Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

NRA's enemies list: Most of America

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 7:02 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: NRA has an "enemies list" of 500 organizations, leaders, celebs
  • Avlon: List is absurd, includes Spinal Cord Injury Association, Britney Spears, YMCA
  • List shows how extreme, fanatical and out of touch the NRA has become, he says
  • Avlon: NRA's cultlike insistence on ideological purity puts off people it wants to reach

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- Question: What do George Clooney, Chaka Khan, the American Medical Association, Bon Jovi and C. Everett Koop have in common?

Answer: They are among the 500 names on the National Rifle Association's absurd new "enemies list."

Richard Nixon would be embarrassed to find that his once sinister form of score-keeping has been revived so promiscuously by the NRA. But there is some redeeming social value here: The list illustrates an organization that has become hermetically sealed from society at large, so caught up in conservative debates that it has forgotten how to connect with Main Street America.

John P. Avlon
John P. Avlon

The enemies list was first posted on the NRA's website in mid-September, hiding in plain sight under the banner "National Organizations with Anti-Gun Policies." But with the debate about reasonable gun restrictions reignited after the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, the NRA's enemies list has become just the latest example of seriously bad judgment inside this once proud organization.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Because whatever staffer was tasked with accumulating the list took the idea of "you're either with us or against us" so literally that everyone who isn't a card-carrying conservative seems to be counted as an enemy.

The list is divided into broad categories, including "Anti-Gun Individuals and Celebrities," journalists, civic organizations and corporations -- as well as a grab bag category that includes religious leaders. You don't have to be a charter member of Mensa to see how this is going to alienate far more Americans than it attracts.

We're living in a celebrity-driven culture, for better or worse, so let's start with a look at the celebrity list.

The first thing that struck me was the preponderance of '70s sitcom stars who are apparently among the leading threats to gun rights in America today, including Sandy Duncan, Marilu Henner, Ed Asner, Hal Linden and Pam Dawber of "Mork & Mindy" fame. It's like the list-maker was locked in a closet full of yellowing TV Guides. It's a near-miracle that "The Partridge Family" was left off the list.

But the NRA doesn't seem content to limit its targets to old reruns of "The Hollywood Squares" -- no, it has to go and bring Sean Connery into the fight, along with Bruce Springsteen, Albert Brooks, Tony Bennett, Jack Nicholson, Britney Spears, Jerry Seinfeld and Oprah Winfrey.

On the civic side, it sees fit to call out everyone from Dick Parsons to Maya Angelou to (the late) Ed Koch to Michael Eisner. You might as well declare yourself the sworn enemy of anyone who doesn't subscribe to National Review.

This idea gets thrown into even sharper relief when you look at a partial list of civic, charitable and religious organizations that the NRA has determined are "anti-gun." Warning: Take a deep breath before reading aloud:

• AARP;

• AFL-CIO;

• American Medical Association;

• American Bar Association;

NRA: Criminals won't do background checks
NRA flip-flops on background checks

• American Jewish Committee;

• Anti-Defamation League;

• B`nai B`rith;

• Children`s Defense Fund;

• Environmental Action Foundation;

• Episcopal Church;

• Lauder Foundation;

• League of Women Voters of the United States;

• National Association of Police Organizations;

• National Coalition Against Domestic Violence;

• National Association for the Advancement of Colored People;

• National Council of La Raza;

• National Urban League;

• National Spinal Cord Injury Association;

• Southern Christian Leadership Conference;

• U.S. Catholic Conference;

• United Methodist Church;

• United Church of Christ;

• U.S. Conference of Mayors;

• and the YWCA of the USA.

I ask this in all seriousness: Who's left?

Because the list includes just about every major American faith group and denomination, every major ethnic group and voter constituency. And adding the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and National Spinal Cord Injury Association to the list of anti-gun enemies is either clueless or callous -- or both.

One of my favorite lyrics by U2 says: "Choose your enemies carefully, 'cause they will define you." The NRA, like too much of the conservative movement, has chosen its enemies indiscriminately and seems defined in opposition to most of modern America.

This is a byproduct of polarization, the cultlike expulsion of any dissenting voices and preoccupation with ideological purity.

In the case of the NRA, this is reflected in its reversal on policies it supported in the past, such as gun-free school zones and universal background checks. But it is also reflected in tone-deaf speeches such as the ones recently delivered by Wayne LaPierre, or the truly out-of-touch television ad the NRA produced calling President Barack Obama an "elitist hypocrite" for having the Secret Service guard his two daughters at school.

The essence of evangelism is winning converts -- but that goal can be easily forgotten when you're preoccupied with playing to the base. Reasonable advocates of Second Amendment rights are being ill-served by the organization's recalcitrant radicalism -- reflected in the fact that 74% of NRA members say they support universal background checks.

Adding an indiscriminate enemies list to the NRA website only highlights its isolation, consolidating opposition among the figures mentioned and their fans.

As legendary columnist Jimmy Breslin -- also a Nixon enemies list alumnus -- remarked when his name was found on the new NRA document, "Put me first on the list." This defiance is a very American response to such an awkward attempt to intimidate.

The NRA enemies list will backfire badly. And then maybe its absurd excess will provoke a needed reset inside the organization, providing a timely reminder that the politics of addition are always more effective than the politics of division.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT