Column: Now they’re playing the race card to avoid talking about gun control. How low will the NRA go?
You know the National Rifle Assn. is losing when it tries to blame the media for the country’s shameful epidemic of mass murder.
Thursday, one day after she dodged a pointed question at a CNN town hall in Florida about whether 18-year-olds armed with assault rifles are part of the 2nd Amendment’s reference to a “well-regulated militia,” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch found herself in much friendlier territory, the annual meeting of conservatives known as CPAC.
There, she knew she’d be safe launching an attack on the messengers.
With a fake smile that was eerily similar to one worn by Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s wife, Kayla, when she snippily informed journalists that “one of our attorneys is a Jew,” Loesch unloaded on the Fourth Estate:
“I will say it really slowly so all the people on the platform in the back can hear me loud and clear,” said Loesch, as she gave a little wave to journalists in the back of the room. “Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it.”
And then, because there is no end to the NRA’s craven disregard for the human heart, she trotted out the race card: “Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you,” she told the journalists. “And notice I said ‘crying white mothers’ because there are thousands of grieving black mothers in Chicago every weekend and you don’t see town halls for them, do you?”
Dear God, I can think of so many grieving black, Latino and Asian mothers whose tear-streaked faces have been featured by the news media after violent attacks on their children. I bet you can too.
Loesch is either suffering from a pathetic misunderstanding of the job entrusted to the free press by the founders of our country, or simply shilling for an organization that is paying her a pretty penny to do its dirty work. (Indeed, she used her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference to flog a new daily show on NRATV, which she will host.)
To paraphrase the now-famous words of Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School student Emma Gonzalez, I call BS on you, Ms. Loesch.
Stoking paranoia is the business model of the NRA.
Even the most modest proposal to keep guns out of the wrong hands, or to limit the killing power of weapons, is met with incendiary rhetoric and specious argument.
The NRA has opposed limiting the size of gun magazines. It has fought against raising the age to buy assault weapons — something that even Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he supported at the Wednesday town hall.
The NRA has steadfastly refused to entertain the idea that easy access to assault weapons like the AR-15 is even a small part of the problem, let alone the leading cause of so much schoolhouse slaughter.
In 2013, after 20 first-graders and six teachers were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre suggested that every school in America have an armed guard to protect its children.
At CPAC, he launched an attack on “socialists” like Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi. “You should be anxious and you should be frightened,” he said of the prospect of Democrats winning upcoming elections. “Their goal is to eliminate the 2nd Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”
He added, “If they seize power, our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever.”
Please note his choice of words: “seize power.” LaPierre invokes the language of violent political overthrow to describe democratic elections, and the peaceful transition of power from one party to another in America.
Who exactly supports the NRA?
Several times over the last two days, Loesch has invoked the organization’s “5 million members,” but it’s impossible to know whether the number is correct. Many gun control advocates believe it is inflated.
Gun makers have offered free memberships to people who buy their weapons. Some gun shows offer a “join the NRA, get in free” deal.
Researchers have discovered that many of those alleged 5 million are enjoying their membership from the great beyond, as the NRA does not purge its roles when members die.
Nor is it possible to ever really quit the NRA. My ex-husband, a gun collector with a conscience who canceled his lifetime NRA membership after becoming disgusted with its opposition to common-sense gun control measures, never stopped receiving NRA mail.
The NRA is like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
And who, exactly, funds it? A 2013 report by the Violence Policy Center called “Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA” found that three-quarters of its corporate contributions come from gun manufacturers and related businesses.
But most of the money that flows to its political arm, which then flows to the members of Congress who toe the NRA line, comes from individual donors, according to a CNN Money investigation. Keeping gun owners in a state of paranoia about the government coming for their weapons is a tried and true NRA strategy.
The NRA has certainly purchased the support of politicians — in 2016, its lobbying arm spent more than any other political nonprofit, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — but it has not been able to stop the momentum of public opinion, which has moved strongly toward gun control measures in the last several years.
A Quinnipiac University poll published Tuesday found the highest level of support ever measured for stricter gun laws: 66% to 31%. Support for universal background checks “is itself almost universal,” at 97% in favor, according to the poll. Two-thirds of American voters support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, and more than 80% support a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases.
Also, in a stunning rebuke to the NRA’s bankrupt trope — “All it takes to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” — 59% of American voters believe the country would be less safe if more people carried guns.
“If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again,” said Tim Malloy, the poll’s assistant director. “Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than two years.” (The biggest surges for tightening gun laws, he added, come from groups that you wouldn’t expect: “independent voters, men and whites with no college degrees.”)
Finally, we may have reached the longed-for inflection point in the debate over guns. Don’t expect the gun lobby to give an inch.
Now that it’s backed into a corner with a spineless Republican Congress in its pocket, expect more NRA-driven attacks on the news media, socialists and anyone else who dares to assert the most obvious thing in the world: The only way to stop mass shootings is to limit access to guns.