National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre and spokeswoman Dana Loesch have in recent days helped pull back the curtain on the mind-set of the NRA. This is not a group that wants responsible gun ownership. (Do responsible people have a weapon of war designed purely to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible?) This is not a group that is focused on making cogent arguments about gun legislation. Instead, like President Trump and Fox News, the NRA now operates in the fever swamp of what used to be a conservative party. Now, it’s a cult based on the preservation of Trump, a cult that requires conspiracies, bizarre rhetoric and out-and-out lies to keep its members in a high-pitch frenzy.
LaPierre ranted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, “If they seize power, if these so-called European socialists take over the House and the Senate, and God forbid they get the White House again, our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever.” If someone were mumbling like that at a bar, the bartender would be obligated to cut off his drinks.
The NRA’s arguments no longer depend on or even include facts; they are tribal calls to signal that it’s time for the faithful to toss away rational debate. (What about all the people saved by guns?! Any cursory look at the facts would tell you that’s a horrible argument, but it’s part of the NRA playbook. It’s what the NRA crowd says because … socialists are out to get them?)
When LaPierre cautions the CPAC crowd that he’s not talking about armed rebellion (was anyone??), he’s showing some rhetorical leg. He’s hinting (Who knows? “Some people say . . . ” as the president likes to tell us) there might be an even wilder, weirder edition of the NRA gospel to come. (Is telling us that he’s not for armed rebellion supposed to make his hyperventilating speech sound saner?)
Loesch gave her own vitriolic rant at CPAC (as she does regularly in her NRA propaganda ads). She didn’t bother with the dogwhistle at CPAC; she brought out the bullhorn on race and liberal media, two of the hot-button issues that bind Trumpkins together these days. “Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it,” she declared. “I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you and many of the legacy media in the back.” That’s not an argument; its defamation.
On the Sunday shows, Loesch dialed back her nuttery, but her position was just as extreme and unbending as it has always been. On ABC’s “This Week,” she sought to shift blame to the police and FBI and falsely insisted that almost all gun sales are covered by a background check anyway. (Post fact checker Glenn Kessler found “22 percent of gun owners who reported obtaining a firearm in the previous two years did so without a background check. Among purchased firearms, the figure was 13 percent. The number was zero for gun shows, but 45 percent for online sales, but the sample sizes were very small. Among nonpurchased firearms (such as gift or inheritance), 57 percent reported not having a background check.”) Loesch refused to acknowledge that the assault-weapons ban reduced the number of mass killings and tried to pass off Trump’s flirtation with an increase in the age requirement as “just things that he’s discussing right now.” (The message: He’s still on the NRA’s short leash.) Asked whether there is “any new proposal you’re willing to support now that you weren’t supporting before,” she filibustered. In other words: No.
David Hogg, one of the surviving students now leading a movement to curtail weapons of war and organizing the March For Our Lives, immediately followed. His candor was refreshing:
Honestly, it’s just disgusting. They act like they don’t own these politicians. They still do. It’s a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and executive branch. They can get this stuff done. They’ve gotten gun legislation passed before in their favor, in the favor of gun manufacturers. And what I want people to know is look at Dana. Look at what she saying, is she actually saying anything or is that just a tone to distract the American public and distract her NRA members from the fact that she’s not serving them? She is serving the gun manufacturers. She’s not serving the people of the NRA, because the people that are joining the NRA, 99.9 percent of them are amazing people that just want to be safe, responsible gun owners. And I fully can support that.
He explained that his peer group has a unique vantage point. “Honestly, it’s our generation. Every — Columbine was about 19 years ago, and now that you’ve had an entire generation of kids growing up around mass shootings and the fact that they are able — they’re starting to be able to vote explains how we’re going to have this change.” He went on, “Kids are not going to accept this. As many critics of my generation will say, millennials are some of the laziest, like, most critical people. I don’t think that they’re lazy, but I think we’re definitely critical, especially on social media.”
One can see the contrast between the survivors and the older generation(s) of dogmatic, irrational NRA lackeys forced to raise the rhetorical ante in order to keep their followers in a tizzy. Using broadcast TV and a stale convention format, the latter are desperately trying to keep a grip on the gun conversation. But along comes a group of diverse young adults, wielding facts and refusing to politely listen to ludicrous talking points. The teens have such a big lead on social media, they can barely see the NRA’s spinners in the rear-view mirror.
The kids also have on their side local law enforcement, parents and teachers — all much more credible and sincere than Beltway politicians and media who feel compelled to treat Loesch as if she were sanely making an argument tied to reality. She can argue for 10 minutes about arming teachers. It took about two minutes for Ashley Kurth, a teacher from Stoneman Douglas High School, to shred the idea. (The teacher pointed out that when “fights or arguments over something on Twitter, or Instagram, or just how their day went and having a bad day and somebody just reacts to them wrong,” having a gun in the classroom is the last thing you want.) Appearing on MSNBC on Saturday, Hogg scoffed at the idea. “What if there were multiple shooters? What if there’s a fire alarm? Can you imagine the mass chaos and hysteria that would be caused? Imagine all the police officers trying to figure out which gunshots are friendly, which ones are not. They don’t have time for that, they need to make decisions and we don’t need any more guns in these scenarios.” Loesch has no chance when faced with simple common sense and raw emotion born of tragedy.
The student leaders remind us that the NRA’s opponents and to a large extent the media have been far too deferential to the NRA and too respectful of its disingenuous arguments. They grant the NRA’s arguments legitimacy — no matter how afactual or bizarre or off-point. They give LaPierre’s unfounded assertions the same status as a scientific study, personal life experience and elementary logic. That decorum and false equivalency have been exploited by not just the NRA but also the rest of the ethno-nationalist posse that now controls the GOP.
If nothing else, these students have taught us a powerful lesson: Don’t accept afactual hysteria as if it’s a legitimate political position; dismiss it. Don’t afford respect to arguments from those who have nothing but contempt for their audience and disdain for facts. Whether it is Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) or Loesch or Trump himself, it’s time to take their threat to civil discourse seriously — but not their phony facts and illogical stances.
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