“An End To The NRA’s Angry Swagger”: Republicans Who Voted Against Manchin-Toomey Scrambling For Excuses And Political Cover
When the National Rifle Association gathered in Houston last weekend for its annual confab, the theme was “Stand and Fight.” The rhetoric ranged from truculent (“Let them be damned,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said of the group’s adversaries) to weird (Glenn Beck adopting the mantel of Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King for the gun movement). This is what passed for moderation: The group asked a vendor to stop displaying a target-range dummy (they “bleed when you shoot them” the manufacturer advertises) bearing an unmistakable resemblance to a zombie-fied President Obama; the target was still for sale, mind you, just not on display.
The group welcomed a new president, Alabama attorney James Porter who declared the struggle over guns part of a broader “culture war.” And that was tame for Porter, who has called Barack Obama a “fake” president, Attorney General Eric Holder “rabidly un-American” and the Civil War “the war of Northern aggression,” while proclaiming the need for universal arms training so that citizens can resist “tyranny.” That’s the NRA’s public face months after Sandy Hook.
As recently as 1999 – after Columbine – the NRA deployed the slogan “be reasonable,” while supporting universal background checks. But the group and its allies have dropped “reasonable” from their lexicon, assuming a belligerent, swaggering posture while stopping a bill last month to institute … universal background checks.
It was a big week all around for the weapons movement. The world’s first printable, plastic gun was unveiled, holding the promise of every household potentially becoming its own arms manufacturer (the schematics were downloaded 50,000 times on the first alone day but by week’s end the blueprints had been taken offline by order of the State Department). Meanwhile a self-described “revolution czar” named Adam Kokesh announced he would lead a group of gun activists with loaded rifles on a July 4 march from Virginia into Washington, D.C. (where guns are generally illegal). “This will be a nonviolent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent,” he wrote. It would be the cheapest sort of political intimidation but for the possibility of it being the most costly sort.
Gun fanatics seem to fancy themselves as enjoying the kind of political invulnerability that comes from being in synch with an overwhelming majority of the public. They are way off the mark.
It’s true that since the 1994 elections the NRA has possessed (and cultivated) such a reputation. But that was then. The group dropped more than $11 million in the 2012 elections, yet only 0.83 percent was spent on races where it got its desired outcome, according to the Sunlight Foundation. And while gun safety advocates mounted relatively little resistance in recent years (the NRA spent 73 times more on lobbying in the 112th Congress than the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and more than 3,000 times as much on the 2012 elections, notes Sunlight), a new anti-NRA infrastructure has developed. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, raised $11 million in it first four months of existence, while Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been running television ads against key senators who helped kill the background check bill.
The NRA has also eased its opponents’ task by taking uncompromising positions (the group voted unanimously last weekend to oppose “any and all new restrictions” on gun ownership). Polls show that overwhelming majorities of Americans, and even of NRA members, favor universal background checks. NRA extremism is creating an exploitable common-sense gap. Giffords and her husband, for example, aren’t talking about handgun bans or (as people like LaPierre fantasize) confiscation – they’re gun owners and Second Amendment supporters themselves.
All of which helps explain why some senators who voted against the background-check bill returned this week from their states sounding more conciliatory on the issue. GOP Sens. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jeff Flake of Arizona, for example, have expressed willingness to revisit the bill, while New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte felt compelled to pen an op-ed asserting that she supports some other universal background checks (putting her in favor of checks after she was against them). All of this prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to tell reporters that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the leading sponsors of the bipartisan background-check bill, “thinks he has a couple of more votes.”
And it belies the NRA’s smug bombast. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted this week, if the pro-gun forces were as unassailable as they think they are, then these Republicans would defiantly brandish the Second Amendment and be done with it. Instead they’re scrambling for excuses and political cover. That isn’t to say that universal checks will be enacted this year. The Giffords-Bloomberg forces, for example, must still exact measurable ballot box punishment before the NRA’s fearsome reputation is truly neutralized. It will take time.
But time is on their side: A recent study by the Center for American Progress noted that the percentage of households owning guns has declined steadily for three decades. And a steady drop in gun ownership among young Americans specifically has driven this trend. The most vocal gun control opponents are aging and diminishing, in other words.
