In the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, the National Rifle Association (NRA) missed a golden opportunity. They could have been a voice for gun safety. As a leading gun organization, this is something they should know a lot about. They could have taken a stand that without compromising a single one of their pro-gun ownership values and ideals. Not a single one.
This is what I would have told Wayne LaPierre to say:
“What happened in Connecticut was an unspeakable tragedy and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We cannot imagine what they are going through.
“We do not believe gun control measures would have prevented this terrible act. The weapons used in Newtown were purchased legally by someone who had undergone a thorough background check. We do think a better understanding of gun safety — and that includes gun storage — might have prevented this. Our membership understands guns and gun safety. We plan to hold gun safety workshops in all 50 states and encourage both gun owners and people without guns to attend. We will showcase how guns should be stored and secured.
“Gun safety alone is not enough. Guns were used to commit this dreadful act but they did not cause it. We need to have an open and honest conversation about the role violent movies, television and video games play in our society. We need to reevaluate how we deal with mental health issues and find a way to get the people who need treatment the help they need. We need to make the discussion about gun safety part of a broader conversation about violence and what causes it. Until we do that, we will continue to lose our children and our fellow citizens to the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of 27 innocent people in Connecticut.”
Can you imagine the response a statement like that would have received? How responsible the NRA would have looked? How reasonable? They would have put themselves in a much better position to participate in that conversation and the assault weapons ban they oppose would not have the broad support it has today and lacked immediately following the shooting.
Mr. LaPierre’s NRA went in an entirely different direction. First, he blamed everyone and everything other than guns. Then after blaming violent video games, the NRA released an app where anyone aged four and up can use tiny coffins for target practice. And their coup de grace? A web commercial that looks like it targets President Obama’s daughters. Stay classy, NRA.
Now the argument can be, and probably has been, made that they are just trying to appeal to their base. I am not sure who their base is — gun owners or manufacturers? — because it seems even most of their membership supports universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The NRA will counter that by saying guns sales have skyrocketed and their membership is up. This may be true but it strikes me as sad that the leading guns rights organization has effectively worked its way out of the most substantive conversation this country has had about guns in a very long time.