The NRA has a consistent PR pattern after mass shootings. It refrains from comment in the immediate aftermath and then eventually emerges with condemnations of the media and the entertainment industry and variations on a theme that the only way to stop a “bad guy” with a gun is a “good guy” with a gun.
After the shocking execution of 20 first- and second-graders in Newtown, CT, the graphic horror of the situation dramatically shifted the debate to the point that a majority of Americans now support major gun control restrictions and outright banning of certain weapons.
As the NRA remained silent, several national figures who have supported the organization — including senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Warner (D-VA), Robert Casey (D-PA) and former Republican congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough — have called for new gun laws to try to prevent more shootings. President Obama named Vice President Biden to come up with concrete proposals to prevent gun violence. And several Republicans in Congress said they would consider them.
So when NRA president Wayne LaPierre took the stage in Newtown a week after the massacre to offer what the organization promised would be a “meaningful conversation,” many had hopes that the NRA would break from its pattern and support some of the measures the public widely supports — including banning assault weapons, limiting the number of bullets in a magazine and universal background checks.
But LaPierre instead put on a performance that shocked and disappointed with its unhinged contradictions that began with his introduction, when the reporters in attendance were told, “This is the beginning of a serious conversation. We won’t be taking any questions.”
LaPierre’s statement has already been denounced by Democrats including Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-CT) who called it “the most tone-deaf statement” he’d ever seen. Twice interrupted by protesters blaming the NRA for “killing kids,” LaPierre trudged on, unashamed and determined to reshape the narrative.
He began by insisting that he was speaking for “our nation’s children.” He decried “gun-free school zones” for telling “every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
This talking point ignores the fact that school shootings are actually down while mass shootings and gun violence in general are up, and will pass auto accidents as a cause of death by 2015.
The solution LaPierre suggests would sell more guns, of course, by requiring a police officer on every school campus in America.
Did he not learn the lesson of Wisconsin, as Mitt Romney asked during the 2012 campaign. The NRA supported Romney and several other Republicans who have called for cuts that would force the layoffs of millions of police officers. Now he’s calling for somewhere in the region of $5-$8 billion in new spending on police.
Of course, more guns do not equal more safety. Columbine High School and Virginia Tech had armed guards on campus that were minutes away, but could do nothing to stop the carnage.
After calling for a national database of the mentally ill, a risky proposition for a man whose job depends on provoking irrational fear of the government, La Pierre took on the media.
“And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” LaPierre said, briefly sounding as if he had actually engaged in some self-reflection. “Through vicious, violent videogames with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse.”
He cited American Psycho from 2000 and Natural Born Killers from 1994, which are apparently the most recent examples he can find of violent movies that portray “life as a joke and murder as a way of life.”
LaPierre then went into a diatribe familiar with anyone who has ever tried to discuss gun safety with an NRA member. He faulted the media for not knowing the technical terms to describe guns — as if not knowing the difference between a clip and a magazine automatically invalidates any concern a non-gun owner may have for his or her family’s safety.
With blame properly spread among everyone in society who isn’t likely to be an NRA member, LaPierre returned to the primary objective of his statement: shifting the dialogue from new gun laws to calling for armed security on every campus.
“I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January,” he said.
LaPierre then introduced former congressman Asa Hutchinson, who will head up the distraction known as the National School Shield Program, and fled the stage.
Photo credit: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci