The NRA didn’t persuade its critics. But it did trick the media into discussing its popular, gun-industry-friendly master plan.
LaPierre tried at first to talk over the interruption. He gave up, sinking his head again, as the security guards slowly dragged away the distraction. When the protester was out of the room, LaPierre picked up his script: “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters.” The protest had only delayed a weird riff on pop culture, one that could have been frozen in Lucite from 2000, the last time LaPierre was on the defensive.
“There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people,” he said. It did this through games “with names like Bullet Storm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and Splatterhouse.” The first game was from 2011, but the rest were from 1997, 1995, and 1988—and the last two didn’t even give their characters any guns. LaPierre queued up a crude first-person shooter on the TV screens behind him. “Here’s one, it’s called ‘Kindergarten Killers.’ It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it, and all of yours couldn’t?” Hadn’t he just said that the NRA was holding off on comments until it knew Adam Lanza’s story? Where’d this video game stuff come from?
It was a swipe at the media. LaPierre, when he’s more on his game, is good at that sort of thing. But as projection goes, it’s awfully lazy. LaPierre insisted that media’s “corporate owners and their stockholders” benefit from violent sleaze, then proposed a massacre-prevention plan that would ramp up sales for the industry that funds the NRA. “Before Congress reconvenes,” he said, “before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation, or anything else, as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work and by that I mean armed security.” This security could be drawn from the ranks of “active, retired police, active, Reserve, and retired military, security professionals, certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel, an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens.”
The idea was equal parts silly and brilliant. LaPierre’s hardest-fought media battles came in 1999 and 2000, in the aftermath of the massacre at Columbine High School. That school was guarded by armed sheriff’s deputies, who were unable to stop the massacre. But LaPierre had to have seen this week’s Gallup poll, which asked Americans for their views on a few massacre-prevention ideas. Sixty-three percent of Americans were open to a new assault weapons ban. But 64 percent wanted “at least one person” at every school to be armed, and 87 percent were open to more “police presence” at schools. As buffoonish as he looked and sounded, LaPierre was getting a captive media to talk about a popular, unexplored, gun industry-friendly master plan. He’ll get to say it again this Sunday on Meet the Press.
LaPierre’s comments were online in full before the event had ended. He introduced former DEA Director Asa Hutchison as the man who’d lead the “National Model School Shield Program,” with a budget provided by the NRA, before this eventual guns-in-schools plan could be paid for by the feds. Then he vanished behind a velvet curtain, acknowledging shouted questions with a wave and a “Thank you very much!” The NRA couldn’t be silent anymore, but it could sure try to control the press.
“This is the beginning of a serious conversation,” said Keene. “We won’t be taking questions today.”
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.