Political Animal


December 21, 2012 2:38 PM The NRA and America’s Long History of Absolutist Extremism

By Ryan Cooper

Watching Wayne LaPierre’s press conference today (transcript here) I found myself searching for various synonyms of “insane” to describe it. Unglued, unhinged, taken leave of his senses, etc. It reads like the nutty handwritten letters to the editor magazines get, complete with lots of italicizations and exclamation points.

But the truth is this is not true madness. It’s something as old as the country, which bears some eerie similarity to the extremism of the slavery movement, as a lovely piece Ta-Nehisi Coates put up today argued. Here’s a taste:

In the 1850s, slaveholders got their way in Congress (including a hardened Fugitive Slave Act), in the Supreme Court (the Dred Scott decision), and in the White House (occupied by a succession of doughfaces). But proslavery hardliners weren’t satisfied. They sought the resumption of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which the Constitution had banned as of 1808. They branded moderates like Abraham Lincoln—who pledged to leave slavery alone in the South—as members of a “Black Republican” conspiracy to overthrow slavery. And they banished former allies such as Stephen Douglas, who lost his A-Rating for straying from the ultra-orthodox line that there must not be any restriction on slavery.
Rather than accede to Douglas’s nomination as Democratic candidate in the 1860 presidential election, which he might well have won, Southerners split the party and nominated one of their own, dividing the Democratic vote and paving Lincoln’s path to the White House. At which point, the Fire-Eaters led Southern states out of the Union rather than accept a democratically-elected president they opposed.
The NRA shows signs of similar derangement and over-reach. During the election, it demonized a president who had done nothing on gun control, claiming a “massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.” It has alienated staunch allies like Democrat John Dingell who resisted the NRA’s mad-dog campaign to hold Eric Holder in contempt over “Fast and Furious.” Other supporters who have deviated an inch from the NRA line have been targeted for electoral defeat.

This could be a positive development in the medium term, I suspect. The NRA still has a lot of clout, and they’re not clinically insane, but they’ve clearly lost the ability to know what they sound like to non-gun nuts, or a view of sensible tactics. That kind of overreach is the mark of a weak organization—one particularly vulnerable to being baited by the other side into overreach. I predict much trolling of the NRA in the coming weeks.

For more, see Paul Waldman, Kevin Drum, and Ryan Frazier.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • jhand on December 21, 2012 5:52 PM:

    There are supposedly thirty one Senators who are on the NRA payroll, none of whom would show up to discuss the Newtown massacre last Sunday. I hope that someone in the press goes down the list and asks each one whether or not they approve of LaPierre's statements. Using the Hannity method: " Do you or do you not support LaPierre's statements, Senator?" (And I hope you are recovering from your bout with laryngitis, Senator Hutchinson.)

  • boatboy_srq on December 21, 2012 7:48 PM:

    Isn’t the NRA one of the outfits whinging about the “entitlement society” and all those undeserving louts collecting SocSec, Medicare, food stamps and (gasp) unemployment – at government expense? Isn’t it one of the outfits perpetually upset with Big Gubmint spending and interference in society? And yet, the very first thing they can suggest in this case, is hiring more cops to put in schools – because more cops with more guns is somehow going to make everyone safer (Hello?! Rodney King. Ennis Cosby. Rampart. ‘Nuff said.). And no mention whatsoever about what a huge public sector expansion this would be, or how much municipalities and states will be on the hook for the additional payroll, or how many PDs have shrunk (some drastically) over the last several years because their jurisdictions can’t pay for all those officers anymore (officers, BTW, that in at least some cases would have been redeployable to those very same schools had their departments had the funds to retain them).

    One almost gets the idea that this is, rather than a transparent ploy to redirect attention away from the guns, a shameless plug for all the private “security” companies who are in the best possible position to ramp up and provide all the additional security personnel. Because (as in the case with FL highway rest areas) nothing makes you feel safer than a septuagenarian old coot with a tin badge and a gun, and because Blackwater/Xe/whatever-they-call-themselves-today needs an(other) image makeover, and being the armed protectors of Teh Kiddies will do as well as any other.

