The National Rifle Association (NRA) is not giving an inch.
“Never forget these words: To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told the Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC) Thursday morning.
It’s a line he’s used before. In the face of enormous public outcry over the past week after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that put 17 people in early graves, LaPierre relied on a lot of the same guns, liberty, and Constitution talking points he and his organization have deployed in the past.
But LaPierre also expanded his speech well beyond the Second Amendment and used the occasion to wade into the Trumpian culture wars of immigration, race, Fake News, and the deep state. His comments echo a shift that the entire NRA has been making in the Trump era: taking their unapologetic approach to other lightning rod political issues.
LaPierre embraced the anti-press tone on Thursday and said the anti-gun outrage on TV and in print was just for show. “The elites don’t care one whit about America’s school system and school children,” he said.
If they did, LaPierre said they would support adding “armed security” at every school in America. “Harden our schools,” he said. The answer to preventing future school shootings is more guns, not less.
NRA TV also released a video on Thursday morning accusing the media of relishing school shootings and helping to perpetuate the violence.
LaPierre added that any legislation should focus on enforcing the laws already on the books and repeated his organization’s call to update and enforce compliance with the existing national background check system. That’s a change the gun rights’ organization has supported for years and one that President Donald Trump embraced just this week. Even with widespread support on both sides of the aisle, legislation to impose it hasn’t gone anywhere.
The background check system has long been plagued with problems and enormous holes — which allowed a Texas man to purchase the AR-556 rifle he used to shoot up a First Baptist church last fall and kill 26 people. But the existing system would not have prevented the Florida shooter from purchasing his AR-15.
In his speech to the conservative conference, LaPierre also turned to many of Trump’s favorite talking points as evidence of the necessity of guns: the dangers of “illegal aliens,” the “scourge of gang violence and drug crime,” and the spread of “Chinese fentanyl from Mexico.”
And on the topic of the FBI — which Trump has repeatedly attacked as the organization investigates his campaign’s ties with Russia — LaPierre made a not-to-subtle allusion in favor of Trump. He said he was outraged that no one at the bureau “stood up and called BS on its rogue leadership.” and later added that even “the lowest ranking marine knows not to obey an unlawful order.”
Lapierre’s culture war riff is not a one-off. Instead, it continues the NRA’s notable expansion of its message in the Trump era to well beyond preserving gun rights.
NRA TV, which the gun rights group has invested at least $30 million into over the last few year, has been the main outlet for the culture war rhetoric. Their hosts, in particular NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch and former reporter Grant Stinchfield, regularly attack the mainstream media, wade into identity politics, and rail against “liberal elites.”
Loesch, who spoke at a CNN town hall in Florida last night and clashed with survivors of the high school shooting, flew up to Washington to speak just before LaPierre at the conservative conference. If anything, she was more strident than the group’s CEO.
At times appearing to address the media more than the crowd in front of her, Loesch accused many in the press of loving mass shootings. “I’m not saying you love the tragedy but you love the ratings, because crying white mothers are ratings gold.”
She went on: “If it bleeds, it leads, doesn’t it?”
Cover image: NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center February 22, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press(Sipa via AP Images)