Skip to main content

NRA's vision of 'genuine monsters'

By Kristin A. Goss, Special to CNN
updated 1:25 PM EST, Mon December 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kristin Goss: National Rifle Association's statement brought out familiar cultural wars
  • Goss: The organization missed an opportunity to engage in reasonable dialogue
  • She says NRA broke with precedent by blaming a host of producers and industries
  • Goss: NRA's attempt to shift the focus to anything but guns was predictable

Editor's note: Kristin A. Goss, associate professor of public policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, is the author of "Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America."

(CNN) -- With Friday's defiant statement, the National Rifle Association massed its troops along familiar fronts in the culture war -- and even opened some new battle lines. But it also squandered an opportunity to participate in reasonable dialogue with an America that has begun losing its appetite for political extremism.

Longtime NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, eager to keep the rank-and-file "mothers and fathers" among his membership from going soft, sounded themes critical to maintaining gun owners' collective identity and solidarity. These themes included:

The NRA is reasonable and a good citizen. Consistent with past practice, LaPierre recounted the NRA's horror at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and stated its silence came out of respect for the victims. Others exploit such tragedies, LaPierre said, but the NRA and its members are better than that.

Did the NRA miss an opportunity?

Kristin A. Goss
Kristin A. Goss

More guns, less crime. That is the title of the NRA's bible, a 1998 book by Yale professor John Lott (whose core findings have been refuted by other scholars), and it is the logic behind the NRA's proposal to put an armed officer in all 140,000 American schools. The proposal is founded on the NRA's position that guns are merely tools that can be used by "monsters" or by "good guys." The NRA and its allies are good guys.

The great divide: Little common ground with pro- and anti-gun forces

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Gun owners are the victims. To the NRA, gun ownership is fundamental to virtuous citizenship. Go to any NRA convention, or look around the group's website, and you will learn that gun owners are the true American patriots, the only force standing between democracy and a tyrannical state delivered by emotional elites with naive but dangerous ideas. When LaPierre said he was there to deliver "the truth," he was referring to elites' "false" belief that even modest gun regulations might work. When he talked about "political prejudice" or "personal prejudice," he was referring to the indignities that beleaguered gun owners suffer in a society that has failed to appreciate their civic contributions. This is the NRA's perspective on the culture war.

While these themes are familiar, LaPierre broke with precedent in key ways, most significantly with his explosive broadside against journalists, movie studios, video game producers, record labels and elected officials who have failed to embrace the NRA's policy goals. If you want to blame someone besides the shooter for Sandy Hook, then blame the "enablers" and NRA haters and purveyors of "dishonest thinking."

LaPierre's attempt to shift the focus to anything but guns was predictable, but the particular message may have some resonance. A Pew Research Center poll found that 47% of Americans -- including 54% of women -- thought the Sandy Hook massacre reflected broader social problems, such as parental failures, moral and religious decline, a general devaluation of life, violent depictions in the media and problems with mental health and its treatment. Although 18% cited easy access to guns -- the most popular single answer -- the poll showed that Americans are far more likely to see gun massacres in a broader context.

iReport: Why would someone own a military-style rifle?

Protesters interrupt NRA statement

A similar pattern emerged after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 when Americans were much more likely to place the blame on family and cultural factors than on failures of gun policy.

Of course, as with airplane crashes and other disasters, gun massacres are the product of many interacting forces, as is the "everyday" gun violence that occurs outside the media spotlight. Most Americans understand the causes are complex and are sensible enough to see that a multipronged approach involving personal, social and public policy action will be needed.

LaPierre's apocalyptic vision of the "unknown number of genuine monsters" who at this very moment may be plotting the next attack on our schoolchildren -- and the organization's single-minded and unrealistic call to put an armed guard immediately in all our schools -- felt weirdly out of step with the equally urgent yet more thoughtful conversations occurring at dinner tables around the nation. It was a missed opportunity.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kristin A. Goss.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT