For more than 100 years, the National Press Club has been neutral ground: an agreeable watering hole a few blocks from the White House where presidents and potentates have held forth on issues of the day. Sometimes, they even make news.
But yesterday, the NPC got played by the NRA.
The National Rifle Association sent its hired front-man, former Congressman and Bush Administration official Asa Hutchinson into the club surrounded by a small army of security guards — armed, of course — to announce at a news conference that the solution to violence in the schools is — wait for it — more guns in the schools.
Dana Milbank reported in the Washington Post this morning that Hutchinson was protected by about 20 guards, some in uniform, some in plainclothes, all packing.
According to Milbank, the “gun lobby goons” fanned out through the Press Club. He writes: “The NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference.”
The NRA antics, Milbank commented dryly, “gave new meaning to the notion of disarming your critics.”
This sort of display of firepower is so over the top, so in-your-face, so uncalled for, it can only be a political statement. The NRA was going to brandish its second amendment rights for all to see.
The Press Club, of which I am a member, was caught with its guard down.
Bill McCarren, the Club’s executive director, said there had been advance discussions with the NRA about security and that the lobby group had insisted it would bring its own, probably about nine. More than twice that showed up.
“It was definitely unusual, not a common sight,” said Angela Greiling Keane, the Club president, being diplomatic about a paying customer who had rented the facilities for the news conference. “It’s not something we would encourage our clients to do.”
McCarren said the show of force was hardly necessary. “We had General Dempsey (Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey) here and he didn’t bring a tank.”
An NRA spokesman — even one as placid and unthreatening as Hutchinson — is of course a potential target. There are crazies on both sides of the gun debate.
But in this case, the NRA was making a political point in front of cameras and reporters. Guns are the answer, they were saying, and not just a few. Subtlety has never been their strong suit.
Later yesterday, when Hutchinson showed up to tape an interview with Margaret Warner at The PBS NewsHour, he was accompanied by one security person. “We had no idea if he was armed or not,” said a NewsHour staffer.
Of course, there were no cameras in the green room, no audience to get the point that the NRA means business.