The Shame of the NRA

For several days after the unspeakable carnage at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut – 20 first graders and six teachers and administrators executed by a young man methodically firing a semi automatic rifle – I actually believed the most recent tragedy would make a difference in the policy and attitude of the National Rifle Association. I actually believed the organization would do what it said it would do and make a “meaningful contribution” to the national conversation about gun violence. I actually believed that the N.R.A. and its members might finally acknowledge what the majority of Americans understand, that there is a direct relationship between the number of gun-related deaths in our nation and the number of guns, guns readily and easily available to everyone and anyone. I was actually hoping for a bit of sanity.

And so Wayne LaPierre’s pronouncements and suggestions at a press conference a week after the murders-it actually wasn’t a conference at all, but a hyper monologue with no questions allowed – was more than disappointing, it was appalling, angering, but then clarifying in defining the challenge ahead. There wasn’t even a hint of acknowledgement that the killer was able to shoot six adults and then 20 six year olds in two classrooms because he was firing a semi-automatic weapon, capable of accommodating a magazine, or clip, with up to 100 bullets. He didn’t have to stop shooting to reload. He could simply move from desk to desk, to terrified child to terrified child, and pull the trigger. A prompt response by police apparently prompted his turning a pistol he was carrying on himself, preventing many more killings.

LaPierre declared, as if it were unassailable truth, that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, without even nodding in the direction of doing something – anything – to keep a bad guy, or a deranged guy, from having a gun. Instead, LaPierre and his organization have worked with with determined effectiveness, funded in part by gun manufacturers who, for obvious reasons, love and rely on the N.R.A. for their robust sales, to make it pathetically easy for anyone to obtain and carry a lethal weapon anywhere, and the ammunition to use it to kill. Even the most modest efforts to address the situation are beaten back by the N.R.A. and its acolytes in congress.

Even more appalling than LaPierre’s statement was the fact that the weapon the killer used, a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, was flying off gun shop shelves.

What in God’s name has happened to us? What in God’s name is wrong with us?

We are the most violent nation in North and South America, Europe and most of the world, with more gun-related murders, suicides and accidents because the N.R.A. has succeeded, beyond its wildest expectation, in making weapons of mass destruction available to everyone.

There are, ironically, fewer gun owners in the United States than there were a decade or two ago, but there are more guns, many more. Gun owners are “stocking up” , I suppose in response to the N.R.A.’s and its minions’ cultivated paranoia about a liberal conspiracy to abrogate the second amendment, and a coming revolution that will leave us all on our own to defend ourselves and our families.

One still hopes for a serious national debate. A respected New York Times journalist recently observed that extremists on either side of the issue are dominating the conversation such as it is, and not helpfully. Rather, a conversation needs to begin with an acknowledgement that there is a constitutional right in this country to own a gun and the acknowledgement that that right, like all of our rights, is not without limits. But Wayne LaPierre dismissed the suggestion that he or the N.R.A. participate in the conversation as part of the President’s Panel on Gun Violence. Any serious conversation, not to mention, meaningful gun regulation, is going to require politicians courageous enough to take public stands that conflict with the N.R.A.’s agenda and risk a well funded campaign against them in the next election. But is it too much, really, to hope that courage will emerge at this critical moment?

The N.R.A. and its current opposition to any gun control, even gun registration, is a menace. The N.R.A. is responsible for the endangerment and deaths of our children. It is not, as LaPierre tried to claim, the media, nor violent video games – although they surely are part of the equation of violence in our culture. It is not, as LaPierre claimed, gun-free zones such as schools and churches. It’s guns. It’s the availability of a Bushmaster semi-automatic, and semi-automatic pistols and enough ammunition to kill a lot of people, to a seriously deranged young man.

As was the case with the Civil Rights Movement, this a moral issue for people who value human life and who believe in the sanctity of every life and that people of good will ought to do whatever is necessary to protect and nurture human life. Reasonable gun control is a moral imperative, not a matter of political persuasion of preference. And, as was the case a generation ago, it is time for the faith community to stand up and be counted, to tell truth, to organize and advocate and lead to a better, more just and peaceful, and safe, life for our children.


  1. Gettin’ radical in his old age. Love it.

  2. Larry McCracken says:

    Amen. Our gun culture needs to change. Any reforms won’t be effective overnight, but think what impact they can have in 20-30 years. Those who say we need to do something so that this never happens again are naive. Monstrous murders will occur. But can we radically decrease the 11,000 homicides by gun per year or the even greater number of suicides? Yes, over time, we can. But we have to start now

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