While bucking one of the administration's few proposals on firearms that Republicans might actually accept, the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre offered absolutely no new ideas — indeed, old ideas — during a speech that reveals the backwards thinking behind the gun lobby's future.
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In a speech late Tuesday at a Nevada hunting conference, LaPierre attacked President Obama for a very subtle reference to gun control in his second inaugural address. In fact, Obama's reference was so subtle that many gun-control advocates missed it — "I was, personally, upset that Mr. Obama did not discuss gun control," The New York Times' Andrew Rosenthal wrote — but LaPierre said that when Obama said, "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle," he was referring to gun advocates. Absolutism is okay when we're talking about the Second Amendment, LaPierre said. "Obama wants to turn the idea of absolutism into a dirty word," he said. The NRA executive vice president continued:
"I’ve got news for the president... 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."
You know what that sounds a lot like? Barry Goldwater, who famously said in his 1964 presidential nomination acceptance speech, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" Even though the NRA promised "meaningful contributions" after the Newtown shooting, all of its contributions are recycled slogans.
The most quoted line from LaPierre's first press conference after the shooting — "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" — is so old that it had inspired Facebook memes long before the event. (Here's LaPierre saying it to USA Today in July 2010. Here's a gun-rights advocate in South Dakota saying it in January 2008. Here's LaPierre saying it in another article in USA Today — this one from December 20, 2007 — after the Virginia Tech shooting. "It has occurred to me that sitting next to a good guy with a gun is better than sitting next to abad guy with a gun," Don Galloway wrote in The New Hampshire Union Leader on July 30, 2004.) Likewise, the NRA ad calling Obama a hypocrite for having Secret Service protection for his daughters but being "skeptical" of putting armed guards in elementary schools is another tired meme recycled on Facebook pages.
We should congratulate the NRA for recycling Barry Goldwater instead of its own talking points on Tuesday. Too bad the group doesn't really believe it. The NRA is in no way truly absolutist on the Bill of Rights; LaPierre called for a check on violence in video games — which would put limits on the First Amendment. The NRA is on Team Wolf in that scenario.
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LaPierre's speech served as an attack on the idea of universal background checks for gun purchases, one of the very few legislative ideas proposed by Obama that might have Republican support. Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said on C-SPAN, "[I]n terms of background checks, in terms of keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and people who have serious mental health difficulties, we want to do that, and we would take a close look at that." About 40 percent of guns are currently sold without background checks. Republican support for changing that might be why the NRA has moved beyond quoting Facebook memes and onto cribbing from conservative classics.