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The normal pattern for American gun slaughters — a few days of thoughts and prayers, then we all forget it ever happened — was broken last week when surviving students of the February 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting decided to protest the ready availability of mass-murder weapons, leading to a CNN Town Hall and much publicity.
The response from the National Rifle Association was glib and vicious as usual, but apparently less successful, as boycotts led multiple corporations to withdraw their NRA member discounts — a sign, like when some corporations withdrew from North Carolina because of its anti-trans legislation, that capitalism had found another right-wing shibboleth too expensive to support. (Free market’s a bitch, huh, guys?)
As the most lax possible interpretation of the Second Amendment is, like tax breaks for the wealthy and persecution of minorities, a Right-Wing Article of Faith, conservative writers rallied to the NRA’s defense — but with a more wounded, querulous tone than usual, as if even they realized that the tide might be turning against them.
As the Stoneman Douglas kids blew up, the NRA got busy, sending shill Marco Rubio and spokesnut Dana Loesch to face off with students on the CNN Town Hall, while NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre and President Trump pushed a plan to “harden” schools and arm teachers that would effectively make classrooms into prison cells.
Right-wing columnists nodded sagely at this lunacy. National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg, for example, tweeted that if he were a teacher, “I might want to be armed,” conjuring humorous visions of the portly columnist playing out Taxi Driver mirror scenes in homeroom.
But at the Town Hall, the Stoneman Douglas families were not having it, and mercilessly dunked on Rubio; Loesch, apparently unaccustomed to facing genuine opposition instead of just projecting rage at a studio camera, didn’t do so hot either. “It was weird,” Loesch complained later. “There was no control. It just went on forever and ever” — you know, like a school shooting.
The unloved Rubio was hung out to dry, but Loesch had plenty of conservative defenders. “It was a lynch mob directed at the NRA,” tweeted the Forward’s Bethany Mandel. Townhall’s Matt Vespa cried that “CNN Stood By And Allowed The NRA To Be Smeared As Child Murderers” rather than human-shielding Loesch from the teenagers’ questions as chivalry demanded.
Loesch showed her appreciation for these tributes to civil debate by going to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and telling the slavering crowds that “many in legacy media love mass shootings” and consider “crying white mothers” to be “ratings gold.”
To their credit, the Stoneman kids gave no fucks, and clapped back at the NRAniks and all the trolls that came with them. When hardcore wing nuts spread “crisis actor” stories claiming there was no massacre at all and people were just pretending there had been to make conservatives look bad — aided by Trump fan and NRA board member Ted Nugent — the kids smacked them around. When Trump blamed the FBI for investigating him instead of pre-cogging the killer, they smacked him around too. And when Dinesh D’Souza made some typically stupid jokes about them, he got smacked so bad he actually issued an apology.
Interestingly, this show of courage, rare among Democratic constituent groups (which are usually instructed by their friends in the media to roll up in a ball and beg not to be kicked too hard), not only emboldened them but appeared to bring others to their side as well.
Mainstream conservatives, perhaps afraid of receiving similar treatment, suggested instead that it was rude of children who’d been stalked by an armed murderer to complain about it. When Stoneman Douglas’ Sarah Chadwick mocked Rubio in a viral tweet, for example, Trump loyalist Laura Ingraham sulked, “HOW TEENS SPEAK TO AND ABT ADULTS.” An exasperated Todd Starnes of Fox News asked, “Parents, what would you do if your child lectured and ridiculed a U.S. Senator on national television?” earning a series of hilarious answers. (“A majority of parents say they support their children being disrespectful and belligerent to adults,” moped a broken Starnes afterward.)
Jonah Goldberg, perhaps thinking he was making it sound good, wrote, “Of course I feel sorry for the victims, and I support their right to parrot the extreme rhetoric of their elders.”
Other conservatives shook their fists in the traditional manner at liberals and the media.
“I hope CNN got the rating it was looking for,” the Federalist’s David Harsanyi sputtered, “because it’s almost guaranteed that NRA membership and gun sales are about to spike” — as if gun nuts buying even more guns because children sassed them on TV was something to brag about.
Erick Erickson tweeted that he was “going to buy new guns. They’re going to be awesome and will name them for @DLoesch and @ChrisLoesch who put up with so much hell standing up for all of our rights.” I can’t be the only one Erickson’s tweet reminds of this Bugs Bunny Of Mice and Men parody.
“So there’s been a lot of these accusations of ‘you have blood on your hands’ in recent days,” complained the Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway on Twitter. “And here’s the thing: People that rationalize common political views — be it gun rights or tax cuts — as the equivalent of murder are themselves edging toward justifying violence.” (This is the same Mark Hemingway who previously referred to abortion as “legally sanctioned murder.”)
Other conservatives looked for something, anything, else to blame that wasn’t guns, usually Our Fallen World. In “I Bought A Military Rifle At Age Nine. That Was Normal, And There Were No Mass Shootings,” George Parry explained at the Federalist that since he’d had a bolt-action rifle as a kid yet never mass-murdered anyone, the current trend of “children slaughtering other children” was the fault of “homicidal-themed video games, movies, television, and music lyrics.”
Rod Dreher of the American Conservative blamed large schools, sexy magazine articles — “the most tender, intimate expressions of love between a man and a woman, reduced to bestial gestures” — and, through the agency of an alleged reader letter, “early-onset transgenderism.”
“I think we have to look at what the real problem is — I don’t think it’s the guns. I think maybe we have to look at some parenting,” said the guy that sold the guns to Las Vegas Massacre shooter Stephen Paddock.
When Hertz, Delta Airlines, MetLife, and several other companies began withdrawing their NRA membership discounts in response to the controversy, there was a deluge of right-wing snowflakery.
Some of the dumber rightbloggers, like Legal Insurrection, went with a No You’re The Snowflakes argument: “Just visit almost any campus, where non-leftist words and thoughts they don’t like are equated to violence that needs to be repressed and driven off campus,” Legal Insurrection tweeted, “it’s what’s going on now in corporate America too, and @Hertz @Delta and others are just more evidence.” These corporations are retreating to the safe space of free enterprise!
Mark Hemingway found calls for the removal of NRA TV from streaming services a threat to the Constitution itself. “They never stop at undermining just one of the Bill of Rights,” he warned on Twitter. “By the time they’re done, you’ll have a soldier sleeping on your couch.” (Hemingway is also the author of an essay called “In Defense of Book Banning.”)
Rod Dreher returned to weep that a “social media mob” had unfairly attacked the NRA. “I’m beginning to understand now,” he added, “what friends who grew up in communist countries mean when they tell me that the atmosphere in the West now reminds them of their youth,” when their Soviet overlords subjected them to consumer boycotts, I guess.
I’m no Pollyanna, but I see something new here. Conservatives have long believed that gun love, and their dedicated bullying on behalf of it, would always be a winner for them. After all, don’t polls still show, as they have in the past, that most Americans want gun control — and that they simultaneously despair of it ever being enacted? That’s how effective the snarling visages of Loesch and LaPierre and their acolytes in the right wing have been.
But if the Stoneman Douglas kids’ refusal to be cowed has shaken NRA supporters’ confidence, the continuing withdrawal of corporate support seems to panic them. (Check out the NRA’s enraged response to what they call the companies’ “shameful display of political and civic cowardice” — as if the corporations were running away from the front lines rather than making a rational business decision.) For conservatives, it’s bad enough teenagers are sassing them with impunity, but this betrayal by their traditional Big Business friends may be reminding them of a similar situation during the gay marriage struggle — and we all know how that came out.