Future political scholars may mark this moment as when the NRA started the decline from swagger to stagger.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 10, 2013
The National Rifle Association wrapped up its annual convention over the weekend, and much of the gathering went as expected. The NRA presented its familiar faces (Wayne LaPierre), its familiar villains (President Obama, Michael Bloomberg), it’s friends who are struggling to remain relevant (Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin), and a whole bunch of Republicans who are likely to run for president (Santorum, Perry, Walker, and Jindal).
Of course, it also presented a sadly predictable ugly side. One vendor at the convention, for example, sold “life-sized” torsos made to look like the president, which “bleed when you shoot them.” Asked if the Obama likeness was intentional, the vendor told BuzzFeed, “Let’s just say I gave my Republican father one for Christmas.”
Looking ahead, one of the more notable developments for the organization is the election of James Porter, an Alabama attorney, as the group’s new president. LaPierre may be the public face and CEO of the right-wing group, but David Keene, the former chairman of the American Conservative Union, has served as NRA president.
And Porter will make Keene look moderate by comparison.
As shown by his “culture war” comment Friday and others in his past, Porter’s style is likely to be one that fans the flames of an emotionally combustible debate.
Porter has called President Barack Obama a “fake president,” Attorney General Eric Holder “rabidly un-American” and the U.S. Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression.” On Friday, he repeated his call for training every U.S. citizen in the use of standard military firearms, to allow them to defend themselves against tyranny.
That last point is of particular interest. Our friends at “All In with Chris Hayes” aired a Porter clip on Friday’s show that stood out for me: “Our most greatest [sic] charges that we can have today is to train the civilian in the use of the standard military firearm, so when they have to fight for their country, they are ready do it. Also, when they are ready to fight tyranny, they are ready to do it. Also, when they are ready to fight tyranny, they have the wherewithal and weapons to do it.”
Porter hasn’t specified who, exactly, the tyrants might be, but it sounds as if he wants American civilians to be trained to use military weapons in case they need to commit acts of violence against the United States.
Say hello to the new president of the NRA.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 6, 2013
“Everybody Say’s We’re Great”: Discovering The American Majority With The NRA And Conservative Politicians
I have a piece going up later today over at CNN.com on the NRA convention, but there’s something I raise there that I want to elaborate on. If you look at the list of Republican politicians who spoke to the assembled firearm enthusiasts, it wasn’t exactly the A-team. Last year Mitt Romney showed up, but this year they had failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum, failed presidential candidate Rick Perry, universally disliked freshman senator Ted Cruz, currently unpopular Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and former half-term governor and current punch line Sarah Palin. Every one of them would like to be president one day, but the only one with even the ghost of a chance is Jindal.
And what do they have in common? Some are has-beens, some have reached the pinnacle of their careers even if they don’t know it yet, but what distinguishes them isn’t just that they’re very, very conservative. It’s that—like the NRA itself—they’re obviously convinced that they represent the majority of the American public, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
When you’re faced with apparent public disapproval of your position on something specific or even your broad ideological approach, there are a couple of ways you can address it. The first is to say that the public may not agree with me, but they happen to be wrong. That, after all, is why we have certain protections written into the Constitution, so they are immune to the vagaries of popular sentiment. If we took a vote every time a new question about free speech came up, we would no longer have free speech. I’m sure gun advocates believe that even if most Americans wanted to outlaw private gun ownership, that would still be wrong, which is why it’s a good thing the right to bear arms is in the Constitution. The corollary is that Americans just don’t understand the issue well enough yet, but once they hear a full explanation, most will come over to your side.
The second approach you can take is to say that although it appears that you’re in the minority, that’s only because the public will hasn’t been properly understood. For instance, maybe the polls aren’t measuring opinion correctly. This was what many conservatives believed during the 2012 campaign, claiming that the polls were methodologically flawed and Romney was headed for triumph on election day. Or you can say that the truth isn’t to be found in numbers or systematic analyses, but in measures closer to the ground, like what you feel in your gut, or what people come up and tell you when you’re traveling around.
