The NRA Won, and Conservatives Aren’t Sure What to Do With It Next

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 28 2014 1:17 PM

The NRA Won, and Conservatives Aren’t Sure What to Do With It Next

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The new face of the NRA?

Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

The National Rifle Association has utterly defeated the "gun safety" movement, throttling it at the only moment in a decade when it seemed to have won back the public. It has gotten expanded gun-rights laws through Republican legislatures with the ease of LeBron James sinking a three-pointer. So as Charles Cooke reports, in a dispatch from the annual NRA conference, the organization has returned to its long status quo of psyching up members by embracing more of the GOP's culture war issues.

Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, warned that “the Bill of Rights doesn’t come à la carte,” and then spent the lion’s share of time talking about the First Amendment. Senator Marco Rubio set the right to bear arms at the center of the American dream, positing that “the Second Amendment is about so much more than the right to bear arms — it is about preserving our God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Bobby Jindal hit a similar note, saying all the right things about guns but hitting his stride when slamming the nanny state. (Michael Bloomberg and his ilk, Jindal explained, want to “pick your soft drink, your snack food, your vices, your home-security system, your health insurance, your electricity source, and your children’s school.”) Likewise Rick Santorum, who spoke only briefly about his wife’s enthusiasm for firearms and then moved swiftly on to other things.

This can be seen in the new ad campaign debuted at the conference, in which we learn that the NRA supports "good guys" and its critics probably don't—a nice reformulation of Wayne LaPierre's "a good guy with a gun" zinger.

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But expanding the NRA's interests from gun rights to all culture presents some risks. The most interesting day-two story from the confab has been the intellectual conservative rejection of Sarah Palin's speech. Palin, a reality TV star and former Republican vice presidential candidate, continued her unbroken run of News Stories Generated by Outrageous Quotes by rambling on about the Obama administration's anti-terror approach. She was agin' it.

Over at the American Conservative, Rod Dreher was horrified. "Not only is this woman, putatively a Christian, praising torture, but she is comparing it to a holy sacrament of the Christian faith," he wrote. "It’s disgusting — but even more disgusting, those NRA members, many of whom are no doubt Christians, cheered wildly for her." Joe Carter, a former adviser to Mike Huckabee, went further:

The truly Christian position is to never forget that evil comes not just from the actions of "terrorists" or "enemies" but from the heart of a fallen, sacred yet degraded, human beings. If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind. Like us, our enemies need to accept Jesus and to be baptized by water and the Spirit. That is the Christian way, not as Palin would have it, to have our enemies fear a pagan god and have their spirit broken by water.

And yet in the room, after being told that the Good Guys shall inherit the Earth, NRA members thought what Palin had to say was pretty much awesome. The NRA isn't the first organization that's come off of war footing with a lot of enthusiasm and nowhere to put it.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.