The last week must have been excruciating for the National Rifle Association and its leaders. They wisely decided to stay silent in the days after the Newtown massacre even though that meant ceding the national stage to its opponents, who subjected the group to withering and often unfair criticism as well as shamelessly exploiting the tragedy in order to resurrect gun control proposals that drew little or no interest during the election. But one week of silence wasn’t enough.
The speech delivered today by Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, was a memorable disaster and likely to do far more damage to its reputation than much of the sniping aimed at the NRA in the previous days. The problem was not so much substance as its tone, as the group’s leader delivered a hectoring lecture to the nation that managed to make a good idea—more security at schools—sound nutty. In the course of his rant, he also managed to make it sound as if the only way to defend the Second Amendment is to throw the First under the bus as he sought to blame the entertainment industry for gun violence. The group that generally opposes registration of firearms also called for a national registry of the mentally ill. Though LaPierre was right to predict the liberal news media would depict his statements as extreme, the group did itself no favor by jumping back into the debate so soon with a presentation that was bereft of any sense that the ground had shifted during their hiatus out of the public eye. What was needed most from the NRA was a reasonable tone, not attempts to provide different scapegoats for the public’s anger over Newtown such as the gun-free school zones or video games. Another week or even a month of radio silence from the NRA would have been better for its cause than this.