Guns in schools? Good for business!
December 24, 2012By Dick Polman
On Meet the Press yesterday, National Rifle Association honcho Wayne LaPierre said: "If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy."
OK, Wayne. You're crazy.
I don't intend to analyze his idea. If you really want to know why it's crazy to lock and load 99,000 public schools (LaPierre envisions hiring "retired miitary...retired police...former Secret Service)", there's plenty of evidence online about why it would be logistically unworkable and financially insane. Nobody, except for the usual gun nuts, takes his idea seriously; even the conservative New York Post ran a cover-page headline this weekend calling LaPierre an "NRA Loon."
But I'd amend the crazy label. He's actually crazy like a fox.
Because this is all about money. In terms of annual business, the American gun industry is worth $12 billion. The NRA's budget annual budget is $250 million; it depends not just on membership dues, but on lavish industry contributions. For instance, the gun-making firm Sturm Ruger just finished a one-year sweetheart deal with the NRA; it gave the NRA a dollar for every gun sold, and the NRA's take totaled $1.2 million. And the gun retailers get in on the act, too. The CEO of Cabela's, a hunting and outdoor gear chain, recently gave the NRA $1 million in cash.
In other words, the NRA exists to do the industry's bidding. The NRA can talk all day (and it certainly does) about the Second Amendment and about its stalwart defense of Freedom, but its real job is to keep the industry fat and happy and profitable - by ensuring that it sells more and more guns. What's good for the gun industry is good for the NRA, and vice versa. The industry and the NRA are essentially telling the devastated parents of Newtown: "It's not personal. It's business."
Which brings us to LaPierre's guns-in-schools proposal. He knows that he's being reviled and ridiculed; he knows that the kind of people who watch Meet the Press probably view him as a self-parodying buffoon. And I would bet that he couldn't care less - because his intended audience is comprised of his gun business clients. In this time of crisis (the worst crisis for gun industrialists since Columbine in 1999), he wants to demonstrate that he has their back.
If his bid to arm the schools goes nowhere, he at least showed his clients that he doesn't intend to cede an inch to the "elitists" who threaten the industry's profit margins. And if LaPierre does get some traction with his idea - in some states here, in some localities there - well, all the better, because that could be a swell way to sell more guns. Armed retirees in thousands of schools...that could be a whole new market.
Right now, roughly 40 percent of the gun industry's annual domestic sales go to law enforcement; LaPierre's idea could grow that slice of the pie. And that would be a very nice deal for the gun industry - because the percentage of gun-owning households has long been shrinking. True fact. According to a study by the Univerity of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center, roughly half of all households had guns back in 1973; in 2010, the share was only 32 percent. So it would just be smart business to expand sales elsewhere.
Which is why LaPierre is touting "armed security" - active cops as well as retired sentries - as a way to "protect our kids." It would've been far more accurate if he had touted it as a way to "protect our profits."
At one point yesterday, host David Gregory suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea to ban semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition: "If we replace (30-round magazines) and said, 'Well, you could only have a magazine that carries five bullets or ten bullets,' isn't it just as possible that you can reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?" In other words, Gregory was asking LaPierre whether he understood basic math.
LaPierre: "I don't believe that's going to make one difference."
A laughable response, yes. A nauseating response, yes. But how else would we have expected him to respond? Semi-automatic weapons (known to NRA leaders as "sporting arms") and high-capacity magazines are growth sectors of the gun market. The gun-owning households, shrinking share notwithstanding, tend to buy lots of guns, and they love those sporting arms. There's no way the NRA will agree to any legislation that shaves the industry's annual $12 billion.
So the next time LaPierre shows up on a Sunday show taking about Freedom, remember his unspoken message: "Guns are good business. Invest your kids."
I'm off the grid on Christmas Day. On Wednesday, from 10 to 11 a.m., I'll be guesting on WHYY's Radio Times, reviewing the year and looking ahead. I'll handle the domestic politics; my co-guest, Philadelphia Inquirer foreign affairs columnist Trudy Rubin, will look overseas.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1