“Each horrible act can’t become an ax for opportunists to cleave the very Bill of Rights that binds us.”
Those were the words of the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) president just days after a mass shooting left the country reeling and mourning. The year was 1999, and Charlton Heston was plowing ahead with an NRA convention in Denver, Colorado, mere miles from Columbine High School where 13 victims were shot and killed by two armed gunmen.
Now consider the words of current NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre this week, days after multiple mass shootings in Texas, Ohio, and California left the country, once again, reeling and mourning: “There’s nothing about an insane criminal committing a horrible act that should lead to the government taking guns away from law abiding citizens.”
With his statement, LaPierre plowed ahead with the NRA’s mission of resisting any effort to curb gun violence in the country, even after 31 more people were buried with bullet holes in their bodies.
Not much has changed in the two decades separating those two quotes. Republican lawmakers continue to block any effort to impose even the most simplistic regulations on guns, the NRA continues to fundraise off the murder of children, and the American people continue to support common sense gun control measures by overwhelming majorities.
Just about the only thing that has changed in the gun debate in the last 20 years is the frequency and body count of mass shootings, both of which have climbed significantly.
But there’s one other similarity between 1999 and today: the NRA’s favorability numbers are way down. In 2000, shortly after Columbine, just 43% of the country had a favorable view of the gun group. After years of successful image rehabilitation, the NRA’s numbers have cratered once again, with a Fox News poll this week finding that just 42% of Americans view the NRA favorably.
The NRA itself is no doubt keenly aware of those numbers, and of the public’s perception of them at the moment. That’s why LaPierre filmed what amounts to a campaign ad in recent days, decrying the real victim of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio: the NRA.
Speaking directly into the camera, in a video posted to YouTube and Twitter earlier this week, LaPierre reserved the bulk of his criticism not for the gunmen in the recent shootings, but for the “highly orchestrated effort to disarm American citizens unlike anything we’ve ever seen in this country.”
“It’s an effort to destroy the NRA, to defame our millions of members and tens of millions of supporters — an effort that’s fueled by billionaires and a multi-billion dollar media machine that couldn’t care less about fighting crime,” said the CEO, who demanded the organization buy him a multi-million dollar compound in Texas after the Parkland shooting, supposedly for safety reasons.
The NRA has demonstrated in recent months that it needs no outside help in destroying the organization. Internal quarreling reportedly led to the messy ouster of former president Oliver North, and accusations of financial mismanagement were aired publicly. Internal documents revealed the NRA to be hemorrhaging money, and earlier this year it shuttered NRA TV, the organization’s online channel, which was frequently used to promote pro-gun propaganda.
More recently, four NRA board members announced their resignations from the organization in a two week span, and other notable conservatives publicly rebuked the organization and canceled their memberships.
That Fox News poll, the one that showed the NRA with its lowest favorability numbers ever, also captured one other troubling statistic for the organization: For the first time in its history, the NRA’s unfavorable numbers were higher than its favorable ones.