NRA's Wayne LaPierre Takes a Victory Lap

Pundits called him and his movement dead after he said incendiary things post-Sandy Hook. They were wrong.

National Journal

It's been a while since we heard from Wayne LaPierre. The last time the National Rifle Association leader made headlines, a rampage shooter had killed 26 children in Connecticut and he was the guy to come out for more guns in schools and greater restrictions on "¦ video games. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said at the time. The media ridiculed him, deeming his speech tone-deaf, ineffective, out-of-touch, and a failure.

"If there's anything to take away from this press conference," The American Prospect wrote then, "it's that politicians should not be afraid of the NRA. Its mystique is gone." Later, in a cover story titled "This Is How the NRA Ends," The New Republic would argue that the conversations following Sandy Hook were "not the end of hopes for gun reform, but the beginning."

A year later, after gun control failed loudly in Congress in 2013, it's pretty clear they were wrong. And not just a little wrong: spectacularly wrong.

In his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, LaPierre enjoyed rubbing that very thing in the media's collective face. After citing their off-base coverage of his speech in the wake of Sandy Hook, he continued to mount a larger attack.

"One of America's greatest threats is a national news media that fails to provide a level playing field for the truth," LaPierre told a packed room. "Now it's all entertainment ratings, personal celebrity, the next sensational story, and the deliberate spinning and purposeful use of words and language, truth be damned, to advance their agenda."

He went on to link his hatred of the media to his distaste for politicians, arguing the two have joined forces to "misinform and deceive" the American public, a sentiment which earned him mild applause. "They lie bills into law, they pass legislation they haven't even read ... health care policies, economic policies, foreign affairs — all seem repeatedly reckless," he fumed. "The IRS is now a weapon to punish anyone who disagrees with them, and that means every one of you."

The way LaPierre described things, everything was "us" versus "them." It was all politicians and the media versus ordinary Americans and, as we learned later, their guns.

"We don't trust government because government itself has proved unworthy of our trust. We trust ourselves," he said. "We trust our freedom."

LaPierre's speech came mere hours after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to win conservative hearts by walking onstage with a rifle in hand. He immediately passed the gun off to Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, but no matter. The gimmick worked. It was the only time that the audience cheered loudly during McConnell's entire time on stage.

That enthusiasm was on display again for LaPierre's speech as he fired up the crowd, asking the audience whether they trust the government to protect them. (The answer: a resounding "No!")

In a final insult to the media's coverage of his Sandy Hook speech, he repeated the quote that made him infamous in the wake of the Newtown shooting: "The surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.

And the audience loved it.

The NRA, LaPierre continued, proudly stands for the America we all want, "unflinching in defense of one unifying principle: individual freedom for all."

The crowd was on its feet now, clapping and cheering as LaPierre's speech seemed to veer into the strange territory of the freedom-loving speech Bill Pullman gives as President Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day, taking on an almost post-apocalyptic quality.

"The NRA will not go quietly into the night," he cried. "We will fight. I promise you that."

He walked off stage as David Guetta's "Titanium" played.

Ricochet, you take your aim. Fire away, fire away. You shoot me down but I won't fall. I am titanium.