Newtown is biggest ‘crisis’ NRA ever faced — offer concessions

The National Rifle Association stands in the most unenviable position in this national crisis stemming from the Newtown killings.

With a $300 million budget and 4.3 million active members, it’s a powerful and ultimately successful advocacy group. After Columbine in 1999, little changed. After Virginia Tech in 2004, laws changed slightly. What will Newtown mean?

After Friday’s kindergarten killings, the NRA took down its Facebook page and cut its Twitter feed. Who wants to be the public object of derision and hatred from tens of millions of Americans?

Your assignment is to help the NRA navigate this crisis. Distasteful for some? Even the Aurora shooter from last summer, James Holmes, has a lawyer.

The NRA, of course, goes through its time-honored drill each time there’s a mass shooting in the United States. It hunkers down, reassures its base, waits a few weeks and then takes the temperature of its legislative allies in Washington and 50 state capitals. This time, however, early indications are that business as usual is not going to be the legislators’ answer to the NRA’s questions.

Is Newtown the NRA’s Arab Spring, its Hurricane Sandy — the ultimate event that curtails its dictatorial powers, the ultimate super-storm that breaches the NRA’s barrier islands?

Will it have to “concede” some measure of gun control and ammunition limits?

That would be the smartest crisis management tool. Issue a statement now stating that this warped use of registered weaponry, originally purchased by a single mother for her own protection and sport, has no place in America. State publicly that the NRA is ready to work with Congress and the president to discuss and consider concrete options for change.

Don’t agree to tamper with the Second Amendment. Don’t ask people to turn in their guns — unless they want to. Don’t restrict gun sales.

But accept and even promote a series of regulations that truly make Americans safer. That might be a limit of one gun purchase per person every six months. That might mean a 28-day waiting period for registration instead of a week or two. That might include deeper background checks of gun owners, perhaps including other family members.

Surely the NRA game-planned for just this event, for “a” Newtown. As smart as the NRA’s people are, and as successful, they must have sat down years ago and seen this day coming. What are their response scenarios? They must be ready. Pull the trigger [irony noted] on concessions.

Why? Because you can’t fight a tsunami — and that’s what’s headed toward the NRA this time.

Time to change the playbook. Don’t fight; retreat a bit and recoup your losses another day. Allow Americans, your members and opponents, to see you as a leader on reasonable gun control, not a defiant obstacle. Expressing remorse for the Newtown children does not make you responsible for their murders, any more than police, sportscasters, reporters and politicians expressing condolences are responsible.

The NRA should not fear a theoretical Domino Effect of a few reforms leading to passage of a radical no-gun agenda. It needs to take seriously a semi-automatic rifle’s Domino Effect on those 20 little children a maniac mowed down.

Among the first five actions in a crisis: Take responsibility for your role and promise to fix it.

This is already the worst crisis the NRA faced since Columbine and Virginia Tech. Missteps now could lead to the association’s worst fears. So give ground now. Be sensible. Understand the public will and anger.

Agree and accept that sensible people can disagree on big issues, but agree on some smaller ones. It is not a sign of weakness to show leadership. Lead, follow or get out of the way, Lee Iacocca famously said decades ago when he re-established Chrysler.

For the NRA, this crisis is paramount. Take responsibility for winning every legal battle involving guns in the last 50 years and acknowledge went too far. Lead by subtraction.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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