Jules Witcover: A chink in the NRA’s armor?


To the surprise of critics of the National Rifle Association’s stolid opposition to all manner of gun control, the principal gun lobby before Congress has signaled support for federal limitations on the weapons used in the Las Vegas mass assassination.

The NRA’s two top officials, CEO Wayne LaPierre and chief lobbyist Chris Cox, in a move to head off new anti-gun legislation, have proposed “additional regulations” under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The swift response comes in the wake of a call from Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, long an adamant NRA foe, for banning of the so-called “bump-fire stocks” that essentially convert semi-automatic rifles into truly rapid-firing devices.

Widespread public horror erupted over the Las Vegas fusillade that rained down on the country music festival on the Vegas strip from the 32nd floor of a luxury hotel. It persuaded such Republican congressional leaders as House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte to entertain further reforms.

But many other leading Republicans pushed back against more gun-control proposals in the heat of the moment. President Trump limited himself to saying he would be talking about the matter “as time goes by.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration is “certainty open” to regulating bump stocks, but she seemed to apply the brakes by addin,g “We want to part of that conversation as it takes place in the coming days and weeks.”

Meanwhile, according to the Politico website, the NRA had earlier banned the use of bump stock attachments to rifles used on the organization’s firing range in Northern Virginia. The device sells for about $200 online and enables the firing of 400 to 600 hundred rounds a minute.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who only recently returned to Congress after his hospitalization recovering from bullet wounds sustained at a congressional baseball game in nearby Alexandria, Va., took to NBC News’ “Meet the Press” to urge going slowly on any remedy. He noted that a week earlier, most people had no idea that bump stocks existed, or how they worked to magnify a gun’s mayhem.

The NRA executives’ rush to get in front of the furor over the Las Vegas tragedy suggested a heightened concern that the scope of the human destruction inflicted could begin to loosen the organization’s decades-long grip on Congress in matters of gun control. Advocates of such failed legislative efforts for tighter background checks on gun buyers, particularly at open gun shows, had hoped the 2005 rampage in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 small school children and six teachers and aides, would do so. But a special campaign led by then Vice President Joe Biden failed to achieve significant new gun control legislation.

Trump as candidate and president has been the staunchest of NRA champions, and LaPierre as the gun lobby’s face and voice has been a frequent White House presence. Gun owners and the gun lobby have been core components of the Trump political army at rallies across the country.

It remains to be seen whether the ghastly dimensions of the Las Vegas massacre will shake in any substantial way the NRA’s iron grip on Congress or on president’s firm commitment to its core pro-gun tenets.

The president’s corresponding defense of local police forces in the ongoing dispute over men in blue and violence against African-Americans keeps conflict at a boiling point in Trump’s America.

For all his promises to make the country great again by bringing all Americans together, Trump’s silence toward injustices and inequalities remains more eloquent than his self-serving boasts about responses to crisis, whether in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico or gun-terrorized Las Vegas.


Jules Witcover

Contributing Columnist

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at [email protected].

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