The National Rifle Association blamed everyone but itself for gun violence Friday during a news conference to announce its proposed solution to protect schoolchildren: more guns and armed police officers in schools.
The lobbying group had an opportunity to use its influence to make a positive difference, but instead Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre condemned the president, the media, videogames, hurricanes, violent music videos and movies, gun-free school zones, the mentally ill, criminal prosecutors and limited budgets. He pointed everywhere but to his organization’s work as explanations for the horrific shooting deaths of 20 children and six school staff in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
LaPierre played on people’s fears and offered no area for common ground — or even ways to reflect the wishes of the NRA’s own members, many of whom support gun-sales restrictions. The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a report in December 2009, for example, where it polled both NRA and non-NRA members. It found that a majority of both groups supported requiring all gun sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks of people purchasing guns.
If the gun lobby is serious about finding ways to “protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works,” as LaPierre said Friday, it should begin, at the very least, by being honest about its complicity. Its inability to do so, especially at a time of national mourning, hurts its credibility and gives it no strength at the bargaining table.
The NRA has fought for the legalization and popular use of weapons that have one sole purpose: to kill people. It pushed for restrictions to prevent cities, states and even the police from fully accessing data collected by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about types of guns used to commit crimes. It fought for a controversial law passed by Congress seven years ago to shield gun manufacturers — not other companies that make potentially lethal products — from lawsuits seeking to hold them liable for crimes committed with firearms they sold.
And it has benefited enormously from gun manufacturers. The Violence Policy Center, a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury, found last year that, since 2005, the NRA received between $14.7 million and $38.9 million from the firearms industry.
LaPierre said, “We mustn’t allow politics or personal prejudice to divide us.” But his speech was an act of division itself. It was a wholly dishonest assessment of the scope of the weapons-related problems in this country and an insult to the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Coming up with realistic, effective ways to prevent some of the 11,000 gun-related homicides each year is an emotional, complicated issue. LaPierre’s speech tried to undermine any potentially good work being done to address the real problem of lethality. If the NRA were serious about reducing the many deaths caused by guns each year, it would not make a show out of a tragedy.