In the still-developing national conversation about the complex issues raised by last Friday's mass murder in Newtown, CT, one constituency is oddly--I don't want to say ominously--silent: the National Rifle Association. As a long-time participant-observer in America's gun culture, I'm at a loss to account for this. Are they in some sort of denial? It's business as usual on their (very busy) web site, but their news feed carries nary a word about the school shootings. Why not? Why no acknowledgment of the story that has rightly captured the attention not simply of this nation but of the world? Why not even a note of sympathy or condolence? Inquiring minds, as they used to say, want to know. This one does, anyway.
I should make it clear where I stand re the NRA. I am not a member. I was, for a couple of years when I first started hunting and writing about it, but I dropped my membership for two reasons: One was Wayne LaPierre's notorious "jack-booted thugs" comment about Federal officers; I didn't want to belong to any organization that espoused that sort of inflammatory rhetoric. (I noted with some irony that former president George H.W. Bush cancelled his life-membership at the same time, for the same reason.) But my other reason was, actually, pro-NRA: Because on numerous occasions in various contexts I was called upon to write or speak about gun issues in which the NRA figured prominently, I reckoned I was on more solid ground on the occasions when I defended the NRA (and there were many) if I was not myself a member. I actually have a lot of friends who are NRA members. I am married to an NRA life member. I know these people are not the stereotypical gun nuts so often demonized by the Brady Bunch. I also know a lot of NRA members are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the organization.
The national Shooting Sports Foundation--headquartered in Newtown, a few miles from Sandy Hook school--immediately issued a simple statement:
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community. Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time."
Would it have been too much to ask for the NRA to do likewise?
Or does America's most powerful gun lobby figure it is above all that? Perhaps they figure it was enough to unleash board member Ted Nugent to tell the right-wing internet news site Newsmax on Sunday, in an "exclusive interview," that the real problem was that schools like Sandy Hook Elementary are gun-free zones. That the twenty 6- and 7- year- olds were killed because they were "forced into unarmed helplessness." Surely the NRA can come up with a better line than this.
Or maybe they cannot, at least not under their current leadership. Maybe this is the end of an era. And maybe that is a good thing.
Zeiss Stange is the author of Woman the Hunter (Beacon Press, 1997),
Gun Women (New York University Press, 2000), and most recently Hard
Grass: Life on the Crazy Woman Bison Ranch (University of New Mexico Press,
2010). She also edited Heart Shots: Women Write about Hunting (Stackpole,
2003) and Stackpole Books' "Sisters of the Hunt" series of classic works about
hunting by women, and has published widely on women's and environmental issues
in both the commercial and academic press. A professor of Women's Studies and
Religion at Skidmore College, she teaches in the gender studies, environmental
studies and international affairs programs. She divides her time between her
"town job" in Saratoga Springs, NY, and the bison ranch in southeastern Montana
that she and her husband Doug share with six Peruvian horses, two Springer
Spaniels, a tuxedo cat and various wildlife.