The National Rifle Association knows exactly whom to blame for the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. The real culprit, says the NRA, is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As the NRA points out, the FBI failed to heed warnings about the shooter. But there’s a bigger story behind this rebuke. To protect its political allies, the NRA has become an enemy of law enforcement.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s CEO, likes to talk about “criminals” and “good guys.” He uses police officers as props. But backstage, the NRA sabotages law enforcement. It limits inspections of firearms dealers and argues against penalties for violating record-keeping laws. It forces the destruction of background-check records. It impedes prosecutions of illegal gun sales. It blocks background checks for person-to-person sales. It opposes the use of police to execute background checks, as well as federal mandates that would provide the necessary information.
If you’ve been investigated, arrested, or convicted, the NRA can help you. Are there police reports or drug arrests on your record? The NRA says they mustn’t be included in your background check for buying a gun. Nor should you be held back by a judge’s restraining order. The NRA opposed legislation that would let judges suspend firearm possession, even for just a week, when issuing temporary protective orders concerning domestic violence. It opposed a Justice Department rule that allowed federal agents to seize property “involved in controlled substance offenses.”
When “good guys” break gun laws, LaPierre doesn’t blame the offenders. He blames the laws. “Too many states refuse to recognize right-to-carry permits that are issued by other states. And honest, good, peaceful people often go to jail as a result,” LaPierre told the Conservative Political Action Conference three years ago. “Good guys shouldn’t be forced to break the law to exercise their God-given constitutional right to protect themselves and their families.”
The real villains, according to LaPierre, are the law enforcers. In 1995, he charged that a federal ban on assault weapons gave “jack-booted government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure or kill us.” LaPierre alleged that under President Bill Clinton, “If you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” In 2014 and 2015, LaPierre denounced the Internal Revenue Service as a “weapon” against conservatives.
You could argue that in those cases, the NRA was defending gun owners. But it’s harder to explain why the NRA is now hounding federal agents for investigating a supposedly unrelated matter. On Jan. 24, 2017, Trump’s then–national security adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Three weeks later, on Feb. 13, Flynn resigned. The next day, the New York Times, citing “phone records and intercepted calls” that “alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies,” reported that Trump’s aides and associates “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”
If the NRA genuinely believed in law enforcement, it might have deferred to the investigating agencies. At a minimum, it would have kept silent. Instead, it attacked the agencies. NRA TV host Grant Stinchfield and NRA TV commentator Dana Loesch denounced the officials who had outed Flynn. Stinchfield called Flynn’s exposure “a concerted effort with Obama loyalists inside these bureaucratic agencies, from the Justice Department to the intelligence community, trying to undermine the president.”
A week later, addressing CPAC, LaPierre charged that the media, hysterical “over the Russian–American equation,” had “found willing co-conspirators among some in the U.S. intelligence community.” He went on: “A hundred years ago, if you use eavesdropped and published the affairs of the head of state, you would have been tracked down and hanged for treason.” Shortly afterward, Trump accused Obama of wiretapping him in Trump Tower. The charge was bogus, but LaPierre endorsed it.
On March 20, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI was “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.” On May 9, Trump fired him. Comey’s friends released memos documenting Trump’s attempts to corrupt the director and quash the investigation. Again, the NRA chose to attack the investigators. Loesch, newly installed as the NRA’s spokeswoman, mocked Comey’s memos. “Trump has the right to fire him,” she said. Another NRA TV host, Chuck Holton, dismissed the Russia story as a “diversion.”
On June 8, Comey testified about Trump’s attempts to subvert the investigation. Loesch, in an interview on NRA TV, said Comey should be investigated for taking notes and leaking “privileged information.” Three times during the interview, she called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt.” Her interviewer, NRA TV host Bill Whittle, said there was “no evidence” against the president. Stinchfield defended Trump’s “demand for loyalty” from Comey, and he told NRA TV viewers, falsely, that Comey had denied that Trump sought to obstruct justice.
In the months that followed, Trump escalated his assault on the FBI. NRA representatives stood by him. They ridiculed “the Trump/Russia narrative” and “the media’s obsession with Russia.” They accused “Comey’s FBI” of conspiring to surveil innocent Americans. They also defended Trump against detailed allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
That’s where the NRA–FBI relationship stood two weeks ago, before the bloodbath in Parkland. The NRA was at war with the bureau, not for doing too little, but for doing too much. On Feb. 17, three days after the shooting, Trump accused the FBI of missing warnings about it because the bureau was “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.” The NRA agreed. Stinchfield called for a purge of FBI officials, blaming the tragedy on “leadership inside the FBI focusing on politics and Russian investigations instead of making sure that people are safe.” Holton charged that “federal law enforcement” was “working actively against our president.”
The FBI did botch a clear warning in the Parkland case. But the NRA is using that failure to undercut the Russia investigation. Speaking at CPAC on Thursday, Loesch blamed the shooting on Comey, chiding him: “Maybe if you politicized your agency less and did your job more, we wouldn’t have these problems.” LaPierre told the CPAC audience: “As we’ve learned in recent months, even the FBI is not free of its own corruption.” He asked “why no one at the FBI stood up and called BS on its rogue leadership.”
That’s a good question. But it’s a question for the NRA, not the FBI. Millions of decent people pay dues every year to sustain the NRA. They think they’re supporting law and order. What they’re really supporting is the nation’s most effective anti-police lobby. The NRA’s campaign against the FBI, just for doing its job, is the culmination of a long descent into anarchism and corruption. Perhaps it’s time that someone at the NRA stood up and called BS on its rogue leadership.