Lifelong members of the NRA might remember a time when the organization’s leadership stood for common sense reforms. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, the NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, proclaimed "We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory, instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show, no loopholes anywhere, for anyone." At the NRA annual meeting that same year, LaPierre said "We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools." NRA members in the audience applauded him.
But apparently over the past several years, America has become too dangerous of a place for common sense. LaPierre seems to believe that the United States faces unparalleled threats, unknown to other countries, requiring every American to be armed. As a reminder of this, LaPierre outlined a list of uniquely American menaces last week, including "Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs." Had he only written the piece a few days later, he could have added Russian meteorites to his list.
His litany of assaults on liberty and security left out a few major items: Lobbyists with deep pockets. Misinformation campaigns. Weapons that can fire off 30 rounds in seconds. Politicians who put special interests ahead of public safety. Good ol' Hurricane Wayne.
To his credit, LaPierre is right about a lot of these dangers. Terrorists are a threat to national security. This is why it’s troubling that when measures were proposed to block individuals on the terrorist watch list from buying guns and explosives, representatives on two separate committees voted the proposal down. A majority of those voting "nay" had "A" grades from the NRA. Surely, LaPierre must be working the phones and using his organization’s influence to convince those representatives to change their vote, or risk losing their NRA support.
He must also be uneasy that Al-Qaeda spokesperson Adam Gadahn issued a video in 2011 telling followers that if you want to arm up for a lone wolf attack, it’s easy to do so in America. All you have to do is walk into a gun show in one of 30 or so states and buy as many guns as you want with no background checks and no questions asked. Oh, and by the way, the same applies to the gang members LaPierre says we should fear. Who cares if you have a criminal history that might show up in a background check — just load up at a gun show, where spending a few minutes to do a background check is too burdensome.
The problem is that while LaPierre works to elevate these and other fears behind a podium, he’s working behind the scenes to water down policies that will keep Americans safe. In pursuit of this, he’s backtracking on his previous positions. While the Wayne LaPierre of 1999 thought there should be a background check on all gun sales, the Wayne LaPierre of 2013 disagrees not just with his earlier stance but with the 74% of NRA members who support background checks. While the Wayne LaPierre of 1999 thought guns had no place in schools, today’s Wayne LaPierre thinks the only solution now is guns in every school, kindergarten through college.
In LaPierre’s view, we live in a dangerous country where there are simply too many threats — from mankind and Mother Nature — and the only mechanism of defense is more guns. Wayne LaPierre has clearly made a decision that fear pushes more inventory than common sense, and is now peddling potential threats to inspire alarm instead of smart policies that will make the public safer.
When faced with danger, humans have two choices: fight or flight. Wayne LaPierre has made it clear that he's not retreating, and that he's prepared to "stand and fight." Let's hope that policy makers and citizens supporting sensible public safety measures to stem gun violence will do the same.