It’s natural for people to weigh that kind of “evidence” more heavily when they think about where they stand in relation to the public. We all think we’re right, and if you’re engaged in the democratic process in any way, you have to believe that the people are, if not always wise, at least capable of arriving at the right decision given the opportunity. And if you’re a politician or a high-profile advocate, people are constantly coming up to you and telling you you’re doing a great job. Think about it this way: Let’s say you were in an airport and you saw coming toward you Elizabeth Warren and Linsdey Graham, and you were feeling bold, but you only had time to talk to one of them. Would you go tell Warren you think she’s a terrific advocate for the middle class and you hope she runs for president one day, or would you go up to Graham and tell him what you thought about him? Most of us are basically polite, and don’t like initiating confrontations with strangers if it isn’t necessary. So the politician thinks, “Everybody says I’m great!” because most of the spontaneous expressions of opinion they hear are positive ones.
If you’re someone like Wayne LaPierre, this is even more exaggerated, because you spend your time going from gun convention to gun show to gun club to gun barbeque, meeting a seemingly endless number of gun people. So how do you understand the fact that you just defeated a bill that every poll showed was supported by around 90 percent of Americans? You convince yourself that that 90 percent stuff is all just a bunch of baloney. First, your enemies aren’t part of America at all. “The media and political elites,” Wayne Lapierre said in his speech to the convention, “don’t get it because they don’t get America.” And if you want to know what Americans think, don’t bother with polls: “Everywhere I go,” LaPierre said, “I’ve learned that the NRA is truly at the heart of America’s heartland. That we are in the middle of the river of America’s mainstream. That what we want is exactly what most Americans want.”
The truth is that the NRA is a lot of things, but “the middle of the river of America’s mainstream” isn’t one of them. But from where he sits, that sounds perfectly accurate, in the same way that from where Sarah Palin sits, her brand of conservatism seems to have the support of most Americans, and if she ran for president she’d win. After all, everybody she talks to tells her she’s great.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 6, 2013
“The Way Forward On Guns”: It Often Takes Defeat To Inspire A Movement To Build The Strength Required For Victory
Victories often contain the seeds of future defeats. So it is — or at least should be — with the Senate’s morally reprehensible rejection of expanded background checks for gun buyers.
The outcome is a test of both an invigorated gun safety movement and a gun lobby that decided to go for broke.
The National Rifle Association assumed that blocking new gun legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre would firmly establish its dominance. Advocates of sane gun regulations would scatter in despair and be torn apart by recriminations.
But there is a flaw in the gun lobbyists’ calculation: Their strategy leaves the initiative entirely in the hands of their opponents. The early evidence is that rage over the cowardly capitulation of so many senators to raw political power is pushing activists against gun violence to redouble their efforts.
What was striking about Wednesday’s vote is that many of the senators who had expressed support for universal background checks after the slaughter at Newtown meekly abandoned their position when the roll was called.
Proponents of the measure, including Mark Kelly, the husband of former representative Gabrielle Giffords, spoke of private meetings in which senators offered no substantive objections to the compromise negotiated by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa). The wobbling legislators simply hinted that politics would not permit them to vote “yes.”
Giffords, the victim of the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions to battle on behalf of gun reforms. She responded to the Senate vote with an op-ed in the New York Times that declared plainly: “I’m furious.” Senators, she said, “looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.”
Giffords’s frustration echoed sentiment all across her side of the debate. In the past, Democrats who support gun safety had reacted benignly to members of their party from rural states who opposed sensible gun measures for expediency’s sake. Not this time. The response to Democrats who opposed background checks — Sens. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Heidi Heitkamp and Mark Pryor — was indignation.
Begich invited scorn by insulting those who insisted that the Newtown massacre ought to be the last straw.
“It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment,” he said. “Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.” Describing the reaction to the death of so many children as “emotional” rather than rational should be electorally disqualifying.
But the vote also demonstrated for all to see a Republican Party walking in lock step behind its commanders in the gun lobby. Only four Republicans bravely defied the NRA’s fanatical opposition to a very mild measure: Toomey and Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain and Susan Collins.
This should send a message to all who keep looking for new signs of Republican moderation.
