How the NRA Defeats National Tragedies
First it scares people into thinking the government is coming for their guns. Then it quietly asks the public to pray for the victims of the next rampage.
“Wasn't something like this the last straw in England that caused a near total ban of firearms?” asked a poster named Mosinguy.
“Twitter is blowing up with people bashing the NRA,” wrote Lammchop93. “#GunControlNow is also trending. This just makes me sick that people are blaming the guns.”
“Hold on tight brothers and sisters to your guns and your gods,” wrote hardwarhox. “We will need them to make it thru the year.”
Some gun owners skipped the sentiment and headed to the store. The pattern repeats after every massacre and after every election of a Democratic president—sales of firearms and ammunition surge before the liberals can supposedly engineer their inevitable bans. Anyone who’s been to a gun show since 2008 has seen the rising prices and the religious certitude that President Obama will make a run at the Second Amendment, just like Illinois state Sen. Obama did in the 1990s.
The irony of the Great Ammo Panic: Liberals have failed to restrict sales, even as the interstate and online purchase of ammo has become easier. One of the NRA’s greatest legislative successes, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, let dealers sell ammo without recording vital information about the buyers. That law eventually facilitated the online ammo market, which allows sites like CheaperThanDirt to sell 30-round extended clips for $8.99.
That’s a huge market, one that might come under threat if momentum for new gun-control laws builds. That’s one reason why paranoia about massacres, and their possible legislative responses, has grown with every attack. Shortly after the Newtown story broke, the radio talker and Internet news pioneer Alex Jones warned listeners that it might have been a false flag attack to build anti-gun sentiment. “They could use a drill to bring in a patsy,” he said in a video that was linked to quickly by the Drudge Report.
It would have come off as pure fringe talk, but the NRA itself has started to endorse theories that would-be gun-grabbers are creating crises to bring the public around. That was an argument made by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre again and again in 2011, as Congress investigated the botched “Fast and Furious” scheme that gave illegal guns to Mexican cartels on the hope that the cartels could be tracked. Had the scheme worked, according to LaPierre, “the attorney general and the secretary of state would all be running around going ‘90 percent of the guns come from America’ in an attempt to seek political advantage and in an attempt to enact more gun-control laws on honest American citizens and use this whole issue politically against the Second Amendment of the United States.”
LaPierre’s riff was derided by every liberal with a keyboard. It probably seemed necessary. There’s no easy way for the gun lobby to pre-empt the post-massacre backlash. In slow months, when the massacres have fallen out of the news, they typically roll out a spokesman—LaPierre in particular—to put the onus on the government gun-grabbers. At the 2011 Conservative Political Action conference, about a month after the Giffords shooting, LaPierre shifted the blame for gun crimes onto liberals who “exploited” them:
At Virginia Tech, at Northern Illinois University, at Fort Hood, at a high school, and at a grade school—these were the victims of five deranged killers. And those five mass killers all had the same decisive advantage: “Gun Free Zones” and anti-self-defense laws that protected the safety of no one except the killers and condemned the victims to death without so much as a prayer. Let me say that again. Our own policies gave more protection to the killers than to the innocent.
That was the time to talk about politics.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.