Alternative Fact of the Week: NRA wants to regulate gun access

Our view: The pro-gun script post-Florida features a robust combination of empathy and prevarication

Viewers of CNN witnessed quite the spectacle this week when National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch appeared to commit her organization to gun control — and did so passionately. During a town hall forum with survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre that left 17 people dead, Ms. Loesch said the gunman whom she described as an “insane monster” should never have been able to obtain a firearm and said it was the result of a “flawed” background check system.

“I do not think [Nikolas Cruz] should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon,” she said. “This individual was nuts. And I, nor the millions of people that I represent as part of this organization that I’m here speaking for, none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others getting their hands on a firearm. And we have been, for over 20 years — and I have been — screaming about this, which is why I’m here, because I have kids. And I’m not just fighting for my kids, I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting for all of you. Because I don’t want anyone to ever be in this position again.”

Now based on that display one would get the impression that A.) The NRA supports background checks; B.) The NRA wants stronger background checks; and C.) The NRA supports stronger gun control generally.

The problem is that the gun rights organization has long opposed background checks, and whatever changes to the background system the NRA supports (presumably the legislation offered by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and recently endorsed by President Donald Trump) are likely modest reforms that would not have stopped the perpetrator — or many others, frankly. Any suggestion that the NRA is finally acknowledging the inadequacy of gun control laws is laughable unless one counts using bump stocks to turn semi-automatic rifles into virtual automatic ones. The NRA’s leadership seems to have actually given some ground on that last one since the Las Vegas shooting, which, under the circumstances, suggests only that they aren’t insane themselves.

But what raises the exchange by Ms. Loesch into Alternative Fact of the Week territory is her shameless monologue about how she’s on the side of those Florida teens who are crying out for gun control. Given how her organization opposed creation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in the first place and opposed the last serious effort to strengthen it five years ago, that was quite a brazen performance. The NRA mantra has long been that background checks do no good because criminals can obtain guns by means other than legal purchases. The NRA still posts the message “background checks are strong enough” on its website. Remember, these are the folks who couldn’t even support post-Orlando “No Fly, No Buy” legislation that would have limited gun sales to those labeled by the attorney general to be terrorism suspects.

What’s notable here is not simply that (stop the presses) someone from the NRA lies but that she and many others are following a cynical script. They are expressing their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims (although most have learned not to use that actual phrasing given its hollowness), suppressing their customary need to see all gun safety reforms as confiscatory, attacking the mentally ill and showing support for underwhelming policy changes. It allows them to express a full range of emotions — anger, empathy, hatred toward a subgroup — without actually changing much. In his own Twitter storm today, President Trump listed a conforming agenda from supporting “Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health” to arming particular teachers.

The good news is that this is much further than the president was willing to go after the Las Vegas shooting, which left 58 people dead, or the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting, which killed 26 and provided the basis for Senator Cornyn’s bill (the perpetrator’s domestic violence record while serving in the U.S. Air Force did not show up on the NCIC database used for background checks). The bad news is that it may not turn out to be all that far. When the NRA says they don’t want monsters to have guns it’s far more likely they want to see the mentally ill locked up (although how authorities would diagnose such individuals or accomplish the near-impossible task of predicting their dangerousness remains a mystery) than it is that they want to restrict anyone’s access to firearms of most any type.

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