  • N.Wells on December 21, 2012 8:40 PM:

    A substantial number of people clearly live in fear of governmental tyranny, and wish to be heavily armed. I don’t consider that rational, but the historical context of the Second Amendment ("A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”) seems intended to stop the government from interfering with the right of people to equip themselves with military-grade weapons in order to protect the country against invasion or tyranny. Therefore, I don't think the Second Amendment permits needed levels of gun control, and has outlived its usefulness.

    I think it is time to repeal the Second Amendment and replace it with a new amendment that allows people to keep guns for hunting and target shooting and for defense within their homes, but which allows significant controls over “wage your own massacre” weaponry and ammunition that is primarily designed for use against people. Since the NRA is insistent about making society suffer all the problems that come with ubiquitous weaponry (armored and redesigned “fortress” schools, armed guards at schools, more heavily armed and armored police, the social costs of scaring people into buying even more weapons, and medical costs), to pay for all this it seems appropriate to levy punitive taxes and annual licensing fees on massacre weaponry and ammunition designed to maximize injury (hollow-point, armor-piercing, and the like).

    We could exempt weapons registered to the military and to police forces, and weapons not capable of firing more than three or four bullets without reloading, but everything else should subject owners to meaningful background checks and required training, get owners put on a registry, cost owners a few hundred dollars a year in license fees per weapon, and leave the owner subject to having his guns impounded (even if only temporarily) following incidents of violence, threatening behavior, evidence of mental imbalance, and the like. Licensing to carry the weapon among the general public should cost even more. In other words, owning and operating a gun should become a lot more like owning and operating a vehicle (with distinctions that mirror operating commercial trucks vs private cars on public roadways and versus operating a tractor on your own farm).

  • exlibra on December 21, 2012 10:50 PM:

    Well, what do you know? There *was* an armed guard at Columbine, just like Wayne LeMerde suggests should be standard for all schools...


    So, demands Craptcha: "account tedhyt"

  • Daniel Kim on December 22, 2012 10:00 AM:

    "The NRA still has a lot of clout, and they’re not clinically insane, . . ."

    Um, I beg to differ.

  • James M on December 22, 2012 10:10 AM:

    3 things:

    1. Self Correction: Nations, companies and other organizations all fail when they lose the ability to self-correct. I truly hope our irrational approach to guns isn't a sign of that.

    2. The Logical Approach. If America wasn't in thrall to gun mythology, the logical approach would be to do what the Japanese Meiji period government did. It told all Japanese citizens to turn in their katanas (swords), and they did! Asking all gun owners to turn in their assault weapons and mega-round clips for destruction would be the most logical and effective approach. Of course, there is no chance that would ever happen.

    3. The Destroyer: President Obama's victory inspired the birth of the Tea Party (nothing racial there...)and has driven the right into increasingly hysterical and irrational policies. I think there is a real chance that BO will be credited with both giving the Democrats a near lock on national elections for decades and destroying the GOP as we know it.

  • james on December 22, 2012 10:35 AM:

    I think the NRA is clinically insane. The inability to cope with reality, and the illusion that one can control all outcomes in your favor, and an incapcity for self-reflection and adaptation to new circumstances are among the marks of insanity for an organization.

  • Crusty the ex-Clown on December 22, 2012 2:00 PM:

    Wayne's World -- not anywhere I'd want to live.

    Old Weird Wayne shows up on TV with a half-dollar-haircut sounding like a Baptist fire-breathing Bible studies teacher trying to address an ecumenical council which he disdains. Bad, bad optics.

    Maybe he should move to Somalia if he truely wants to live in a society where everyone has to be armed all the time. Sheesh.

    A Modest Proposal: if we staff schools with police, let's levy a fee on gun ownership. With nearly 100,000 schools and average police salaries around $55,000 it works out to $5.5 billion (hat tip to Matt). The NRMA (National Rifle Manufacturer's Ass'n) has 4.3 million members; so they would each pay about $1,300 per year. Or we could spread it over all gun owners, but that would require registration and licensing of all guns and the NRMA doesn't like that.

    So, how about it? With rights come responsibilities, and I'm sure the responsible members of the NRMA would gladly pony up a mere $1,300/year, wouldn't they? Oh, wait .......