Did The NRA Faceplant After Newtown?

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In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. shootings, some pro-gun politicians (mostly Democrats) begged the National Rifle Association to be part of a fresh conversation about gun violence, focused on many aspects of society including the availability of semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. A week after the elementary school tragedy, the NRA has given its answer: No.

At a press conference Friday and a closely-watched appearance Sunday on Meet The Press, NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre was openly hostile to talk of new gun regulations, and dismissed those calling for them as gun-hating “elites.”

But despite the bluster from LaPierre, the NRA increasingly finds itself in an isolated position.Most Republicans steered clear of criticizing the NRA before LaPierre’s maligned press conference, but there were signs Friday and over the weekend that was starting to change. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told reporters that the proposal to place armed guards more schools — the cornerstone of the NRA’s response to Newtown — is not “the solution to safety in schools.”

“You don’t want to make this an armed camp for kids,” Christie said. “I don’t think that’s a positive example for children. We should be able to figure out other ways to enhance safety.”

Republicans largely haven’t criticized the NRA (and Christie was very careful about it in his remarks) but the New Jersey governor’s statement is an indication that the NRA did not give Republicans the cover they needed with the press conference of subsequent media appearances. On Fox News Sunday, for example, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) shied away from talk of gun control but also criticized LaPierre’s call for congressional action to force guns into all the nation’s public schools, saying decisions about guards in schools should be made at the local level. On CBS’s Face The Nation, retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said regulation of high capacity magazines is worth discussing.

“Those large clips need to be looked at,” she said.

But there are also signs the NRA is solidifying it’s support in some circles. In an interview with Slate last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested he’d be open to talk of banning high-capacity magazines. But on Sunday, Graham told Meet The Press such a ban wouldn’t do much.

“I can change a magazine pretty quick,” Graham, who spoke of his own AR-15 rifle back home, said. He embraced the call for increased school security coming from the NRA.

The pro-gun Democrats who called for new gun control before LaPierre’s press conference haven’t changed their tune since LaPierre spoke. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said a discussion of new gun regulations should be on the table following the NRA presser, even as he moved closer to the organization than Christie did.

“I’m open to a discussion about whether we need more security in our schools, as the NRA proposed in Friday’s news conference, but that can’t be the only measure that comes out of this,” Manchin wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Friday.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who has a high rating from the NRA, responded to LaPierre’s press conference by saying Sunday on CBS’s Face The Nation it was time to consider regulation of high-capacity magazines and perhaps assault weapons.

Meanwhile, the White House is ready to push for more gun control despite the NRA’s decision to stand its ground after Newtown. A White House aide told TPM Friday that President Obama wants to see regulations of so-called assault weapons and the large-capacity magazines that have been the target of legislation in the past. Obama is expected to make specific policy recommendations in his State Of The Union address, setting up a fight over gun control that will test the NRA’s power.

LaPierre told NBC’s Meet The Press he thinks it’s a fight he can win, despite the mounting criticism and seeming isolation on Capitol Hill.

“The American people value their freedom,” LaPierre said.

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