Wayne LaPierre Claims Having Principles in Gun Debate is a Bad Thing

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre fired back at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address Tuesday, decrying the President’s call to elevate principle above absolutism and politics above spectacle. 

“For now, time is upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics or treat name calling as reasoned debate,” the President said in his speech.

While Obama made virtually no references to gun control in his speech, this was apparently extremely unendearing to LaPierre, who (probably semi-correctly) interpreted the statement as a direct attack on the NRA’s position in the gun control debate.

“Obama wants to turn the idea of absolutism into a dirty word, just another word for extremism. He wants you, all of you, and Americans throughout all of this country, to accept the idea of principles as he sees fit. When absolutes are abandoned for principles, the U.S. constitution becomes a blank slate for anyone's graffiti,” LaPierre shot back in a 12-minute speech to the Weatherby Foundation International Hunting and Conversation Awards in Reno, Nevada.

As MSNBC’s Alex Wagner puts it simply, the NRA stance has somehow transitioned to “absolutism, good. Principles, bad.”

The White House’s proposals following December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings include requiring all individuals wishing to purchase a firearm submit to a mandatory background check to screen out criminals and the mentally ill, as well as increased coordination between federal agencies, training schools to respond to shootings, more police officers in schools, and enforcing federal laws against the illegal gun trade more stringently.

In short, many of the policies being suggested are either extensions of current federal law or enforcing regulations that were originally proposed by the NRA.

Though President Obama supports an assault weapons ban, the White House appears to have backed at least somewhat off the idea after congressional Democrats made clear the plan to renew a stronger version of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban was unlikely to success in the Republican-controlled House.

Nevertheless, LaPierre pressed his point – disingenuously.

“There are only two reasons for that federal list of gun owners: to tax them or take them,” he told the crowd.

But the president hasn’t suggested a national gun registry – just an enhanced background check system, something LaPierre seemed to support just weeks ago when he said the nation had a responsibility to keep the mentally ill and criminals away from guns. Senator Diane Feinstein has proposed that registry, but again, it is not on the list of proposals toted by the White House.

LaPierre remains devoted to universal firearms access. “We believe in our right to defend ourselves and our families with semi-automatic firearms technology,” he said at the Reno event.

“I’ve got news for the president,” the NRA spokesman continued. “Absolutes do exist. Words do have specific meaning in language and in law. It’s the basis of all civilization. Without those absolutes, without those protections, democracy decays into nothing more than two wolves and one lamb voting on, well, who to eat for lunch.”

LaPierre’s rhetoric may play well with the pro-gun crowd, but as the NRA veers off farther to the right, it may be playing a risky game. LaPierre’s dog-eat-dog view of the world seems a little disconnected from the reality of life of the average American, and one wonders how well the attack on “principles” will be interpreted by voters or the media. 

And it wouldn’t be out of line to ponder whether absolutism to the point of demanding universal freedom of all firearms, or absolutism without principle, is distinguishable from extremism.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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