And step in it he did.
The NRA held a news briefing on Friday, a week after the Newtown, Conn., attack that left more than two dozen people dead, including 20 children. LaPierre’s proposals – armed police officers in schools, a national database of the mentally ill, a re-evaluation of violent-themed video games, movies and music – drew the reactions one could predict. Gun opponents called his suggestions “shamefully inadequate” while advocates praised them as “an immediate, constructive solution.”
Don’t look to this blog for a treatise on the Second Amendment and gun control. But I will give a few thoughts about the NRA’s public relations approach.
If the NRA wanted to limit news coverage, which is almost certain, it chose the best day to do it – the Friday before Christmas. By doing so, the organization reclaimed its part of the discussion and reassured its base without exposing itself too much. It expressed sympathy for the victims’ families, proposed a course of action and still underscored its opposition to gun control. To that extent, it’s a masterful strategy.
But then the NRA’s message got muddied with LaPierre’s defensive, condescending tone. He ladled blame on Hollywood, the mentally ill and the news media. He also offered a dose of paranoia, warning that the next schoolyard massacre is imminent and only “a good guy with a gun” can stop it.
LaPierre is correct to point out the responsibility for gun violence is much broader than just guns. But the fact remains that most Americans are concerned about relatively easy access to firearms, especially after this year’s high-profile shootings, and they want to have a dialogue about it. LaPierre seemed unwilling to acknowledge that. In effect, he said the NRA will dictate the dialogue, not enter into it.
Thus the NRA lost any chance of presenting itself as a concerned group of fellow citizens, sympathetic to the victims and willing to work with others to find a mutually agreeable solution.
As one of the most successful lobby groups in America, buoyed by strong and vocal supporters, the NRA might not care about good public relations. Certainly that’s their right.
But I’ve been in this business long enough to know that no organization, regardless of its size and power, should underestimate or disrespect a base united by a common vision.
Especially when that vision is summoned by the murder of innocent children.