What the NRA Should Have Said

Wayne LaPierre at NRA press conference (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Wayne LaPierre at NRA press conference (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(The Root) — One week after the tragic shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., claimed 26 innocent lives, including those of 20 children, the National Rifle Association held a press conference. The organization, normally known for being one of the most brash and intimidating in all of politics, had been unusually quiet in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Days ago the organization released a statement saying members were "shocked, saddened and heartbroken." 

The group also announced plans to unveil "meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again" at a press conference. Well, after NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's shocking remarks at Friday's press conference, many NRA critics, and even supporters, are now probably wishing that the organization had remained quiet. 

Instead of taking even an iota of responsibility for the Newtown tragedy, given the group's ongoing efforts to thwart gun-control measures, LaPierre instead spent the press conference calling for armed guards in every American school. According to LaPierre, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." 


Actually, that's not true, Mr. LaPierre. Even gun owners know that is not true, and some of them spoke up and said so after LaPierre finished. 

There are so many things LaPierre could have said that would have truly constituted "meaningful contributions" to the conversation that our country needs to have about gun violence. Unfortunately, he chose not to say any of them. So below is a list of what LaPierre could have and should have said. 

1. All gun owners support commonsense control. 

One of the most baffling things about the gun-control debate is the failure of both gun-control advocates and gun-rights proponents to admit that every American, including gun owners, supports some form of gun control. Think I'm wrong? Then stop any card-carrying member of the NRA on the street and ask that person if he or she believes that Osama bin Laden should have been allowed to walk into any gun store in America the day after 9/11 and purchase a firearm. No background check. No questions asked. Of course they will all tell you, "Of course not." That's gun control.


But the NRA has done an effective job trying to convince gun owners that gun control equals gun removal from law-abiding citizens. By polluting the conversation about gun violence with such misinformation, the NRA has played a key role in making our country less safe. The press conference was a perfect opportunity to own up to that. Instead, the NRA did what it has been doing for years: blame everyone else. 

2. Closing the gun-show loophole will help protect our kids and law-abiding gun owners. 


Gun-control laws in America have long been somewhat of a joke because the NRA has helped ensure that they stay that way. There is possibly no greater example than the gun-show loophole. Though gun-rights proponents love to complain about how restrictive current gun laws are, the truth is that they are probably tougher to enforce than many others.

What do I mean by that? Consider this: A child is not allowed to buy alcohol in a liquor store. If the same child attended a wine fair, he or she wouldn't be permitted to buy alcohol there, either. But while those attempting to purchase firearms are subjected to criminal background checks if they try to buy a firearm at a store — in order to ensure, for instance, that a man whose wife has a restraining order against him for domestic violence doesn't get to purchase a firearm — that same man can go to a gun show, provide a form of identification (fake or otherwise) and leave with a brand-new gun.


But since the Newtown tragedy, many lawmakers are ready to revisit the gun-show loophole, among then gun-rights supporters. Jerry Patterson, a Texas legislator known for carrying a concealed weapon into the Capitol, admitted that he once sold a rifle at a gun show; however, he said that he is ready to reconsider whether such transactions should remain legal in the wake of Newtown. He is not alone. It's just a shame that the NRA didn't have the courage to speak for Patterson, and other NRA supporters with his common sense, during the press conference. 

3. There is rarely a credible reason for a private citizen to own an assault weapon.  


One of the most vexing aspects of the modern-day gun-control debate has been the inability of Congress to reinstate the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Gun-control critics have repeatedly asked the question, "What does any person need an AK-47 for?" It's a fair question. It's not exactly as if you can use it for deer hunting. Every gun owner should be not only able to but also required to articulate the reason for an immediate need for a specific firearm (emphasis on immediate) before purchase — no exceptions — and the burden of proof should be on that person.

If the NRA wants opponents to take the organization and its concerns seriously, then it needs to concede some of the weaknesses in the current system that allows so-called bad gun owners to do bad things that make good gun owners look bad. Allowing private citizens to own military-style weapons is one such weakness, and acknowledging this does not in any way hurt those gun owners who own guns that are reasonable, for reasonable reasons, such as hunting. 


4. Gun registration is not a bad thing. 

One of the key fears of gun owners regarding closing the gun-show loophole is that the federal government would be empowered to maintain a database of all guns and gun owners. Here's a question: Why is this a bad thing? Americans are required to register all sorts of things, including cars, so why shouldn't Americans be required to register firearms?


Since the Newtown tragedy, the number of Americans who support such registries has reached an all-time high of 76 percent. If the NRA had acknowledged the fears, and common sense, of these Americans, it would have lent the organization an air of credibility that it has now likely lost in the wake of Newtown because of its response to that tragedy. 

5. Sorry.

No, the NRA did not walk into that school and shoot 20 children, but plenty of people believe that the organization bears some of the blame for contributing to a culture that allowed such an incident to happen. Studies have shown that when doctors apologize for medical errors, malpractice suits are less likely.


Often what we all just want or need to hear is an acknowledgment from others that they understand our hurt and anger and their own responsibility for contributing to those feelings, even if that was not their intent. LaPierre's comments denying any culpability whatsoever not only made him appear tone-deaf but also will likely ensure that the NRA's response to this tragedy is forever remembered as heartless. 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter

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