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 discussion 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 slaughter in Las Vegas.

Above all, the message was delay. Lets 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 we shouldnt act, or even debate the issue now.

If they sounded oddly familiar, its 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.

NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics)


p lang=”en” dir=”ltr” class=”tweet-body”>BREAKING: NBC News has obtained White House talking points distributed to Trump administration allies following Las Vegas shooting:

October 3, 2017

They are the NRAs talking points, says Dan Cassino, a political scientist and researcher of conservative media. If you are a pro-gunrights 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 NRAs 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 gun 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 NRAs Twitter account, which at the time of writing had not tweeted since 29 September.

Theres no way to defend gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting, so they dont. Its in their interest for the story to die down as quickly as possible, 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 NRAs efforts have ensured that they and Republicans speak with the same voice.

The NRAs best trick has been establishing support for guns 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 book Loaded on Americas 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 dont like, they galvanize their members to bombard legislators with calls, letters, and emails.

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

Those grassroots efforts can and have unseated politicians including Republicans who didnt toe the line.

Long-term political organizing 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 1970s the NRA has been transformed, partly by a member-driven insurgency. The members who took control of the organization in the wake of 1960s and 1970s civil rights movements thought that the NRA should not be about sports but about getting white people armed.

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

In the Trump era, the NRAs broader messages have taken a darker turn. 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 make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law abiding.


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Cassino says theres a straightforward explanation for the ad, which many saw as openly encouraging violence. It starts from the fact that while the membership gives the NRA its political heft, its money 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, especially in the wake of massacres. 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 peoples guns, Cassino says, who is?

The ad provides an answer by adopting an alt-right viewpoint, he says. It raises the specter of leftwing groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa. Chaos is just over the horizon. You need guns 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 killers 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 supporters of gun rights. Ordinary people, even gun lovers, might be shaken by this incident. I am sure the NRA is nervous.

She added: Theres 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 guns is whether anyone will be organized or nimble enough to take that opportunity before the story fades from view.

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