The National Rifle Association has already won, hands down, the distinction of having the worst luck of any lobbying group in politics this year. Days before a big three-day NRA convention would begin in Denver, the Columbine High School massacre shocked and outraged the nation.
What to do to contain the public-relations nightmare? Cognizant that the national media always shower blame on the NRA after a high-profile shooting, the NRA cancelled its plans for a large gun exhibition and just retained its core "meeting of members" and an awards dinner on May Day. While that may have stopped hordes of network producers from stalking around the gun show looking for the cheapest video shot, the reaction wasn't about to be diluted.
ABC's Peter Jennings announced his network's attack piece the day after the slaughter: "The gun lobby scaled its plans down, but it may not have been enough." A night later, CBS reporter Sandra Hughes showed a billboard of NRA leader Charlton Heston holding a rifle: "The National Rifle Association billboard is a cruel reminder for those still grieving over the events in Littleton that next week the NRA is coming to Denver, even though Mayor Wellington Webb asked the NRA to go away." Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" box sniped: "Fifteen die and they 'scale down' their convention. How many would it take to cancel it?"
Is this fair? Ask this question: Is there any confrontation of armed force that would not be interpreted by the media as an embarrassment to the NRA? Have they ever considered someone defending their life or property with a firearm to be newsworthy? Has there ever been a violent incident that the networks would portray as embarrassing to Handgun Control Incorporated or the Violence Policy Center, because the victim had been cowed into not purchasing a weapon to defend himself?
Couldn't you ask if this massacre demonstrated that the gun-control crowd which passed legislation to keep guns away from kids have been embarrassed, when their proposed solutions solved nothing? The Conservative News Service reported last week that the two teen assassins broke eighteen separate federal and state gun laws in the Columbine High School massacre. Doesn't this on some level reinforce the NRA's belief that criminals will get guns and use them no matter how many laws are passed? Doesn't it at least merit consideration in the endless stream of analysis stories?
But you can't expect these questions to be asked by journalists who explicitly declare that guns should be banned. Many of them now acknowledge that gun-control laws aren't doing the job, but they want guns outlawed anyway. On the talk show "Inside Washington," Newsweek's Evan Thomas declared: "I don't think that gun control is going to have much impact. But I think we ought to do it anyway just to make a statement as a society and even if you save a couple of lives then it's worth it." Time national correspondent Jack E. White one-upped Thomas: "Whatever is being proposed is way too namby-pamby. I mean, for example, we're talking about limiting people to one gun purchase, or handgun purchase a month. Why not just ban the ownership of handguns when nobody needs one? Why not just ban semi-automatic rifles? Nobody needs one."
The fulmination wouldn't be complete without Geraldo Rivera, who asked a gun-rights activist: "Don't you think that your movement, what you stand for, even the Second Amendment itself is rightfully under attack after the carnage in Littleton, Colorado?"
The media and much of American society are making a serious mistake when they make the mental leap of assigning blame for a crime committed with guns to those who advocate the rightful, lawful ownership of guns. The NRA has never advocated the right to mow down innocent bystanders with firearms. So why do we so quickly expect the NRA to apologize somehow for the deaths of 13 victims and their murderers? And at the same time, Planned Parenthood is never blamed for the million and a half babies it advocates the right to kill annually, not to mention the more than 100,000 abortions it performs for profit each year? The media's marination in doctrinaire liberalism becomes crystal clear when you compare the two.
Over the weekend, an unsafe Arkansas tourist boat drowned 13, the same number of victims as died at Columbine High. You can understand how this story can't compete. Murders are more sensational than accidents. But this story also offered no scapegoats for a liberal media which earnestly believes the Second Amendment should be repealed and a new Prohibition is the wave of the future. Even when they know it won't solve a thing.