Skip to main content

NRA's vision of 'genuine monsters'

By Kristin A. Goss, Special to CNN
December 24, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
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
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1730 GMT (0130 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT