Last week, after Stephen K. Bannon's candidate beat President Trump's candidate in a Senate primary in Alabama, Breitbart News boasted that it, and its chairman, are the “most feared” names in Washington politics.
More feared than the National Rifle Association?
Doubt it. The NRA is a well-organized, highly influential political machine — and has been for a long time. By contrast, a document-rich BuzzFeed report published Thursday depicts Breitbart as chaotic and dysfunctional.
Although Breitbart and the NRA are usually in lockstep, they are at odds over bump stocks, the firearm attachments used by Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock, which enable semiautomatic weapons to replicate the rapid fire of machine guns.
Breitbart was quick to criticize congressional Republicans who said they would consider banning bump stocks — and even called the White House “weak” for saying that it would “welcome a thoughtful conversation on policy and issues.”
That was before the NRA issued a statement Thursday afternoon in which it said, rather unexpectedly, that it “believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
Hours later, on Sean Hannity's Fox News show, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre addressed bump stocks again.
“If you take a look at it, I mean, any look at it, it takes a semiautomatic firearm, and it makes it perform like a fully automatic firearm,” LaPierre said. “It makes it function like one. And what the NRA has said is we ought to take a look at that and see if it is in compliance with federal law and it's worthy of additional regulation. That being said, we didn't say ban, we didn't say confiscate.”
LaPierre was playing word games. Technically speaking, machine guns are not banned, either, because people with special, hard-to-get licenses are allowed to own them. And when Congress passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which halted the manufacture of fully automatic weapons for civilians in 1986, the government did not confiscate the automatic weapons that already were (and in many cases still are) in circulation.
Based on precedent, the notion that Congress would outlaw bump stocks for every single person in the United States and that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would deploy agents to snatch away every single bump stock in the country is a straw man. What we're really talking about is a measure that would make bump stocks significantly harder to obtain — and the NRA's stated position is in favor of such a measure.
Breitbart's B.S. detector went off after LaPierre's appearance on Fox News.
“NRA goes wobbly on bump stocks,” read a homepage headline on the website run by Trump's former chief strategist.
Breitbart was calling out the foremost opponent of gun control for endorsing a form of gun control.
But Breitbart softened the headline Friday morning: “NRA's LaPierre: We should see if bump stocks are 'worthy of additional regulation' — no ban or confiscation.”
Bannon appears to be having second thoughts about doing battle with the NRA. This is one fight he can't win.