Republicans who cultivate a reputation for reasonableness — their ranks include, among others, Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Kelly Ayotte, Saxby Chambliss, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman — could not even vote for a watered-down proposal. This tells us that the GOP has become a coalition of the fearful. In a pinch, the party’s extreme lobbies rule.
This vote also made clear that the right wing is manipulating our system, notably by abusing the filibuster, to impose a political minority’s will on the American majority. Since when is 90 percent of the nation not “the Real America”?
Not only do Americans overwhelmingly endorse background checks; senators representing the vast majority of our people do, too. The “yes” votes Wednesday came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. How can our democracy thrive when a willful minority can keep dictating to the rest of the country?
But the next steps are up to the supporters of gun sanity. They can keep organizing to build on the unprecedented effort that went into this fight — or they can give up. They can challenge the senators who voted “no,” or they can leave them believing that the “safe” vote is always with the NRA. They can bolster senators who cast particularly courageous “yes” votes — among them, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan — or they can leave them hanging.
The story of reform in America is that it often takes defeats to inspire a movement to build up the strength required for victory. Which way this story goes is up to us.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 21, 2013
You might have thought that the mangled bodies of 20 dead children would have been enough to overcome the crazed obsessions of the gun lobby.
You might have believed that the courage and exhortations of a former congresswoman — her career cut short and her life forever changed by a would-be assassin’s bullet — would have pushed Congress to do the right thing.
You might have reasoned that polls showing overwhelming public support for a sensible gun control measure would have persuaded politicians to take a modest step toward preventing more massacres.
You would have been wrong. Last week, the U.S. Senate sent a stark message to the citizens it is elected to represent: We couldn’t care less about what you want.
Fifteen years of highly publicized mass murders carried out by madmen with firearms — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Aurora, to name just a few — have changed nothing. Newtown, where 26 people, including 20 young children, were mowed down by a man armed with an assault-type weapon and high-capacity magazines for his ammo, provoked little more than a ripple in the corridors of Washington, where the National Rifle Association and its like-minded lobbies carried the day.
The grip that the gun lobby maintains on Congress is hard to explain. The National Rifle Association has persuaded spineless politicians that it is an omnipotent election god, able to strike down those who don’t cower before it. That’s simply not true, but even if it were, aren’t some principles worth losing elections over?
The proposal that appeared to have the best chance of passage last week was modest enough. It would simply have expanded criminal background checks to include guns sold at gun shows and via the Internet, a step supported by 90 percent of Americans, according to polls.
As its proponents conceded, it would not have stopped the Newtown atrocity. Adam Lanza took his mother’s legally purchased weapons to kill her, to carry out a massacre and to then commit suicide.
But expanded background checks would certainly save other lives, since violent husbands and other criminals have been able to saunter through huge holes in the system to purchase guns. Speaking with justifiable anger after the background-check measure went down to defeat, President Obama noted, “… if action by Congress could have saved one person, one child, a few hundred, a few thousand … we had an obligation to try.”
In an exhaustive report last week about online purchases of firearms, The New York Times showed clearly why expanded background checks are needed. As the newspaper noted, websites for firearms function as “unregulated bazaars” where sellers offer prospective buyers the following assurance: “no questions asked.” Reporters found persons with criminal records buying and selling guns.
It is infuriating that the gun lobby defeated a proposal to rein in that dangerous commerce. And, as usual, it defended its opposition with a lie: The amendment would have led to a national registry of guns, just a slippery slope away from confiscation.
While many discussions of the gun lobby’s fanaticism include a nod to the country’s frontier origins, it’s a mistake to believe this craziness is rooted in history. The lunacy from Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, has a more recent provenance.
When I was a child in Alabama — the daughter and niece of hunting enthusiasts — gun owners didn’t demand the right to take their weapons into church or bars or onto college campuses.
But as hunting has become less popular and as the number of households owning guns has declined, the ranks of gun owners have become over-represented by conspiracy theorists and assorted crazies and kooks. They can be easily persuaded that the government is on a mission to confiscate their firearms.
There is little doubt that paranoia is amplified by the presence of a black president, who represents the deepest fears of right-wing survivalist types. So it was probably naive to expect that he could drum up support for more reasonable gun safety measures.
But if 20 dead children can’t persuade Congress to tighten gun laws, what will?
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, April 20, 2013