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Thursday, March 14, 2013

NRA a front group gone rogue


In the days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec. 14, executives with a half-dozen major U.S. gun manufacturers contacted the National Rifle Association. The firearm industry representatives didn’t call the NRA, which they support with millions of dollars each year, to issue directives. On the contrary, they sought guidance on how to handle the public-relations crisis, according to people familiar with the situation who agreed to interviews on the condition they remain anonymous.

While the Obama administration had reacted meekly to mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook would be different. Twenty first-graders were dead. The president, a gun control supporter who previously had avoided the radioactive issue, wiped away tears when talking on television about the “beautiful little kids.” As a nation, the normally stoic president added, “We have been through this too many times.” In crass political terms, he was newly reelected and had less to lose in confronting pro-gun forces. The NRA’s leadership faced a choice: Go to the mattresses as usual, or acknowledge the special horror of Sandy Hook and offer an olive branch.


One week after the massacre, he delivered a nationally televised tirade tinged with his trademark cultural resentment and paranoia. “Is the press and the political class here in Washington, D.C., so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and American gun owners,” he said, “that you’re willing to accept the world where real resistance to evil monsters is [an] unarmed school principal left to surrender her life, her life, to shield those children in her care?”

As intended, LaPierre’s performance received massive media attention. It also upset many—including some gun makers. “The funerals were still going on in Newtown,” says Joseph Bartozzi. “Parents were burying their children.” A senior vice president at O.F. Mossberg & Sons, a shotgun and rifle manufacturer in North Haven, Conn., Bartozzi belongs to the NRA and applauds its stalwart defense of Second Amendment rights. But this time, LaPierre’s diatribe struck him as ill-timed and graceless.

“The companies that make and market firearms might prefer a softer tone, but they rarely complain publicly about NRA fear mongering because it’s been so good for business,” the report tells us. But there’s more to it than just creating panic to sell guns to the fearful. Taegan Goddard zeroes in on the relevant paragraph:

First, there’s intimidation. The lobby group has incited potentially ruinous consumer boycotts against firearm makers that fail to follow the NRA line with sufficient zeal. Second, regardless of some executives’ concerns about civil discourse, gun companies benefit financially from the NRA’s hype. Alarms about imminent gun confiscation—an NRA staple, despite its implausibility—reliably send firearm owners back to retail counters. Sales are booming.

As has already been established, the vast, vast majority of those stampeding ‘fraidy cats looking to buy ever more of the supposedly soon-to-be-disappearing guns are return customers. In the long term, LaPierre and his freak show of nightmares might create a lot of sales spikes, but the fact is that the industry is in a slow and steady decline — and fearmongering isn’t likely to help. After all, the NRA has been pulling this “GET A GUN OR DIE!!!” bullshit for decades — and for decades gun ownership has been declining.

Gun manufacturers may not like the NRA’s disgusting, opportunistic, lowest common denominator messaging on the issue, but the fact is that Wayne’s fire-sale-for-cowards approach to marketing is really all they’ve got.

It’s also the only thing keeping Wayne LaPierre in the driver’s seat.

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