Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

NRA's enemies list: Most of America

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
February 7, 2013 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: NRA has an "enemies list" of 500 organizations, leaders, celebs
  • Avlon: List is absurd, includes Spinal Cord Injury Association, Britney Spears, YMCA
  • List shows how extreme, fanatical and out of touch the NRA has become, he says
  • Avlon: NRA's cultlike insistence on ideological purity puts off people it wants to reach

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- Question: What do George Clooney, Chaka Khan, the American Medical Association, Bon Jovi and C. Everett Koop have in common?

Answer: They are among the 500 names on the National Rifle Association's absurd new "enemies list."

Richard Nixon would be embarrassed to find that his once sinister form of score-keeping has been revived so promiscuously by the NRA. But there is some redeeming social value here: The list illustrates an organization that has become hermetically sealed from society at large, so caught up in conservative debates that it has forgotten how to connect with Main Street America.

John P. Avlon
John P. Avlon

The enemies list was first posted on the NRA's website in mid-September, hiding in plain sight under the banner "National Organizations with Anti-Gun Policies." But with the debate about reasonable gun restrictions reignited after the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, the NRA's enemies list has become just the latest example of seriously bad judgment inside this once proud organization.

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.



Because whatever staffer was tasked with accumulating the list took the idea of "you're either with us or against us" so literally that everyone who isn't a card-carrying conservative seems to be counted as an enemy.

The list is divided into broad categories, including "Anti-Gun Individuals and Celebrities," journalists, civic organizations and corporations -- as well as a grab bag category that includes religious leaders. You don't have to be a charter member of Mensa to see how this is going to alienate far more Americans than it attracts.

We're living in a celebrity-driven culture, for better or worse, so let's start with a look at the celebrity list.

The first thing that struck me was the preponderance of '70s sitcom stars who are apparently among the leading threats to gun rights in America today, including Sandy Duncan, Marilu Henner, Ed Asner, Hal Linden and Pam Dawber of "Mork & Mindy" fame. It's like the list-maker was locked in a closet full of yellowing TV Guides. It's a near-miracle that "The Partridge Family" was left off the list.

But the NRA doesn't seem content to limit its targets to old reruns of "The Hollywood Squares" -- no, it has to go and bring Sean Connery into the fight, along with Bruce Springsteen, Albert Brooks, Tony Bennett, Jack Nicholson, Britney Spears, Jerry Seinfeld and Oprah Winfrey.

On the civic side, it sees fit to call out everyone from Dick Parsons to Maya Angelou to (the late) Ed Koch to Michael Eisner. You might as well declare yourself the sworn enemy of anyone who doesn't subscribe to National Review.

This idea gets thrown into even sharper relief when you look at a partial list of civic, charitable and religious organizations that the NRA has determined are "anti-gun." Warning: Take a deep breath before reading aloud:

• AARP;

• AFL-CIO;

• American Medical Association;

• American Bar Association;

NRA: Criminals won't do background checks
NRA flip-flops on background checks

• American Jewish Committee;

• Anti-Defamation League;

• B`nai B`rith;

• Children`s Defense Fund;

• Environmental Action Foundation;

• Episcopal Church;

• Lauder Foundation;

• League of Women Voters of the United States;

• National Association of Police Organizations;

• National Coalition Against Domestic Violence;

• National Association for the Advancement of Colored People;

• National Council of La Raza;

• National Urban League;

• National Spinal Cord Injury Association;

• Southern Christian Leadership Conference;

• U.S. Catholic Conference;

• United Methodist Church;

• United Church of Christ;

• U.S. Conference of Mayors;

• and the YWCA of the USA.

I ask this in all seriousness: Who's left?

Because the list includes just about every major American faith group and denomination, every major ethnic group and voter constituency. And adding the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and National Spinal Cord Injury Association to the list of anti-gun enemies is either clueless or callous -- or both.

One of my favorite lyrics by U2 says: "Choose your enemies carefully, 'cause they will define you." The NRA, like too much of the conservative movement, has chosen its enemies indiscriminately and seems defined in opposition to most of modern America.

This is a byproduct of polarization, the cultlike expulsion of any dissenting voices and preoccupation with ideological purity.

In the case of the NRA, this is reflected in its reversal on policies it supported in the past, such as gun-free school zones and universal background checks. But it is also reflected in tone-deaf speeches such as the ones recently delivered by Wayne LaPierre, or the truly out-of-touch television ad the NRA produced calling President Barack Obama an "elitist hypocrite" for having the Secret Service guard his two daughters at school.

The essence of evangelism is winning converts -- but that goal can be easily forgotten when you're preoccupied with playing to the base. Reasonable advocates of Second Amendment rights are being ill-served by the organization's recalcitrant radicalism -- reflected in the fact that 74% of NRA members say they support universal background checks.

Adding an indiscriminate enemies list to the NRA website only highlights its isolation, consolidating opposition among the figures mentioned and their fans.

As legendary columnist Jimmy Breslin -- also a Nixon enemies list alumnus -- remarked when his name was found on the new NRA document, "Put me first on the list." This defiance is a very American response to such an awkward attempt to intimidate.

The NRA enemies list will backfire badly. And then maybe its absurd excess will provoke a needed reset inside the organization, providing a timely reminder that the politics of addition are always more effective than the politics of division.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT