It is always a good idea to avoid making judgments about events involving guns until the NRA has had a chance to join and guide the discussion. That is because the NRA is more familiar with guns than many of us and is, therefore, in a better position to comment on events of note that involve the use of guns. It is also better able, if the events are tragic, as they almost always are, to make proposals as to how future tragic events involving guns can be avoided.
Out of a sense of delicacy (for which the NRA is well known), it often waits a while before commenting on gun inspired violence lest it respond before it has all the information. Thus, for example, following the Newtown school massacre that took place Friday December 14, 2012, the NRA issued a statement December 18 in which it said: “[W]e were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown. Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”
Three days later, the full investigation of the facts having been completed to the NRA’s satisfaction, Wayne LaPierre, its Executive vice president and CEO, held a press conference. He suggested that to avoid future tragedies Congress should “put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.” As of this writing that suggestion has not been implemented and since it might require close to a million guards to protect all the schools in this country, it is unlikely that it ever will be.
Following the tragic events in Charleston, South Carolina last week, many words were spoken about the tragedy and the contribution made by guns to the events that took place in that city. President Obama said what many were thinking.: “At some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it [gun violence] and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.” Americans for Responsible Solution, the groups with which Gabriella Giffords is associated, echoed the president’s words: “Once again, a senseless act of gun violence has brought terror, tragedy and pain to one of our communities.” As meaningful as those words were, however, the final commentator on matters involving guns is always the NRA and while grateful to the president and others for their thoughts, we are nonetheless waiting to hear from the NRA. It has not officially responded to the church murders as of this writing.
Echoing comments made by the NRA after Newtown, its spokesperson, Jennifer Baker, said that the NRA would have nothing to say, “until all the facts are known.” One NRA board member, however, did not need to wait for all the facts to come in since he knew what the most salient fact was. Charles Cotton is a Houston lawyer and board member of the national NRA. He explained that responsibility for this tragedy lay on one of the victims. He said that “Eight of his [state senator Clementa Pinckney] church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.” Jennifer Baker commented on Mr. Cotton’s observation saying, “Individual board members do not speak for the NRA.”
It is not possible to know what Wayne LaPierre will say if and when he holds a press conference to help the country get through this latest gun inspired tragedy. It is entirely possible that he will suggest that to insure the safety of worshippers, armed guards be placed in every church in the nation. It is unlikely, however, that he will comment so soon after the tragedy on the effect it will have on NRA membership. That effect, if history is a guide and Mr. LaPierre is to be believed, is that its ranks will swell. At the annual meeting of the organization held in 2013, Mr. LaPierre told attendees that following the Newtown and other shootings that had occurred during the preceding 6 months, membership in the NRA increased by 500,000. He said that: “By the time we’re finished, the NRA must and will be 10 million strong.” He did not explain what the word “finished” meant and there is some question as to whether or not his description of the size of the organization or its growth is in fact accurate.
Nonetheless, it does seem to be true that following these tragedies, gun sales to members of the public increase sharply. The buyers and the NRA apparently believe that the solution to acts of violence committed by people carrying guns is acquisition of guns by the rest of us-a sort of “the more the merrier” approach. Those whose lives have been ruined by the errant gun do not consider that solution to be a merry prospect. Quite the contrary.
Christopher Brauchli is an attorney in Boulder, Colorado.