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NRA head Wayne LaPierre finally had his chance to “Meet the Press” after refusing to take questions at his Friday press conference, and he used the opportunity to invite the world to call him crazy. “If it’s crazy to call for armed officers in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” he told the NBC show’s host David Gregory. The conservative New York Post had no problem going there, slapping LaPierre on its cover Saturday under the blaring headline, “GUN NUT! NRA loon in bizarre rant over Newtown.”
“It’s the one thing that would keep people safe,” LaPierre continued of his plan, “I said what I honestly thought and…what hundreds of millions of people all over this country believe will actually make a difference.” All the evidence available suggests putting armed guns in school is actually not a particularly effective idea (there was an armed Sheriff’s deputy in Columbine High School on the day of the shooting, for instance).
After getting LaPierre to agree that anything that might reduce violence, even marginally, should be attempted, Gregory turned the tables on him by asking about high capacity magazines. “You’re telling me it’s not a matter of common sense that if you have the ability to shoot off 30 rounds without reloading that just possibly, you could reduce the loss of life? That Adam Lanza may not have had the ability to shoot so many kids?” Gregory challenged LaPierre while holding up an a 30-round magazine.
“I don’t buy your argument for a minute, there are so many ways he could have done it,” LaPierre replied, without really explaining or citing any evidence aside from the fact that Columbine happened while the Assault Weapon Ban was in effect. Gregory fired back by citing a conservative, gun-owning judge who wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times making the “conservative case” for banning the magazines. “I keep saying it and you just won’t accept it, it’s not going to work,” LaPierre replied. It was an uncharacteristically tough exchange for Gregory and he should be commended for so aggressively challenging LaPierre since no other journalist in the country had the opportunity to do so.
On CNN’s State of the Union, former Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson, who is heading the NRA’s effort to put armed guards in every school, elaborated a bit on the details of the program. He said it would likely start out with police officers, then volunteers might be used down the line. Money could be found by cutting foreign aid, perhaps. But gun control is out of the question, Hutchinson said, because guns are merely a tool. “Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer as his weapon, so let’s not focus on the weapon so much as the response capability and the safety of the children,” he said.
Indeed, McVeigh killed 168 people at the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 with a truck bomb made from ammonium nitrate, but the government did effectively focus on the weapon. The Clinton administration tightened regulations around purchasing the chemical in the immediate aftermath and President George W. Bush signed a law in 2007 that restricted the sale of the chemical and created a national registry. The law makes it nearly impossible for someone to a accumulate the amount of ammonium nitrate needed for a truck bomb without being detected. The chemical has been used in dozens of bombings around the world, including the 1993 World Trade Center terror attack, but there hasn’t been a bombing with the chemical in the U.S. since the law went into effect.
As I noted, the last time LaPierre appeared on “Meet the Press” was in 1995 when he called federal agents “jack-booted thugs” who wear “Nazi bucket helmets and black stormtrooper uniforms to attack law-abiding citizens.” This was less than a month after the Oklahoma City Bombing, in which dozens of federal agents were killed. Former President George H.W. Bush publicly resigned his lifetime membership to the NRA because of LaPierre’s comments. “I am a gun owner and an avid hunter,” he wrote in a letter to LaPierre and the NRA. “However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.”
Appearing later on “Meet the Press,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, said he’s not even sure Congress can do anything to stop mass shootings, so why bother? “I don’t know if there’s anything Lindsey Graham can do in the Senate to stop mass murder from somebody that’s hell bent on doing crazy things,” he explained.
Meanwhile, there was also plenty of talk about the fiscal cliff on the Sunday shows, though little news. President Obama and congressional leaders skipped town at the end of the week after failing to reach a deal, so things seem frozen for the moment.
Graham, however, is already licking his chops for the next big chance for Republicans to take something hostage. His party will have real “leverage,” he said, when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling. “I’m not going to do it unless we fix Social Security and Medicare,” he said. Of course fixing those programs is a euphemism for cutting them. Graham is several notches less radical than the more conservative members of his caucus, so it’s fair to say this is a widely held belief among Senate Republicans. Thus, look forward to another fight on entitlements when we hit the debt limit at the end of February or in early March.
In other news, things are not looking good for former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has come under fire for his allegedly anti-Israel views in his rumored bid to take the helm as Secretary of Defense. Independent Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who is retiring but offers a good barometer of how staunchly pro-Israel lawmakers are feeling, said he was concerned about Hagel’s “very outlying votes” on some Israeli policy. “I wouldn’t say his votes disqualify him but if I were in the Senate and on the Armed Service Committee and he was nominated, I would have some really serious questions to ask him,” Lieberman, who caucuses with Democrats and thus should be amenable to an Democratic appointment, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Even, New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is also a vocal supporter of Israel, refrained from saying saying he’d support Hagel, explaining that he would need to “study his record.”
And finally, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham is pretty sure Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s fainting spell and concussion was all part of an elaborate scheme to cover up something about Benghazi. She quipped on Fox that it was an “immaculate concussion.” She is not alone, sadly.
Eight days until we go over the fiscal cliff, 29 days until President Obama’s second inauguration.
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.More Alex Seitz-Wald.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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