With the recent conversation about gun control sparked by the events in Newtown, it’s important to take a look at the role the NRA plays in the public dialog. The NRA could and should be part of the national conversation on gun violence, but its most recent ad campaign (embedded below) seems, at best, heavy handed and tone deaf. It makes me angry because I grew up with guns, I’m not afraid of them. They’re a fun hobby and part of my heritage. To my pioneer ancestors, they were a critical tool for survival — something I have to explain to Europeans or Americans with a different family history. I’ve considered owning one as an adult, but firearms don’t fit my current lifestyle. When it comes to gun ownership and the Second Amendment I probably land somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. I suspect a lot of Americans do. It would be nice if we could have a nuanced conversation about firearms and violence in this country. Many non-gun-owning Americans have no exposure to firearms and need better information about them and that’s a role that the NRA could play if it wasn’t so busy alienating people. By belligerantly bringing the President’s young daughters into the fray, the largest representative of American gun owners closes the door on meaningful conversation.
I’m not sure the NRA wants to have a “national conversation” about violence anyway. Judging from Wayne LaPierre’s earlier press conference, they are more interested in blaming everything under the sun (video games, crazy people, “evil”) except our relatively (relative to other democracies, that is) unfettered access to firearms. Heck, these self-appointed defenders of the constitution are totally cool sacrificing the first amendment by scapegoating the entertainment industry, but how dare we question their interpretation of the second amendment?
The NRA is, however, making good use of its First Amendment rights with the release of the new ad campaign designed to gain support for its proposal to place armed security in every school. On first viewing, the ad seems to be questioning the Obama girls’ right to Secret Service protection. However, NRA president David Keene told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the intent of the ad was not to question the Obama family’s Secret Service detail, but rather to point out that the school attended by Sasha and Malia has armed guards on staff. He says that the children of ‘elites’ get armed security at school, so why can’t all children have that? Blitzer suggested that the NRA could have made that point without specifically focusing on the Obama kids.
While I agree with Blitzer, I think he missed something here. Mr. Keene has been rubbing shoulders with the “elites” for the last 40 years himself. That may have made him oblivious to the fact that a lot of non-elite children — many of them downright poor — do have armed guards at school. Some of them even have to walk through metal detectors. It’s certainly not a new concept. Not to mention the fact that there was an armed sheriff’s deputy at Columbine, a Virginia Tech police force (with a SWAT team) and usually an armed deputy at Taft Union High School where a student recently wounded a classmate with a 12 gauge shotgun after sneaking in through a back door. Is armed security really a deterrent to a desperate, suicidal young person? If they have access to anything more sophisticated than a shotgun, how easy would it be to stop them?
Conservatives love it when we make decisions at the local level and I see no reason why this should be an exception. Many communities will take the NRA’s suggestion and increase security at schools. Many have been doing it for years. Other communities may not want to go that route. This latest attack ad smells desperate to me. Gun control advocates are striking while the iron (and political will) is hot. Since the NRA leadership is completely unwilling to compromise on anything beyond limiting gun rights for the mentally ill, they must change the conversation. Unfortunately, the result is a tasteless and inflammatory ad that probably won’t win them any converts or contribute much to the conversation. But, hey, if it brings in donations and changes the subject – who cares, right?