LaPierre et Le Deluge

The NRA may have won a temporary victory, but it can’t keep winning forever, predicts Michael Tomasky.

Rick Bowmer/AP; Win McNamee/Getty

As I said on Current TV a couple of nights ago, I have never seen a situation in which a Congress, terrified of a particular lobby, has behaved in such open contempt of American public opinion as it’s doing now on guns. Ninety percent of Americans approve of background checks, and upwards of 80 percent in many red states. But one man opposes them, and there we are. Wayne LaPierre may have won the week, and he may slither away without Congress doing anything this time around. But the laws of physics are such that he can’t do this forever. He’s like Louis XVI in about 1788. He may be on top now, and his hard-line posture against any and all change may serve him well for the time being; but the revolution is coming, and once it arrives, we’ll beat the NRA, and he’ll be a figure not of power but of ridicule, left to ponder the what-ifs.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the current bill. It looks like Republican Senator Tom Coburn is no longer negotiating with Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin. If that’s the case, any reform is on hold for now.

But it doesn’t mean this fight is over. This episode, even if it ends today, has already cost the NRA a lot. For starters, America now knows that a majority of the group’s rank and file disagrees with the leadership and are not the crazy hard-liners that the group’s leaders are. This is very useful knowledge indeed. It would have been like knowing, had it been true, that most white Birminghamians secretly opposed Bull Connor. Wouldn’t pay immediate dividends, but over time, and over the corpses of more dead children, that silent majority would no longer stay so silent. Would it be so shocking to see a moderate alternative to the NRA—one dedicated to protecting the rights of sportsmen and collectors but also to keeping military weapons out of regular citizens’ hands—emerge someday soon?

Second, we’ve learned that the NRA has no serious interest at all in stopping this carnage. No one is fooled by this bogus “school shield” plan, produced by a task force of 13 people, none of whom are educators but all of whom, according to the excellent David Cay Johnston writing in The National Memo, have a financial interest in security training. Johnston goes through the report and estimates that the measures it calls for will cost $35 billion a year, every year, which of course is never going to happen, as the NRA knows full well. Everyone in Washington knows it too.

Third, more and more Americans have been forced to come to terms with what a decadent and dishonest bunch LaPierre and henchpersons are. A country can live with this kind of immorality for only so long. There will be another mass shooting, and another, and another. Every time, the NRA will run and hide for a few days, as it cravenly did after Newtown. If none of this was their fault, why did they do that, incidentally? And, every time, resolve will grow among the vast majority that opposes the group that we have to do something.

Cracks in the edifice can spread. And eventually, it will tumble and crumble. LaPierre and his people take the view that if they compromise on one thing, even the smallest thing, the camel’s nose will be under the tent, as the Washington cliché goes, and before you know it Dianne Feinstein is going to be knocking on doors in Valdosta, Georgia shoving court orders in people’s faces.

He should remember that, throughout history, there have been many who made the opposite mistake—they resisted reasonable attempts at change and reform so vehemently for so long that, eventually, reform came at them as a flood and washed them away.

We need groups on the other side to spend as much money, or something close to as much. We need people on the other side to care deeply and make this a voting issue—they’ll never care as much as gun nuts, but as we have learned, the gun nuts are just a sliver of the larger universe of gun owners, most of whom are reasonable people. And finally, we need one member of Congress to stand up to the NRA and win. Just one. That’s all it will take. They live in bondage to the NRA, these cowards, and if just one of them escapes the slavery and lives to tell the tale, others will follow.

Louis XVI agreed to some compromises, as it happens, but too late—after the storming of Versailles and the placement of his family under revolutionary watch at Tuileries. We know what happened from there. No, I’m not calling for the guillotine. Defrocking and thorough public humiliation—and sensible laws signaling that we are not a society that abets slaughter—would satisfy me. And about 260 million other Americans.