The NRA sticks to its (Florida) guns

For those who missed it, the National Rifle Association's top executive got worked up into a full lather at the group's annual conference this weekend in St. Louis. Wayne LaPierre's ire was aimed at the "sensational" coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing — although he didn't mention either the victim or the shooter by name.

The NRA's beef is essentially this: Lots of people are getting killed every day without nearly so much mainstream media coverage. Why so much attention to this particular case?

He and others also reminded those in attendance not to vote to reelect President Barack Obama who, he warned (much as he did four years ago), would reveal his true "anti-gun agenda" post-election — or in this case, post-reelection. Of course, Mr. Obama has done nothing of the kind during his first term, but why let the facts stand in the way of a good rant?

One has to hand it to Mr. LaPierre, he knows how to keep his constituents motivated — and outraged. His customary pitch incites NRA members to be on a constant vigil against imminent threats to their Second Amendment rights by the leftist "gun-grabbers" who would take every last one of their firearms away. Never mind that Democrats retreated on gun control measures years ago with only a few voices in the wilderness like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other municipal leaders still saying much on the subject.

It wasn't that long ago that high-profile Republicans like George W. Bush and John McCain voiced support for modest, common-sense restrictions like closing the loophole that allows gun buyers to avoid a criminal background check at gun shows. But one could no more imagine Mitt Romney expressing interest in such a thing today than hearing him stand up for a woman's reproductive rights — at least not the current incarnation of Mitt Romney.

As for whether the media gives enough attention to the everyday, non-celebrity crime victim, we suspect Mr. LaPierre and his supporters don't actually care all that much about the nation's bleeding cities and impoverished neighborhoods. What bothers them is the attention to a particular narrative that is highly inconvenient to their extremist agenda.

The NRA has been an unabashed promoter of "stand your ground" laws that make it easier for individuals to use deadly force outside their homes. Under the law, a person has no duty to first retreat in the face of danger — which encourages vigilantes, provides a convenient shield for criminals, and is likely to be the centerpiece of George Zimmerman's defense in Trayvon Martin's killing.

Interestingly, we haven't heard much attack on Mr. Zimmerman's right to own or carry a gun under Florida law. What is at issue (aside from the potential racism involved in the death of an unarmed 17-year-old African-American in a hoodie and the initial failure of authorities to fully investigate or file charges in the incident) is whether state law should be set up in such a way as to encourage an individual to seek confrontation in a shoot-first, ask questions later manner.

But it's really even more than that. Under stand your ground, a person might use a knife or a baseball bat. Whatever the weapon involved, it becomes difficult for police to prosecute anyone who claims to have acted in self-defense no matter how flimsy the evidence in support. It enables provocative behavior under the mantle of self-defense that can be used any time and anywhere — including against people deemed "suspicious" because of their appearance.

This isn't just the media interested in the ramifications of the Martin case but a general public rightly concerned about justice and its own security. About half of the states have adopted their own versions of stand your ground in recent years.

In the NRA's view, this opportunity not only to pack heat but to use it makes everyone safer. And the organization would like nothing more than to force other states to change their concealed-carry and self defense laws so that Mr. Zimmerman and like-minded gun owners could carry loaded weapons as freely in Maryland as in Florida.

But what about protecting the next Trayvon Martin? On this subject, Mr. LaPierre offered no instruction at the NRA gathering. Perhaps he would have preferred the youngster be armed, too, so the two men could have staged a shoot-out in Sanford. That is, of course, where the NRA's philosophy of gradually watering down weapons laws will eventually land us all — somewhere in the 19th century Wild West.

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