Has the NRA Finally Gone Too Far?

National Journal

Has the NRA finally gone too far?

The National Rifle Association has been skirting the lines of decency for years, but the gun-rights group stoops to a new low with a Web ad calling President Obama an "elitist hypocrite." The ad criticizes Obama for giving his daughters Secret Service protection while expressing skepticism about installing armed guards in schools.

The ad is indisputably misleading, and is arguably a dangerous appeal to the base instincts of gun-rights activists.

In a the 35-second video, a deep-voice narrator asks, "Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed guards in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?"

The fact is, Obama is not opposed to armed guards in schools. Indeed, many of the nation's schools already hire security. This is what Obama is skeptical of: the NRA's position that putting more guns in schools is the only way to prevent mass shootings.

The president wants to ban assault rifles, require background checks, and ban high-capacity ammunition. He does not want to confiscate guns, despite the NRA's unsubstantiated warnings to the contrary.

There are fair arguments to be had over Obama's proposals: Redefining the Second Amendment shouldn't be done without a vigorous debate. But to drag the president's daughters into the fight, and to question their need for security, suggests that the NRA is slipping further away from the mainstream. Over-the-top tactics discredit the NRA and its cause.

Gun-rights supporters deserve a better advocate.

The gun lobby's approval ratings are plummeting, and it is losing the support of opinion leaders who should be in the NRA's corner. In a Politico column titled "The High Cost of NRA Extremism," former conservative Rep. Joe Scarborough writes, "As a longtime supporter of the Second Amendment, I had hoped their executives and lobbyists would not take an absolutist position on the issue since that would ultimately set back the cause of gun rights. Unfortunately, [NRA leader Wayne] LaPierre chose to respond as if it were 1994."

Scarborough points out that a new ABC News/Washington Post shows that a majority of Americans now support a ban on certain types of assault weapons, a shift in public opinion since LaPierre's tone-deaf response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.  An overwhelming majority of Americans also support universal background checks, a national database to track gun sales, and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, LaPierre famously called federal law-enforcement agents "jack-booted thugs" and compared them to the Nazis. Former President George H.W. Bush and other GOP leaders denounced the remarks. Will gun-rights supporters walk away from the NRA today?

  • After Newtown, LaPierre called for all schools to have armed police officers in place. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said.
  • A shooting-range app for the iPhone and iPad branded as an "Official NRA Licensed Product" was released on the one-month anniversary of the Newtown massacre. 
  • After meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on gun control, the NRA accused Obama of an "agenda to attack the Second Amendment," a gross distortion of the president's position.

The ad signals the NRA's intention to fight a campaign-style war with Obama. The White House response: Bring it on.

"The president has the most exciting campaign apparatus ever built. It's time to turn that loose," Obama adviser Robert Gibbs said on MSNBC. "If the NRA has a list, then Obama for America has a bigger list."