign against Jackson. “The NRA hasn’t always been our friends – they’ve supported various gun control measures over the decades and Mr. Jackson is of that old school mentality.” The post adds: “GET HIM OUT OF THERE.”
Jackson, a 77-year-old widower living in Alpine, Texas, said in an interview that he opposes Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons ban. Citizens should continue to have access to weapons that can now be lawfully obtained. He said he is also against limiting magazines, explaining, “some idiot could do just as much damage by reloading” smaller-capacity magazines.
The gun lobby’s position on fully-automatic firearms remains unclear. Such weapons have been limited to government forces under different federal laws dating back to 1934. Many NRA activists openly claim today, and top NRA leaders seem to suggest, that outlawing civilian access to the same weapons has always violated the Second Amendment. When addressing the press, NRA leaders usually sidestep the issue, but not Jackson.
Jackson is now one of 25 NRA board members up for reelection this spring, and he is one of 29 individuals placed on the NRA official ballot by the board’s Nominating Committee. Most of the other board incumbents are expected to be re-elected. But Jackson’s 10-year term could conceivably come to an end.
Another incumbent, former Idaho Senator Larry Craig, is also vulnerable. Craig is the NRA’s longest serving director but postings online seem divided, more for questions surrounding his legal troubles than his record on guns.
Craig pled guilty in 2007 to the charge of disorderly conduct, and resigned from the Senate, after he was arrested in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.