26 February 2013
If Wayne LaPierre isn't a gun nut, what is he?
The current New Republic has a small item on NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre that opens with a jolting quote from a former NRA president. Warren Cassidy told reporter Julia Joffe that LaPierre had no "gun interest" that he knew of, while a former media-relations person with the Association said that he'd "run like hell" if LaPierre had ever joined his buddies on a hunting trip. The implication is that LaPierre is not particularly interested in shooting guns. Instead, he is a lobbyist by vocation, entering the business directly from college, where he'd been a political-science major. According to Joffe, LaPierre reflects the viewpoint that has prevailed within the NRA since the so-called "Revolt in Cincinnati" of 1977, when a clique of what she calls "young radicals" took over the venerable sportsmen's group. A Washington Post piece from last month elaborates on this youthful radicalism. Taking the radicals' leader, Neal Knox, as representative, the Post reporters see them as essentially paranoid, driven above all by a fear of gun confiscation as the prelude to tyranny in America. Since the 1960s, the NRA had defended the interests of gun manufacturers and dealers from post-assassination calls for tighter regulations of gun sales. The radicals transformed the Association into a "populist" movement of gun owners, but if gunplay was never a big thing for LaPierre, as his erstwhile colleagues now claim was the case, at least at the start of his NRA career, what was in it for him, apart from the money? He may not have been very worried about the government taking his weapons away, but we can infer a concern for others' weapons founded on a core distrust of the state. He's the man, after all, who made "jackbooted thugs" a catchphrase back in the Nineties. While that attitude may have been shared by many NRA members before 1977 -- and one NRA supporter responding to the post article complains that gun-control activists had started stereotyping members as far-right fanatics back in the Sixties -- it doesn't seem to have been an institutional bias until the Cincinnati revolt made it a safe haven for an ideologue like LaPierre. Ideology has driven an often-ignored wedge between the NRA as a lobby and gun owners as a group, with half of the latter, according to a poll cited by Joffe, claiming that the Association doesn't represent their views, though most still regard it favorably -- presumably in the abstract. That same poll says that 22% of respondents who don't own guns nevertheless feel that the NRA represents their views, so LaPierre, if described accurately in Joffe's article, isn't alone in caring less about having guns himself than in guns' presumed value as a deterrent to criminals or the government. Whatever the truth about LaPierre, those 22% may fairly be described as cowards so long as they expect the NRA, figuratively or literally, to fight their battles for them. Fear of government certainly isn't the only complicating factor in the gun-control debate, but it even more certainly makes any reasonable solution more difficult to enact. If that's what LaPierre stands for above all, his work at the NRA has been a disservice to responsible gun owners in particular and the country in general.