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
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
March 6, 2014, 11:29 a.m.

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.

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