Gun lobby meets the penalty box
The National Rifle Association has been on the war path lately. Meanwhile, the boys of the National Hockey League are back to business. Coincidence?
I don't think so. It occurred to me as I was watching the Flyers the other day that hockey and the gun lobby have a lot in common. In the time it took Tampa Bay to make the Flyers pay for another penalty, I came up with four ways the NRA is like pro hockey.
No. 1: Fighting. Hockey is a fast and furious sport, and a highlight is when grown men in shorts and suspenders square off and try to land a punch or two before they slip on ice.
The NRA is a bit more civil, but while NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre may be going on and on about the rights of law-abiding gun owners, his Putinesque expression suggests he's really thinking about giving NBC's David Gregory a fat lip.
Good hockey players and NRA chiefs approach their jobs like warriors. Who can forget Charlton Heston clenching a rifle at an NRA convention and declaring, "From my cold, dead hands"?
Heston wasn't on ice, but brrrr, he still give me chills.
No. 2: Defense. The NRA and hockey coaches know winning starts with stiff defense. In fact, the NRA's reason for being is defense of the right to bear arms.
The NRA may talk about other things, like enforcing existing gun laws and locking up gun-slinging thugs. But its default solution to the problem of gun violence in American society is more guns in American society. Anyone advancing an alternative argument can, like a streaking forward, expect to be swarmed and neutralized.
Credit the NRA's success to an uncompromising devotion to an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment, 27 words more venerated than Lord Stanley's cup itself.
No. 3: Power play. A man-advantage in hockey is called a power play, and for good reason. The balance of power tips decidedly in favor of the team with the extra skater. Penalty killers retreat into a defensive posture and wish they had become forest rangers.
Time and time again, the NRA is on the power play and able to capitalize on its opponent's greatest weakness: inconstancy.
In contrast to the NRA's ability to build and sustain a base of die-hard supporters, advocates of balanced gun policies find that support runs hot and cold. Nuance has never inspired a fight song.
Only in the immediate aftermath of a Columbine or an Aurora or a Sandy Hook can supporters try to mount a charge.
But the NRA is nothing if not patient, disciplined and relentless, working to get its allies into influential positions and scheming to retake control of the game at the first sign of compassion fatigue.
It's barely a month after Sandy Hook, but already public interest in gun policy has crested and the NRA is resurgent.
Just look at how gun zealots closed ranks to punish the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show for banning assault-style firearms. Talk about power plays.
No. 4: Embellishment. In hockey, a player who attempts to draw a penalty by falling in an ostentatious manner for little or no reason can himself be penalized. It's considered unsportsmanlike behavior and is called taking a dive.
A hockey player faking victimhood can look pretty funny, but the NRA has gotten good at playing the victim. A recent op-ed by former NRA president Marion Hammer is a good example.
To nine out of 10 Americans, universal background checks are a common sense way to keep guns out of the wrong hands. But to Hammer, background checks are "diabolical" because "they target you, law-abiding owners."
Her examples? A friend wanting to lend a hunting rifle to "his lifetime best buddy" or "a grandfather who wants to give a family shotgun to his 12-year-old grandson."
Really? We must forfeit gun safety because we feel bad for grandpa?
Nice try, Ms. Hammer. But two minutes for diving.