NRA Shoots Own Foot
by Bruno VanderVelde [March 21st, 2000]

     Everyone in America has an opinion about gun control, and many people, it is safe to say, know on which side of the fence they reside.
     But for every pro-gun or anti-gun zealot, there is a somewhat oblivious middle- or upper-class simpleton, not cognizant of most daily national affairs beyond the latest nightly offering of some TV quiz show. These people tend to be easily swayed by popular opinion -- "Well, all the primary polls I read in Time magazine give George W. Bush a lead over McCain ... besides, his dad was a good president. I'll probably vote for him."
     This segment of the population -- the SUV-driving, e-trading, two-child-family suburbanite -- has the most voting power in terms of numbers. For the next 15 years, at least, the outcome of the gun control issue will ride on the kind of candidates these people vote for, and hence, the type of legislation passed in terms of firearm limitations in the near future.
     Now, to the gun issue: the National Rifle Association's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, recently lobbed some grenades at the right wing's favorite pariah, the President of the United States. For those who haven't heard, LaPierre asserted that Clinton, in order to further his anti-gun agenda, was willing to accept a certain level of violence and killing in America, apparently to scare innocent Americans into disliking guns and, hence, take a harder stance against them.
     LaPierre is saying that Clinton, and his administration as a whole, will tolerate, and indeed, profit politically from the gun violence that occurs on a daily basis throughout the United States.
     The irresponsibility of LaPierre's statement need not be expounded upon further. He deserves credit for speaking his mind, but that kind of recklessness will rarely earn your agenda any respect. The anti-gun crowd sat back, grinning quietly, hoping for more to come out of the mouth of this firebrand.
     They weren't disappointed. LaPierre later accused Clinton of having "blood on his hands" - the blood of former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, who was fatally shot last year by a racist on a shooting spree in the Chicago area.
     The shooter had previously been denied the purchase of a gun after a background check in Illinois due to his criminal record. LaPierre contended that had the gunman been arrested and prosecuted by federal authorities after failing the check, instead of walking away to buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer, this murder would not have occurred. LaPierre was possibly ignorant of the fact that in Illinois, it is state, not federal authorities that have this responsibility.
     In any case, accusing the President of the United States of murder is heavy-handed at least. The NRA didn't do itself a favor by hiring this spokesman, who apparently speaks before he thinks. He has given the anti-gun lobby a huge chip to play, eroding the credibility of his huge, wealthy organization in the eyes of the hoi polloi. Ordinary, Clinton-liking folks aren't going to like this reactionary rhetoric.
     Remember, America elected Mr. Clinton. Most Americans still actually like Clinton, as indicated by the failure of Congress to depose him after his impeachment, and by any major poll data taken within the past two years or more. In a testament to his political savvy, Clinton himself has shrugged off the remarks. His much-maligned attorney general has done likewise.
     Even George W. Bush, bastion of conservatism, has said LaPierre's remarks went too far. Bush is not likely to lose any of his right-wing friends and associates as a result. (This is an election year, and he's been forced to ride the middle-ground, and LaPierre's provocations don't fit well into a responsible, moderate campaign.)
     And that's just it -- LaPierre has single-handedly trashed the kinder, gentler, aura of responsibility that the NRA was trying to create for itself -- the kind featured in its ad campaign last year depicting responsible, law-abiding celebrities using rifles for sport.
     Combined with the growing urbanization of America, the constant threat of gun crime in these urban areas, and the growing number of Americans that are exposed to it, LaPierre's idiocy is surfacing at a bad time for the NRA. Perhaps as a result, a growing number are whispering that guns no longer really have a place in American society.
     As the BBC put it, in a story about the Columbine High School massacre: "The U.S. is no longer a frontier country, and ordinary Americans no longer need arms to defend themselves against 'Red Indians' or to hunt wild animals." This is not editorializing; this is fact, though the famed British Broadcasting Corp. makes no mention of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution that set this country apart from Britain over 200 years ago.
     The men who drafted the Constitution, in their idealistic wisdom, espoused unprecedented freedom - with the proviso of responsibility. Today, we still have this freedom, though the crucial responsibility clause is increasingly being shrugged off. This flaw is not caused by the Constitution. It is the inexorable result of living in a decadent modern American society that has ostensibly lost sight of the foundation on which it was constructed.
     With that in mind, one would think that the NRA, which by default tends to adhere to a decidedly nostalgic view of America -- one of values, morals, and otherwise strong, Protestant virtues - would have little choice but to take the high road if only to uphold its credibility. But with this tirade, it shows us that it hasn't.
     When the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association speaks such carefully crafted words -- on the record, mind you -- he is illustrating the desperation and irresponsibility of his organization. What are Americans supposed to think? The NRA's irresponsibility is only heaping more ill fortune on itself, its members, and America - in its own eyes, and in the eyes of the rest of the world, who, for better or for worse, look to this country to lead the way.
     And the anti-gun folks -- the Clinton administration, the media, and much of the public -- are loving every minute of it.

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