Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

NRA's enemies list: Most of America

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
February 7, 2013 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
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
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1928 GMT (0328 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT