Saturday, December 22, 2012
The NRA Proposal Judged From an Internal Point of View
It's unsurprising that the gun control/response to Newtown debate has not remained terribly focused or productive for very long. This isn't my field, and I've been occupied with other things anyway, so I haven't written on it this week. But I did want to add two observations. Both of them are admittedly consistent with my biases on the issue, but both are also aimed at trying to say something that could and perhaps ought to be said by those who don't share those biases.
The first has to do with the NRA statement to the press yesterday. (More a statement than a "press conference," since the organization imposed a three-day waiting period before answering any questions.) Here is Wayne LaPierre's statement in full. Unsurprisingly, gun-control advocates did not care for the statement. For present purposes I won't take a position on it. But if one takes something like the NRA's point of view, a question worth asking is whether the statement was essentially political theater or whether it had any shred of sincerity to it. Admittedly, I think it was theater. But how might one evaluate it from an internal point of view?
Two factors seem relevant. First, the statement does not amount to saying, putting more armed guards in school is the best we can do, or that it is acceptable legislation, or a reasonable starting point for discussion. It says doing so is utterly, immediately necessary. "[W]e must speak ... for the safety of our nation's children," LaPierre said. "[W]when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. That must change now!" Here was his specific call for action:
I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January.
Before Congress reconvenes, 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.
And he concluded: "This is the time, this is the day for decisive action. We can't wait for the next unspeakable crime to happen before we act. We can't lose precious time debating legislation that won't work. We mustn't allow politics or personal prejudice to divide us. We must act now."
The second factor is this: If that's what the NRA thinks is immediately necessary to resolve a pressing issue of public safety, it has plenty of resources and influence to devote to the task. It spent some $19 million in the last election cycle. Its lobbying power is evident. It is willing to spend to defeat incumbent Republicans as well as Democrats. It devoted ample resources to the primary defeat of Senator Richard Lugar, who enjoyed a one-time A rating from the group and almost has an NRA-worthy last name. And one key aspect of its power is its determination which congressional votes to "score" in coming up with its ratings.
So, in judging the good faith of yesterday's proposal, which again was described not as a compromise or possible idea but as urgent and mandatory, look to three things. First, will it actually expend any resources on it? Yesterday's statement said that former congressman Asa Hutchinson would "lead [our] effort as National Director of the National School Shield Program, with a budget provided by the NRA of whatever scope the task requires." The NRA has the money, and can raise more. How much will it spend? Second, how long will it take for it to get a bill into the hopper? It ought not take terribly long. Third and by far the most important, will the NRA treat any vote on this issue as a scored vote, regardless of any reasons, such as fiscal conservatism, that individual members might have for voting against it? If it can't get a bill on the floor, or doesn't score that vote, then I think it would be quite fair to say it never really gave a damn about what it described as an urgent and necessary proposal.
Again, I appreciate that those who oppose the NRA in general, or found yesterday's statement insufficient or horrifying, already think the proposal was political theater. For present purposes, I'm not interested in that; I'm interested in how those who either support the NRA in general, or think the proposal was a good or at least reasonable idea, and in any event who think the NRA is sincere in its statements, should evaluate the proposal--which, obviously, they should.
It's not all that hard for those who already hate LaPierre to continue hating him. But for those who think highly of him, and/or of the organization, I think it's fair to say this: LaPierre made clear that his proposal, in his view, was urgent, important, and necessary to protect "the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children." If the organization does not actually make a concerted and resource-heavy effort to see legislation proposed, advocated, and scored, then, at that point, I think it would be more than fair for even his supporters to conclude not only that the whole thing was political theater, but that--for professional purposes!--LaPierre does not really care all that much about the safety, well-being, or death of children. His adversaries, of course, already think that, but I'm more interested in how his supporters should judge him.
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