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
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 2148 GMT (0548 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
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 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
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 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 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