The National Rifle Association’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, and its top lobbyist, Chris Cox, went on Fox News last night to deliver their first on-camera responses to the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Each pressed a number of points — a central one being that Congress should “do its job” and expand the rights to carry guns, but not broach new gun restrictions — while also using the platform to apportion blame for the massacre.
Among the villains they both castigated were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which said the bump stocks possessed by the killer were fine to sell, and the Obama administration, on whose watch that decision was made.
Cox and LaPierre also made sure to jab at a favorite foe: Hollywood.
“You know, the NRA spends millions a year teaching responsible gun ownership. And Hollywood makes billions promoting and glorifying gun violence,” Cox said to Tucker Carlson. “Then the same hypocrites come and suggest we’re to blame for this.”
LaPierre deployed a nearly identical talking point during his interview with Sean Hannity. “We spend millions teaching gun responsibility,” LaPierre said, but “this Hollywood crowd makes billions teaching gun irresponsibility…The hypocrisy coming out of Hollywood is beyond belief.”
The remedy for shootings like the one in Las Vegas, Cox suggested, is not gun control, but wrestling with “a violent culture — what’s happened with gratuitous violence out of Hollywood.”
For years, in the wake of mass shootings, the NRA has pointed to entertainment industry executives and celebrities as the example par excellence of feckless, hypocritical elites who stick their noses into gun ownership, yet profit from depictions of death and destruction. The underlying suggestion is that the cultural influence on individuals’ morality bears far more of the blame for mass shootings than access to guns.
It’s an idea that NRA officials and allied politicians have spread since at least the turn of the millennium.
Delivering the keynote address at the gun group’s 2000 annual meeting, one year after the mass shooting a Columbine High School, Republican Congressman J.C. Watts said “the time has come for some in Hollywood to admit that while it can inspire people to do good, it can also inspire people to do evil. And if it continues to create these films, it should pay a price.”
LaPierre echoed a similar sentiment in his first public statement after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes,” LaPierre said. The remarks were delivered at the same press conference where he offered his now-famous recommendation that the only way to stop mass shootings was to allow more “good guys” to carry guns in public.
In a 2014 post on the group’s website, the NRA called out the now-disgraced film executive Harvey Weinstein as a hypocrite for decrying guns in America even though he “accumulated much of his fortune (and platform to bloviate publicly) producing movies with depictions of violence so graphic and sensational that some must be seen to be believed.”
The group has criticized the actor Matt Damon for being an advocate for gun restrictions while appearing in violent films, like the Bourne series.
Some experts on media and psychology actually concur with LaPierre’s claims that the entertainment industry is complicit in American gun violence. But their research tends to irk the NRA just as much as the denizens of Beverly Hills .
Behavioral psychologists who study what’s known as the “weapons effect” argue that the sight of guns on screen can “prime” viewers to behave more aggressively. The NRA has dismissed as baseless research that suggests guns in films can prompt violence all on their own, much as it has maneuvered to severely limit public health research on the lethality of firearms in real life.