The NRA is losing the public debate over guns. And they’re panicking because of it. There’s no other way to interpret the frantic behavior of America’s blood-soaked gun lobby.
The more than 100-year-old organization once represented sportsmen and marksmen. But after switching sides on the individual right to bear arms in the post-Black Panthers era of the late 1970s, it now solely represents the interests of gun manufacturers, who apparently provide the bulk of the NRA’s financing, which they use to keep the politicians whose elections they bankroll via PAC spending under heavy manners, including the president of the United States. They have to, knowing that the moment a few slip out of their control, the NRA could lose out to even more extreme gun groups putrefying the culture to their right.
But with gun sales declining and no black bogeyman in the White House to drive firearms hoarding in red states, the group has resorted to rank extremism to keep themselves in the conversation; churning out bizarre videos that warn of looming threats of urban collapse, hordes of brown people storming the hinterlands, and of course Antifa! … while urging their followers to strap up and prepare for civil war. Their latest opus, from Cruella de Ville stand-in Dana Loesch uses a draining hourglass to seemingly threaten disobedient members of the media by name (including yours truly) with the ominous message that our collective “time is up,” stealing the phrase coined by women fighting against sexual abuse in the workplace. Ms. Loesch does not specify what happens to us at our appointed hour of doom, though she attempted to clean up the fallout from the video, which one Parkland father who lost his daughter in the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, likened to the productions of ISIS, by saying that what “happens” when the sand drains out is that her online show comes on.
The Stoneman Douglas students reacted to Loesch’s snarling take in precisely the way that should worry the NRA most: not with terror but with ridicule, in the form of a parody video featuring MSD survivor Sarah Chadwick that quickly went viral, garnering the attention of outlets like The Mary Sue and Teen Vogue.
Message to the NRA: the kids aren’t afraid of you. Nor are they impressed by your lame never-quite-viral video campaigns. And unlike adults who spend most of their time at work or in the case of Republican and some Democratic lawmakers, cowering in the legislative cloakroom hoping the NRA lobbyists won’t get them, the kids have phones and sarcasm on lock and they can do this all day. Ms. Loesch and her equally lame friends will never beat teenagers at the social media game.
They also won’t beat them legislatively. Not anymore.
This past week, unlike the aftermath of every other mass shooting since Columbine, including the gunning down of moviegoers, college coeds, church parishioners, country music concertgoers, nightclub revelers and six-year-olds, the Florida legislature actually did something besides pass even more permissive gun laws. Defying the obeisance to the NRA’s diktats that has long been expected of lawmakers, they dared to pass a bill NRA chief lobbyist Marion Hammer didn’t like, and the life NRA member governor signed it. For decades, no bill has been permitted to pass Florida’s legislature that was not written or approved of by Hammer—the diminutive granny gun nut who is the real, permanent governor of the Gunshine State.
And while there is much in the bill to hate, including the fact that it underfunds its own mandate to put more police officers in schools and opens the door to arming volunteer public school employees (though per the statute, not teachers—an idea even Gov. Rick Scott opposes) with onerous implications for insurance liability, accidental or deliberate injury of students or teachers in school and potential violence against already over-policed black and brown children, some things in the bill named for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students actually make sense. Among them: adding a three-day waiting period to purchase a firearm in Florida, raising the minimum age to purchase or possess a firearm to 21—the age of majority at the country’s founding, banning “bump stocks” which turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns, making it a crime (incredibly it wasn’t already) to post mass shooting or terroristic threats online, and empowering law enforcement to confiscate the weapons of someone adjudicated mentally unstable.
To the NRA, these things are apostasy. To the vast majority of Americans, including most gun owners, they are simple common sense. And at long last, common sense is starting to win, even in the state where the NRA arguably has its strongest influence.
To understand what a sea change this modest bill was, consider that in the immediate, emotional aftermath of the Parkland massacre the selfsame legislature cowered in the face of Hammer’s commands and refused to even take a vote on an overwhelmingly popular assault weapons ban, even with Stoneman Douglas survivors weeping and chanting in the gallery. So this past week’s vote for the first gun restrictions in Florida in some 20 years was a giant, red flashing light for the gun lobby. One might even call it an hourglass.
