Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Delay, delay: How the NRA handles a crisis

The association’s Twitter account has been silent since the mass shooting in Las Vegas — part of a strategy to defer discussion and wait for the news cycle to move on

By Jason Wilson  /  The Guardian

On Tuesday, a leaked White House document offered instructions for staff and surrogates on addressing the slaughter in Las Vegas.

Above all, the message was delay.

“Let’s wait for the facts before we make sweeping policy arguments for curtailing the second amendment,” the marching orders led off.

They ended with a number of reasons that could be given for why the US should not act, or even debate the issue now.

If they sounded oddly familiar, it is because US Republican politicians use the same lines all the time.

This week, US Senator Mitch McConnell and sundry Republican legislators have reeled off the same arguments and experts say this consistency is a result of the iron grip that the National Rifle Association (NRA) now has on conservative minds.

“They are the NRA’s talking points” political scientist and researcher of conservative media Dan Cassino said. “If you are a pro-gun-rights politician, the NRA are the most experienced in getting these points out there and they are who you call on.”

The talking points reflect the NRA’s most important goal in the wake of any mass shooting — defer discussion and wait for the media cycle to move on.

This is what they have done in the wake of every high-profile US mass shooting, from Orlando to Oregon.

Part of that is making themselves into a small target and allowing surrogates to muddy the waters.

This is achieved by reframing the conversation around individual rights and nominating other causes for gun violence other than guns — such as mental illness, popular culture or terrorism.

“Currently, the NRA themselves are using the same playbook they have used in the wake of every such incident, which is silence,” Cassino said.

Pointing to the NRA’s Twitter account, which at the time of writing had not tweeted since Sept. 29, Cassino said: “There’s no way to defend gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting, so they don’t.”

“It’s in their interest for the story to die down as quickly as possible and anything they say will give the story life,” he said.

He points to problems which have arisen in the past when the organization deviated from this strategy, like the disastrous post Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting news conference, where NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre blamed rap music and video games for creating a “culture of violence” that led to the incident.

The reason that conservative politicians are prepared to carry water for the NRA is that over time, the NRA’s efforts have ensured that they and Republicans speak with the same voice.

“The NRA’s best trick has been establishing support for guns as an essential part of being a Republican,” Cassino said.

While their political donations help, their real strength has come from mobilizing their membership to keep politicians in line.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of the forthcoming book Loaded, On US’ Gun Culture, said progressives often misunderstand the NRA as a money-driven, top-down lobbying organization.

“The secret of the NRA is that it is populist,” Dunbar-Ortiz said. “It is the best-organized grassroots organization in the country.”

The NRA obsessively monitors legislation on Capitol Hill and in statehouses.

When it sees something it does not like, it galvanizes its members to bombard legislators with telephone calls, letters and e-mails.

“What they spend on lobbying is peanuts compared to corporations,” Dunbar-Ortiz said. “Their strength lies in mobilizing their grassroots.”

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