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 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 4:08 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI helped pave the way to WWII. That backfire changed how the global community lays blame for war crimes today: on individuals, not nations
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT