Republicans have moved past the NRA: The GOP is now even more extreme on guns

The NRA has gotten weaker since Wayne LaPierre, but more extreme groups are proliferating as Republicans radicalize

By Heather Digby Parton
March 24, 2021 1:57PM (UTC)
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Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn and Lauren Boebert (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

After a year of illness, death and economic destruction, the vaccines are providing us with a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. So naturally, as we are all preparing to go back to the office or out to dinner or take a trip, it's also time for us to start back up with the senseless mass shootings that are as much a part of our culture these days as March Madness and pizza delivery. Within the last five days, we have had two mass shootings killing a total of 18 innocent people in two separate states. Two 21-year-old men were able to get their hands on semi-automatic weapons in the days before they opened fire, one in Georgia and one in Colorado.

As I have confessed before, I've become regretfully pessimistic about the prospect for sensible gun laws in this country in recent years. After Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, Pittsburgh, El Paso and dozens more, it just seems that we watch these horrific events unfold on TV and ask ourselves over and over what kind of civilized country would allow this carnage. Then the gun proliferation enthusiasts rush in with "thoughts and prayers" and make some empty gesture about banning an obscure firearm accessory after which there is grieving, political haggling and then, finally, nothing.

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In years past, along with the usual "thoughts and prayers" there would often be some kind of temporary bipartisan agreement that "something must be done" as pundits and analysts insisted that "this time" we've come to "an inflection point." Republican senators would offer some ineffectual band-aid that meant nothing, Democrats would balk after which the NRA, led by Wayne LaPierre, would sweep in and denounce even those small measures and that would be that.

The most heinous example of that dynamic came after the Newtown massacre of a classroom full of 6 years olds and their teachers by a very disturbed young man, once again using a semi-automatic weapon, purchased for him by his mother, whom he also killed. It was one of the most horrific mass shootings in US history, shaking even Republicans and NRA board members who assumed that they had no choice but to accede to some form of gun regulations. LaPierre, however, knew better. In the midst of overwhelming national grief and horror he went to Washington and declared that not only was the NRA not going to acquiesce to the demands of the political establishment and the public, but he was also going to double down. He defiantly declared:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. What if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday, he'd been confronted by qualified armed security? Our children— we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.

And that was the end of that. The Republicans backed out, the Democrats backed down and the status quo was preserved. It was very politically risky but it paid off. LaPierre was able to demonstrate that not even the senseless murder of dozens of tiny children would make the Republicans defy the gun lobby. That's real power and he wielded it ruthlessly. To that end, his contribution to the election of Donald Trump was one of LaPierre's greatest accomplishments.

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So, while I may have lost faith that the government would break its gridlock on this issue, I did think that it might start to crack when LaPierre flamed out last year in grand fashion after having been revealed to have financed a very extravagant lifestyle for himself through gross corruption on a massive scale. His ignominious firing and the infighting and recriminations in the organization that followed seemed to spell doom for the lobbying juggernaut's hold on the Republican party and perhaps opened the door to some common sense.

Sadly, as with so much else in today's GOP, the opening only made things even more extreme.

As Matt Cohen at Mother Jones reported, a number of extremist groups have stepped into the void. There is the Second Amendment Foundation, which recently filed a number of lawsuits challenging state gun control laws, and the National Association for Gun Rights, which paints itself as a more conservative alternative to the NRA — just in case you thought that organization was a bunch of bleeding hearts. There are also numerous local groups loosely and not so loosely affiliated with Neo-Nazi groups, militia, and others way out on the fringe who are filling the void that the NRA has left in its wake. In January of 2020, 20,000 armed extremists showed up in Virginia on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to protest a gun control law signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

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And we've seen the results of this new extreme gun proliferation activism in Congress with the election of freshmen representatives like Lauren Boebert, R-Co, Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga, and Madison Cawthorne, R-NC, all of whom have flaunted their devotion to firearms, even demanding they be allowed to carry them on to the floor of the congress. There have even been several incidents since the insurrection in which Republican representatives have attempted to bring their guns through metal detectors.

Greene tweeted this after President Joe Biden called for new gun safety regulation on Tuesday:

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"Molon labe!", roughly translated as "come and take them" became popularized among the gun fetishists after they all saw the movie "300" and thought it was totally awesome.

Boebert reacted by rushing to fundraise:

Greene is from Georgia and Boebert is from Colorado, the two states where the mass shootings took place. You can see where their priorities lie.

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And they aren't the only ones. In the Senate on Tuesday, we saw the likes of Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Lousiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas all making it clear in different ways that not only don't they think this gun violence is a problem, they believe people should arm up to "defend themselves" against Antifa and Black Lives Matter, not to mention getting ready for some vigilante work on behalf of the police (who they apparently don't mind seeing hit over the head with flagpoles and baseball bats as long as it for the cause.) The NRA is no longer necessary to buck up the wobbly Republicans at times like these. They are all Wayne LaPierre now.

Salon's Amanda Marcotte had a somewhat optimistic take on this issue, pointing out that there is now a strong activist opposition, much more grassroots energy and some institutional support that hasn't existed in the past. And she's right that you just have to keep trying. There is simply no choice. But with the right getting more extreme in every way, their obsession with unfettered gun rights may take an even darker turn than we've seen up until now with its close ties to the domestic terror threat. It's hard to believe but we may still not have seen the worst of this yet.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Congress Gop Gun Laws Gun Restrictions Gun Violence Guns Nra Republicans