The unapologetic NRA — and what it means

December 21, 2012

For those hoping to get a mea culpa from NRA boss Wayne LaPierre at a Friday press conference in Washington, you came away sorely disappointed.

LaPierre was broadly combative against a media that he insisted purposely papers over violence in video games in favor of scapegoating his organization. He defended the need for gun ownership and proposed that Congress take up legislation that would put an armed security officer in every school by January. He was, in a word, defiant.

The reaction from critics of the NRA was immediate -- and unsurprising in its incredulity. "The NRA leadership is wildly out of touch with its own members, responsible gun owners, and the American public who want to close dangerous loopholes and enact common-sense gun safety reform," said New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

But what LaPierre's press conference did is make clear that those who had begun to call the Newtown shooting a tipping point in the gun control debate may have to rethink that assessment.

While polling suggests that there has been some reversal in the broad trend against more gun laws, the reality is that any measure has to make it through Congress. And LaPierre sent a very firm signal today to all members of the House and Senate: Now is not the time to further tighten gun laws, it's a time to arm those charged with protecting our children. Such a stance makes any attempt to pass something like the assault weapons ban that much more difficult for President Obama and gun control advocates in the House and Senate.

What could change that calculus?  A sustained movement in public opinion regarding the role of guns -- and gun rights -- in our society. That's possible. But, while the NRA's critics were quick to lambast LaPierre's press conference as a PR disaster, it could also be true that many supporters of the organization (and gun rights more generally) saw it as a victory, a decision to stand up in the face of an onslaught of what they believe to be unfair scapegoating.

The issue will now be on hold until Vice President Biden's task force presents its legislative proposal to curb gun violence sometime next month. But, LaPierre sent a very clear signal today that the NRA has no plan to shrink from the coming fight over gun control. And a fight it assuredly now will be.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · December 21, 2012