During NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre's Friday-morning press conference, the organization's first since 27 people died a week ago at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., my Twitter feed — filled with liberal writers and pundits — was lighting up in fascination and disgust. "Every journalist on Twitter thinks Lapierre is completely insane," Reuters' Felix Salmon wrote. The consensus was that LaPierre's remarks were unhinged and alienating; the Washington Post's Ezra Klein marveled at "how much damage LaPierre is doing to the NRA without even allowing questions." Even the few conservatives I follow agreed: "I'm not sure this presser was good in style a week after Newtown," wrote RedState's Erick Erickson.
Over on the NRA's Facebook page, a very different sense of the press conference was developing. "Way to go wayne, great message!" someone commented. "EXCELLENT SPEECH!!!" wrote someone else. A comment that read "For those anti gun idiots posting on here.. Feel free to move to Mexico where guns are illegal and enjoy the safety I am sure you will feel there" received 17 "likes." Among die-hard NRA members — the people who have the most to lose if the organization alienates its weak supporters and stiffens the resolve of its antagonists — LaPierre's rambling, paranoid speech wasn't standoffish or divise or damaging: it was a simple restatement of the truth. It was the mainstream — not just for gun nuts, but for the American right wing.
Since the Newtown shooting, there's been a lot of talk among gun-rights activists about the second amendment as a defense against a tyrannical government. This is, by some accounts, the defense that the authors of the constitution intended. To the would-be armed dissident, guns are an essential component in the system of checks and balances that ensures individual (and state) freedom; they empower the citizen at the expense of the state, or the state at the expense of the federal government, and represent a final line of defense against overreaching state power.
As a defense of the right to own firearms, it's almost understandable. It's certainly idealistic. It's not, however, the defense that LaPierre offered in today's remarks. No, to LaPierre, and the gun owners he represents, the real, overriding reason to own a gun isn't protection from tyranny, or some warped sense of civil duty, it's fear: abject terror at what's perceived as an increasingly dangerous, fractured society; paranoia about coming natural disasters or apocalyptic events; and an obsession with criminals and "drug gangs" — you know: "bad guys."
To hear LaPierre tell it, we live in a world not entirely unlike Middle Earth, "populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters." These people are "evil," and also "deranged" — the mentally ill are also morally corrupt — and they "walk among us every day," uncounted thanks to "our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill."
Adam Lanza, according to LaPierre, was one such person, and a gun-rights activist with a more rational sense of self-preservation might press on this, focusing (however wrongly) on mental-health issues as a way to distract the issue. But even at a press conference called in the wake of a tragedy caused by a deeply disturbed individual LaPierre can't resist raising his real issue: the "criminal class." The hypothetical, and deeply disturbing, "active national database of the mentall ill," LaPierre pivots, "wouldn't even begin to address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country." From here there is no turning back:
So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you've got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.
After a detour castigating the media, LaPierre picks up the thread:
The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. [... W]hen you hear the glass breaking in your living room at 3 a.m. and call 911, you won't be able to pray hard enough for a gun in the hands of a good guy to get there fast enough to protect you.
It's not surprising that the reaction on Twitter was one of shock and disgust: LaPierre's ugly public display of moral simple-mindedness and deranged paranoia was shocking. But it's also what most of the American right wing believes. For decades now the National Rifle Association has been the (literally) militant wing of the conservative movement, not a sportsmen's lobbying association, and as such its spokesperson shares the foundational belief of that movement: the world is going to shit, and you are going to get killed, probably by a minority.
Elspeth Reeve at the Atlantic Wire has put together an excellent article showing the extent to which LaPierre's speech parallels — line for line — the image macros gun nuts have been sharing on Facebook. The fact is you don't need to focus on the gun nuts to see that LaPierre's worldview reflects the prevailing beliefs of the right wing. You just glance at its media outlets. Here's a sampling of prominent 2012 headlines from mainstream right-wing publications: "Teen Gangs Unleashed on Boston Beach," "Miami Urban 'War Zone' During Urban Beach Weekend," ""WHITE STUDENT BEATEN ON BUS; CROWD CHEERS" (all Drudge); "A Censored Race War: The media ignore racially motivated black-on-white crime" (National Review); "Victim's sister: Mobile, Ala. black-on-white beating sparked by theft, not basketball" (The Daily Caller); "Mayor Resists More Cops For Crime-Ridden Chicago," "CRIME SHOWS IGNORE REAL CRIME" ("80 percent of crime in the US was gang related," Breitbart.com). "In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering," Rush Limbaugh told his audience earlier this year.
While the outlets convince their marks that a race war is imminent and the country is flooding with dangerous immigrants, while their ad sales departments make a mint off of survivalist businesses looking for a direct line to people stupid enough to spend thousands of dollars outfitting their bunkers for a cataclysm that's never going to happen. The doomsday/Rapture/race war/civil unrest "prepper" industry will likely do $500 million in business next year; at the recent Self-Reliance Expo in Arizona you could check out water-filtering systems, freeze-dried food delivery systems, even entire bunkers. You could also, naturally, sign your kids up for firearm classes.
This is the gun market. Those are the people that LaPierre was speaking to in his remarks today, not liberal journalists on Twitter. This is the movement to which LaPierre belongs. People expecting paeans to Jeffersonian defense of liberty, or a chastened call for open dialogue and productive cooperation, were kidding themselves: if you really believe that the society will collapse in your lifetime, what's your incentive to cooperate?
[image via AP]