Six Years After Sandy Hook, There's Hope

It depends on Americans coming to see the NRA as the Kremlin's stooge.

I have written often about the 2012 massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a few miles from where I’m writing in New Haven.

I have written for six years about mass shootings as a matter of public health. I have argued for the social good of personal liability insurance. I have made the conservative case for more and better gun control. I have urged seeing mass shootings as a form of terrorism, hoping that if a majority believed them to be an issue of national security, as was the case after Sept. 11, then even the archest conservative would act.

I wrote with hope, but fact is, I didn’t have much. How can you hope when even the murder of 20 kids didn’t move the US Congress? How can you hope for policy sanity when many states decided the proper response to 20 dead kids wasn’t fewer guns, but more guns, passing legislation permitting them in parks, churches, and schools?

It was as if America had been wounded but instead of treating the wound, Republicans, and a handful of spineless Democratic enablers, poured salt into it. Worse, they gave bad people more reasons, and more ways, of committing great evil. The NRA had been holding the country hostage, and all we could do was watch.

But things changed after 2016.

First, because the survivors of the Parkland massacre started doing something I had believed wouldn’t work: they made a blistering and fearless liberal case for gun control. They didn’t avoid, as I had, talking about guns or try some clever-by-half way of getting around what is essentially a moral argument, which is that more guns equals more death. They brought so much authority to their case that no one could deny the moral rightness of it. And they were explicit about their enemy: the NRA.

That’s the other thing that changed after 2016. Before Donald Trump’s election, the National Rifle Associate, even to its fiercest critics, was seen as a mission-based group that stood on the principles of liberty, the value of patriotism, and the spirit (though not the letter) of the Second Amendment. Even if you felt the NRA was totally wrong, even if you reviled its mission, you might concede it was wrong for the right reasons.

That’s no longer the case among its critics. The group’s image is in decline among indifferent bystanders, too. The president has been under investigation for possible conspiracy with foreign enemies to sabotage the will and sovereignty of the American people. The NRA has been implicated as a result of federal inquiries. Maria Butina, a Russian national, pleaded guilty Thursday to infiltrating the group, on behalf of the Kremlin, in order to influence the Republican Party and Donald Trump.

The Post reported Thursday that:

One of Butina’s main targets was the NRA — a group she identified in a 2015 memo as an organization that “had influence over” the Republican Party, according to court filings. Her relationships with the group, she wrote, could be used as the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication to the next presidential administration.

[…]

Butina’s case exposed how Russia saw the NRA as a key pathway to influencing American politics to the Kremlin’s benefit. And it has intensified questions about what the gun rights group knew of the Russian effort to shape U.S. policy and whether it faces ongoing legal scrutiny.

I’m guessing the NRA could weather any kind of assault from critics as long as its uncompromising position on guns was seen as at least legitimate. But I don’t see how it can withstand scrutiny over the long-term now that it’s been proven—by way of a guilty plea—that the Russian government compromised it in order to turn its patriotism and principles against the will and sovereignty of the American people.

Before 2016, it was possible to accept, with no small amount of discomfort or disbelief, that mass shootings were the price of having guaranteed liberties. But now, when it looks like the NRA has been playing a role in the Kremlin’s plan to weaken the republic, well, that’s different. That doesn’t look principled. That looks sinister, as if mass shootings for the last six years have been part of a scheme to wound America.

I don’t claim that that’s the case. I do claim the NRA is in danger of a majority of Americans seeing it that way. A lot will be determined by federal investigators as they look for the source of the $30 million the NRA gave to Trump’s campaign. If that’s Russian money, look out. That may spell the end, or perhaps the beginning of the NRA’s rediscovering its roots as a strong advocate of gun safety and control.

In this, I do have some hope for change.

—John Stoehr

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Bomb threat closes Sandy Hook

As I was writing today’s newsletter, on the six-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, someone called in a bomb threat to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

It wasn’t credible. No one was hurt. Police evacuated the school, sent kids home.

But this is a reminder: This is the kind of evil we face.


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