Delay, delay, delay: how the NRA handles a crisis

The NRAs Twitter account has been silent since the mass shooting in Las Vegas part of a strategy to defer debate and wait for the news cycle to move on

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

Above all, the message was lag.” Let’s wait for the facts before we attain 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 we shouldn’t act, or even debate the questions now.

If they voiced oddly familiar, it’s because Republican politicians use the same lines all the time. This week, 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 NRA now has on conservative minds.

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BREAKING: NBC News has obtained White House talking phases distributed to Trump administration allies following Las Vegas shooting: pic.twitter.com/ 3HjLCfjvEN

October 3, 2017

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

The talking phases 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 recent high-profile 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 handgun violence other than guns- like 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 says.

Pointing to the NRA’s Twitter account, which at the time of writing had not tweeted since 29 September, Cassino says.

” 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 is practicable, and anything they say will give the story life .”

He points to problems which have arisen in the past when the organization deviated from this strategy, like the disastrous post Sandy Hook press 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 endeavours have ensured that they and Republicans speak with the same voice.

” The NRA’s best trick has been establishing is supportive of handguns as an essential part of being a Republican”, says Cassino.

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

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A makeshift memorial in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard. Photograph: Chris Wattie/ Reuters

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of the forthcoming volume Loaded, on America’s gun culture, says progressives often misunderstand the NRA as a money-driven, top-down lobbying organization.

” The secret of the NRA is that it is populist ,” she says.” It is the best-organized grassroots organization in the country .”

The NRA obsessively monitors legislation on Capitol hill and in statehouses. When they see something they don’t like, they galvanize their members to bombard legislators with bellows, letters, and emails.

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

Those grassroots efforts can and have unseated politicians– including Republicans- who didn’t toe the line.

Long-term political coordinating thus anchors their responses to crisis. But so do long-term communication strategies that link guns and gun ownership with white American identity, and masculinity.

Dunbar-Ortiz says that since the 1970 s, the NRA has been transformed, partly by a member-driven rebellion. The members who took control of the organization in the wake of 1960 s and 1970 s civil rights movements” thought that the NRA should not be about athletics but about getting white people armed “.

Since then they have crafted a” white nationalist” message to appeal to those people- especially humen- who” watch themselves as the carriers of the real America, or of the origins of the US itself “.

In the Trump era, the NRA’s broader messages have taken a darker turning. A recent ad from the organisation, featuring conservative media personality Dana Loesch, raised the prospect of social chaos caused by an unspecified “them”.

Hollywood and liberal politicians, the ad alleged, conspire to” construct them march, stimulate them protest, induce them call racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law abiding “.

Cassino says there’s a straightforward rationale for the ad, which many saw as openly encouraging violence. It starts from the fact that while the membership devotes the NRA its political heft, its fund, and priorities, come from weapons manufacturers.

” The NRA does what the weapons manufacturers want ,” he says- and that is to sell more guns.

In the Obama years, the( never-realistic) prospect of gun control measures were enough to drive additional sales, particularly in the wake of carnages. In the Trump era, the Republican lock on government means gun control is a non-starter.

” So if the government is not going to take people’s handguns ,” Cassino says, “who is?”

The ad offer written answers by” adopting an alt-right standpoint ,” he says.” It creates the specter of leftwing groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa. Chaos is just over the horizon. You need firearms to defend yourself against that chaos .”

In the long term, the NRA may return to pushing this message. In the short term, things may remain tricky.

Dunbar-Ortiz thinks that the killer’s target- a country music festival- presents a particular problem for an organization whose” NRA Country” campaign has conducted specific outreach to country music fans.

” This is white, rural music ,” she says- its fan base overlaps considerably with the most enthusiastic those in favour of firearm rights.” Ordinary people, even gun lovers, might be shaken by this incident. I am sure the NRA is nervous .”

She added:” There’s a moment here where there is an opening to talk to the people who think of themselves as real Americans about gun violence .”

The question in a nation divided over firearms is whether anyone will be organized or nimble enough to take that opportunity before the narrative fades-out from view.

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