Carlson: Will NRA ever get the message?



Second Amendment absolutists complain that gun-control advocates are an out-of-touch elite seeking to destroy the way of life of real men who pack heat, pass weapons on to their sons, and are a rampart against government tyranny. It’s dangerous out there.

At the National Rifle Association’s convention in Indianapolis last weekend, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre warned his members that their lifestyle was under assault. “I have never seen it on edge the way it is now,” he said. “If it’s going to be saved, it’s in our hands. It’s in your hands.”

There’s no better venue than this gathering to experience the pain and joy of gun owners. To those not steeped in guns, the exhibition hall with weapons arrayed as far as the eye can see is a frightening display. It is also a place where the young and female are pursued. Kids are encouraged to fondle semi-automatics and take virtual target practice. Women have their own events, including one that features the latest fashions for heat-packing ladies. You don’t want your Glock to add 10 pounds.

The NRA’s 4 million members don’t seem to feel an obligation to understand the 90 percent of Americans who say in polls that they would like to see universal background checks for gun buyers.

“It’s a cultural thing,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told me. He said his “A” rating from the NRA helped the background check legislation he introduced last year with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., get as far as it did.

Manchin is still using that crossover cred to try to find the five Senate allies he needs to get the bill up for a vote again. He can’t explain to me those gun owners who will listen only to Ted Nugent (who gave a speech), or those who cheer stand-your-ground laws (there was a session on how not to have any post-traumatic stress should you shoot someone).

It would be a valuable cross-cultural field trip for LaPierre to take a look outside the hall, where representatives of the 90 percent were gathered. The moms at the gates gladly would have pointed out to him that 82 people die every day because guns fall into the hands of non-law-abiding citizens, curious children, the mentally ill and the suicidal.

These groups just put up a series of gripping ads showing the murderous downside of readily available firearms and have issued a report titled “Not Your Grandparents’ NRA.” It traces the gun-rights lobby’s move away from hunting and marksmanship to defending the rights of felons and terrorism suspects to buy firearms and take them everywhere.

The NRA spends $20 million a year to scare lawmakers into doing their bidding. For the first time, the other side will be spending more. What a great day it will be when LaPierre has to understand that.

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.