December 21, 2012

Associated Press

Top National Rifle Association officials just wrapped up a press conference in Washington that is going to infuriate a lot of people. After having promised “meaningful contributions” in response to the shooting in Newtown, NRA president Wayne LaPierre clarified what that contribution would be: A proposal for armed security in every school, sponsored by the NRA itself.

LaPierre said such a security system might have saved the lives of the children slain in Newtown. Dripping with resentment and self pity, he claimed the media is so consumed with hatred of guns and the NRA that it won’t embrace the only way of defending our children, i.e., beefed up school security: “Will you at least admit it’s possible that 26 innocent lives might have been spared?”

LaPierre even painted the NRA as the party that has shown class in response to the tragedy. “Out of respect for the families, and until the facts are known, the NRA has refrained from commenting,” he said. “While some have tried to exploit the tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectably silent.”

But don’t get mad about this. Keep in mind that all of this is deliberately designed to serve an overarching strategic goal — distraction. The NRA absolutely must keep the focus off of the problem of easy gun availability, and what can be done about it, for as long as possible.

The media narrative the NRA hopes for out of this presser is twofold: NRA criticizes media for maligning gun owners; and NRA calls for armed security guards in schools. This is standard obfuscation from the NRA, which always tries to distract from the discussion about the need for reform by characterizing the push for it as driven by elite cultural disdain for gun culture and ordinary gun owners. And focusing only on schools is about diverting the conversation away from the broader epidemic of gun violence. After all, the question of whether we respond to the shooting with increased security in schools is entirely separate from whether we also respond to it — and the broader epidemic of gun deaths — with sensible gun law reform. These are not mutually exclusive topics. And today LaPierre said nothing to signal a willingness to even consider any change in its opposition to many of the sensible gun law reforms that have been proposed.

I do wonder, though, whether LaPierre’s performance today — combined with his unwillingness to even brook discussion of any reforms — will ultimately help the gun control side a bit. After all, his tone — aggrieved, angry, hostile — seemed highly off kilter in the wake of such an awful tragedy. And LaPierre revealed again that the NRA does not speak for the majority of rank and file gun owners. CNN’s latest poll shows very broad support for specific gun law reforms, such as background checks on every would be gun purchaser and bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Even majorities of Republicans favor these.

And so, today’s presser was only about the NRA’s need to prevent these ideas — and the broad problems of gun violence and the easy availability of firearms — from being discussed as long as possible. If it can, then perhaps public sentiment in the wake of Newtown will dissipate, as it has in so many other cases. The NRA, today, was trying to take more time off the clock. It’s a familiar play. We’ve seen it before.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.