The NRA’s strength as a lobby group came in part from being in tune with ordinary Americans. Now, it looks like it’s lost the plot
Oh dear God. It is that behemoth of the American cultural and political landscape – the National Rifle Association. For liberals, and for even some moderate Republicans, this hugely powerful gun lobby is essentially a political equivalent of Lord Voldemort or He Who Must Not Be Named. For years in American politics, the NRA has been the one lobbying group no one wants to offend, so fearsome their reputation, so deep their pockets and – to be honest – so in tune with a popular and powerful strand of American culture that sees gun ownership as a God-given right enshrined in the constitution.
When former Arizona Congressman Gaby Giffords – who was the target of an attempted assassination in the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson – formed a new lobby group this month to take on the NRA, it was notable that she still did it from the position of being a proud gun-owner. Yes, in America, even being the victim of a deranged gunman is not enough to put one off the concept of widespread gun ownership. This is the gun culture from which the NRA springs.
But, wait. In the wake of the appalling tragedy of the Newtown school shooting at the end of last year, it feels – just a little – as though the NRA’s world has been shaken. Suddenly, it was the NRA that had to keep largely silent, not its critics.
When it did break silence, the NRA’s proposal to stop school shootings by putting armed guards in schools was met with derision. And then, suddenly, President Barack Obama embarked on the one mission that would have seemed impossible before Newtown: fresh gun controls.
The NRA could not stay on the sidelines. So it has gone on the offensive, producing this 35-second long TV ad, dubbed “Stand and Fight” – though some might feel that the belligerent rhetoric is less than ideal for the occasion: a policy debate after the deaths of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school.
It is up now, just as Obama makes a long-awaited speech on fresh gun controls.
At the moment, it is being broadcast on the Sportsman Channel, but the NRA is toying with broadcasting it more widely. Of course, an ad like this will also go viral online, both with its supporters and those appalled by it.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” the ad begins, as a shot appears of a school and an American flag.
“Hell, no!” replies a no-doubt shocked nation, as parents look lovingly at their little Jonnies and Jennifers. Or at least, that is what the NRA wants to happen.
“Then why is he sceptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools?” the ad continues, with the sort of gravelly voiced narrator favoured by The Expendables movie franchise.
Now, a sensible person might suggest that the president’s children have armed guards – called the secret service – because they are the president’s children and thus face a bit more of a security risk than the average school pupil. Also, for fiscally-minded conservatives, extending secret service protection for every child in the country might strain the deficit.
But not-so-sensible people (the intended target of this ad) might react thus: “Outrageous! King Obama wants to protect his own little darlings while my ankle-biters daily face the risk of a school with no armed personal protection whatsoever! Goddammit, I am voting for an NRA-approved Republican!”
But I digress. And so does the ad. Surreally, it segues into tax reform.
“Mr Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes,” it says (perhaps revealing the true source of the NRA’s ire), before it gets back on track: “But he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”
Then the ad rallies itself for its conclusion, seeking to show the simple gun-loving folks of the NRA as fighting for the rights of the little guy. “Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours,” the narrator finishes smugly.
What is there to say about this? Throughout, silhouettes of high-powered weapons are shown in the background. And that is meant to be a Good Thing. The ad sees the phrase “gun-free zone” as akin to “Ebola-infected hospital ward” when it comes to child safety. It is (to this pinko commie liberal peacenik, anyway) a version of Superman’s famous Bizarro world, in which everything is reversed. For the NRA, good is bad, bad is good – and only more guns (many, many more guns) will save us from more school shootings. It is dizzying.
But perhaps former Obama spokesman, Robert Gibbs, put it best:
It’s also just stupid.