Be assured that the politicians who voted for it didn’t do so because they’ve suddenly become better people. Some still insisted on beclowning themselves to perform for Ms. Hammer by dismissing the Parkland students who witnessed mass slaughter as mere children with no more standing to suggest laws on guns than rules on homework, drawing the immediate ridicule of all who saw the clip. Florida lawmakers passed the bill because the politics have changed, and they feared the electoral consequences of not passing something with the name “Marjory Stoneman Douglas” on it that restricted access to guns in some way and promoted school safety. The vote was about self-preservation, which in the wake of Parkland and the emergence of the #NeverAgain movement means voting for gun reform.
The NRA clearly recognizes the peril of this and moved immediately to sue the state of Florida over the new law.
In its lawsuit, the NRA made clear that they stand firmly for the right of a teenager to purchase the Armalite Rifle originally invented for the military, and which is the weapon of choice for mass shooters, adding the ridiculous argument that since they rarely commit mass shootings, teenage girls must have access to them. These are their sacred principles. And most people understand that such principles are insane. So insane in fact, that even the state’s NRA-friendly governor and attorney general Pam Bondi (who is named in the NRA lawsuit alongside the head of the state’s law enforcement division), are standing by the new law.
And make no mistake, there will be more laws the NRA hates. Florida is the state that foisted Stand Your Ground on the nation, courtesy of Ms. Hammer and friends. It is the origin state for lots of terrible gun proliferating legislation. But Florida’s influence can work both ways. It’s hard to imagine the common-sense elements of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas law not spreading, while if the NRA thinks parents and teachers unions nationwide will stand idly by and let them force guns into classrooms without suing, they’ve got another thing coming. (Even before the bill was signed, the largest counties in the state, including Broward, where Parkland is, have announced that they will not allow armed staff in their schools). And to reiterate, teachers, other than ROTC instructors, are explicitly excluded from participating in the voluntary “guardian” program that sheriffs are permitted to establish at the request of school districts under the Stoneman Douglas law, and participants are required to submit to background checks, psychological evaluations and diversity training. Not perfect by any stretch, likely not enough to prevent insurance liabilities that could sink a school district, and not nearly sufficient to protect children of color from those with racial biases, but not at all what the NRA wanted, either.
Meanwhile, the Parkland kids have demonstrated a determination and savvy that spells very bad news for the gun lobby. They are already registering people to vote. They are attracting a coalition of grassroots efforts like the Women’s March and NoNRAMoney (which has gotten more than 300 politicians to take its pledge not to touch NRA PAC cash). They have attracted the attention and support of Hollywood, teen-focused media and corporate America. And they have voiced an understanding of the intersectional imperative of drawing in their counterparts of color, who came to the table first with the Dream Defenders, #BlackLivesMatter and other efforts at curbing gun violence, but who don’t garner the kind of attention a group of affluent white (or white-reading Hispanic) students straight out of central casting will. Their March 24 “March for Our Lives” will be the NRA’s worst nightmare: bringing together hundreds of thousands of representatives of a generation of young Americans of every race and creed who have had to face the unique horror of “active shooter drills,” and who have decided not to wait for the adults to grow up and stand up to the NRA. Their growing national coalition represents two generations: Y and Z, who together are already more numerous than the Baby Boomers or GenX, and who will not be open to the NRA’s bonkers, paranoid vision of America.
That means gun manufacturers can look forward to even further declines in sales, as more consumers opt out, smart companies join Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart in refusing to sell mass murder weapons, investors of conscience push for divestment in firearm and related stocks; tourists, homebuyers and parents choosing colleges for their kids boycott guns-everywhere states, and wise corporations like Delta Airlines stand their ground against attempted extortion by politicians like the Georgia lieutenant governor who insist on acting like gun lobby marionettes.
Meanwhile, if 18 to 30-year-olds vote at just a few percentage points higher numbers in November, the #NeverAgain movement will be able to claim the same power to doom politicians that the NRA claimed in 1994—the Big Lie that is the true source of their inordinate influence.
The NRA surely sees the writing on the wall. They are fighting a losing cultural battle against a superior enemy; one that is young, unafraid and that if nothing else, to quote Stoneman Douglas survivor David Hogg, will outlive their detractors.
No wonder the gun lobby is freaking out.