With characteristic flair, the National Rifle Association held America in suspense for a week on how it would react to the Newtown (Conn.) school massacre and then came out, guns blazing.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s longtime top official, left no doubt during his nationally televised press conference that the pro-gun lobby—pound for pound, the most effective single-issue advocacy group in Washington—will fight fiercely against any new restrictions on the lawful acquisition of guns, magazines, or ammunition.
Whether the group wins or loses the coming debate, it wins (more on that in a moment). First, here are the basics of what LaPierre had to say:
• Setting up schools as “gun-free zones” has been an utter failure. Schools require more security, including a police officer in every school. The NRA will lead a national “school shield” initiative headed by Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, former U.S. congressman, and former federal prosecutor.
• The nation ought to establish a comprehensive database of mentally ill individuals. Those who have been deemed mentally ill, alcoholic, or addicted to drugs are already banned by federal law from acquiring guns. LaPierre called for more thorough record-keeping, a demand made by many of his opponents in the gun-control camp.
• The national media, whom LaPierre repeatedly castigated, bear responsibility for random mass shootings because they provide saturation coverage of events such as the Newtown massacre, and that encourages “copycats.”
• Hollywood and makers of violent video games, which LaPierre called the worst kind of “pornography,” likewise bear responsibility for mass shootings. The entertainment industry, he said, creates an atmosphere in which young people view violence as routine and without consequence.
• Gun owners, however, do not bear responsibility for mass shootings, and more gun regulations are not needed, he said. Instead, he condemned federal prosecutors for pursuing fewer gun-crime cases. There are already 20,000 gun regulations on the books, LaPierre said.
• He accused the media of fomenting “hatred” of gun owners and the NRA. He also alluded to the danger of civic unrest in the event of another disaster similar to Sandy, the devastating storm that recently hit the East Coast. That’s a subtle signal in support of survivalists and others who stock up on armaments out of fear that the government can’t protect them in chaos.
The NRA, as will become apparent in weeks and months to come, has a structural advantage in this conflict with gun-control forces. It does not compromise, because it does not fear losing. By framing the debate as one of gun owners against the rest of society (the media, Hollywood, “political elites”), LaPierre is paving the way for his next fund-raising solicitation. If some new gun-control law gets enacted, that becomes evidence that the vast anti-gun conspiracy only wants more, that President Barack Obama eventually will come for YOUR guns—all of them.
The lobby and the industry whose fortunes it promotes thrive on controversy, observes Richard Feldman, a former NRA organizer and gun trade association executive. “If the NRA wins, it wins,” he says. “If it loses, it wins, too, because then it can raise money on its defeat—and go back and try again.”
A relevant datum that LaPierre did not stress as part of his presentation was that, as the industrialized democracy with the greatest prevalence of gun ownership—300 million firearms in private hands; 47 percent of households possessing one or more guns—the U.S. has the highest gun homicide rate among economically advanced countries.