WASHINGTON -- Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, on Tuesday delivered a strange and strident rebuttal to President Barack Obama's inaugural address, accusing the president of reducing the U.S. Constitution to "a blank slate for anyone's graffitti" and lavishly praising a Supreme Court justice who famously ruled to limit gun rights.
Speaking at the annual Weatherby International Hunting and Conservation Awards in Reno, Nev., LaPierre zeroed in on a line in Obama's inaugural address, delivered Monday, in which the president said "we cannot afford to mistake absolutism for principle." The line was a subtle reference to the gun control debate, and the tendency of gun rights activists to interpret the Second Amendment as giving carte blanche rights to buy and carry any type of firearm anywhere.
"Absolutes do exist, it's the basis of all civilization," said LaPierre. "Without those absolutes, Democracy decays into nothing more than two wolves and one lamb voting on who to eat for lunch."
Surprisingly, LaPierre renewed a widely criticized argument the NRA put forth last week in an attack ad featuring the president's two daughters. "We believe that we deserve and have every right to the same level of freedom that government leaders reserve for themselves -- to defend ourselves and our families with semi-automatic firearms technology," LaPierre said. "We believe that if neither criminals nor the political class -- with their bodyguards and security people -- are limited by magazine capacity, we shouldn't be limited in our capacity, either."
Using terms better suited to a talk radio host than to the leader of the nation's largest gun lobby, LaPierre said Obama's address "makes a mockery" of the Declaration of Independence and the notion of "unalienable rights." LaPierre repeatedly addressed Obama in the speech, delivered to a black-tie crowd at the hunting awards benefit dinner. "Words have meanings, Mr. President, and those meanings are absolute," LaPierre said. "And when absolutes are abandoned for principles, the U.S. Constitution becomes a blank slate for anyone's graffitti."
LaPierre told the crowd the president "doesn't understand you. He doesn't agree with the freedoms you cherish. If the only way he can force you to give 'em up is through scorn and ridicule, he's more than willing to do it -- even as he claims the moral high ground."
LaPierre quoted former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, a one-time Democratic congressman who served on the high court in the 1930s. "Justice Black understood the danger of self-appointed arbiters of what freedom really means, like President Obama," LaPierre said.
But Black is a problematic hero for LaPierre. In 1939, Black and fellow Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously in a landmark gun control case, United States v. Miller, that the Second Amendment does not protect blanket access for citizens to any type of firearm.
The NRA and other gun rights groups groups are gearing up for a legislative battle in Congress during the coming weeks over a proposed ban on military style weapons, and limits on the size of gun magazines.