National Rifle Assn. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre speaks at… (Evan Vucci / Associated…)
It would be wrong to base one's judgments about politicians too heavily on their gaffes. Public speakers are exposed to microphones so often that it would be shocking if the occasional boneheaded remark didn't slip out. But in the case of National Rifle Assn. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the achingly incongruous statements tend not to come from off-the-cuff remarks but carefully vetted prepared statements.
Which leaves us to wonder: How can anybody possibly attract such a large and financially powerful following by uttering statements that defy third-grade logic?
One does not have to dig deep into the LaPierre highlight reel to find footage of him dismissing the real point in order to bring up a complete irrelevancy, or simply ignoring an issue when it is in fact at the heart of the problem he's discussing. For example, here he is in a speech in Reno on Tuesday dismissing President Obama's common-sense proposals to limit gun violence:
"[Obama] wants to put every private, personal firearms transaction right under the thumb of the federal government," LaPierre said. "He wants to keep all of those names in a massive federal registry. There's only two reasons for a federal list of gun owners: to either tax 'em or take 'em. That's the only reasons."
Well, no. There are plenty of other reasons to create a list of potential gun owners. Here are two: to create a reliable federal database that prevents convicted felons, the mentally ill and other clearly unsuited people from buying guns, and to trace them in case they are used in crimes. Did LaPierre forget about these two, or were they simply inconvenient to his case?
But the non sequiturs just kept flying. Filling out background check paperwork would mean "forcing family members to fill out forms to leave a family heirloom to a loved one — standing in line and filling out a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork, just so a grandfather can leave a grandson a Christmas gift." For the record, Obama's proposal doesn't require transfers of firearms to family members to go though background checks (although, as California already does, it should).
There was, unfortunately, a lot more, including a rambling defense of "absolutism." Under LaPierre's definition, absolutism in support of freedom is a virtue. Presently, this means that supporting every picayune gun law, including those that make it easier for criminals to obtain firearms, is doing the work of the angels, while coming up with common-sense restrictions that wouldn't affect law-abiding gun owners is a form of extremism. Are people buying this?
In a word, LaPierre's arguments aren't just slightly out of touch; they are absurd. If the NRA wants to continue using him as its chief spokesman, it will have only itself to blame.