One of the first lessons any public relations staffer learns is that if you want to bury news, Friday afternoon is the time to do it. Today, on the one week anniversary of the Newtown, CT shooting that claimed 26 lives, the National Rifle Association (NRA) decided to roll the dice and come out swinging against gun control advocates and critics in a press conference that caught many off guard, and not in a good way.
Over the course of an hour early Friday morning, NRA President Wayne LaPierre laid out an argument that blamed everything from video games to lack of mental health laws to Hollywood liberals for the murder of 26 individuals, 20 of whom were children. By the end of his opening tirade, it seemed that LaPierre had managed to blame everything under the sun for gun violence aside from guns themselves.
To cap off their tried and true exercise in blame shifting, the NRA called for the establishment of a “National School Shield” program, an initiative that would train and arm private guards and place them at schools throughout the country. You read that right: the NRA’s solution to the slaughter of kindergartners by gun-toting maniacs is to post gun-toting vigilantes outside of classrooms to gun down said maniacs preemptively. Or, as LaPierre put it, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
If only that were true.
Good guys with guns certainly didn’t stop the bloodbath at Columbine. The Ft. Hood massacre occurred in a place with arguably the highest concentration of “good guys with guns” in the country. Even the armed and expertly trained members of the secret service were unable to prevent President Reagan from being shot.
Depressingly on cue, reality itself seemed to be at odds with LaPierre’s messaging as reports came in of a gunman who killed four people, including several “good guys with guns” while LaPierre was speaking.
What’s more, the mechanism the NRA suggested for implementing the program was their favorite boogeyman – the gun-grabbing government. It takes a special kind of cognitive dissonance to accuse the government of training jack-booted thugs that want to steal everyone’s guns while simultaneously asking the government to train armed guards to stand watch in schools to keep other jack-booted thugs out.
In a rare but monumental misstep for a lobbying entity that has dominated Washington for decades, the NRA delivered a message that was off point at best and downright delusional at worst. Exacerbating the problem was the NRA’s strange decision to refuse to answer any questions. The NRA’s reasoning that “this is the beginning of a serious conversation,” and therefore “we won't be taking questions today" was downright chilling in its Orwellian nature.
All LaPierre had to do this morning was come out and say that gun policy should be determined by facts, data, and research rather than emotional reactions to traumatic events. Instead, the NRA doubled down on a dystopian worldview that would permanently place a rifle near every classroom barely one week after a lunatic with the same rifle snuffed out 26 innocent lives.
The NRA’s decision to focus their message on selling more guns rather than saving more lives is truly telling. Instead of attempting to take the conversation towards a more reasonable and data-driven policy discussion, LaPierre and the NRA decided to commit to position that would advance the interests of gun manufacturers and continue to polarize a necessary and inevitable discussion over gun control policy in the United States. Where the NRA had the opportunity to lead, it instead opted to take the low road and call for more of the same and that, perhaps, is most damning of all.