Say what you will about the New York Post, but sometimes its blunt headline style brings a stark reality. After NRA vice-president Wayne LaPierre spoke Friday about the Newtown massacre, suggesting the solution is an armed cop in each of America’s 100,000 schools, the Post wrote:
GUN NUT! NRA loon in bizarre rant over Newtown
There are people out there who think LaPierre’s “rant” made sense, and I’m not here to address whether it did or not. [Writing in The New York Times Sunday, Maureen Dowd made LaPierre do a hurt dance. You can decide for yourself who’s right.] I’d rather look at it in terms of crisis management.
Did LaPierre ease or end the crisis facing the NRA over gun control? Or did his actions prolong the crisis — the third rail of crisis management?
Perhaps the most definitive view of the NRA’s stance on Newtown came from U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who represents Newtown now and is about to become a U.S. Senator:
The NRA gave the “most revolting, tone-deaf statement I’ve ever seen.”
LaPierre obviously felt he’d done such a poor job Friday, that he held his nose and went on “Meet the Press” with David Gregory Sunday. Since LaPierre took no questions at his Friday “news conference,” a grating personal concession like going on TV Sunday to answer them conceded his failure to communicate effectively.
That’s an indictment of NRA crisis management. The NRA and LaPierre, who’s been doing it effectively for decades, made the situation worse. At a time when he could have elevated the discourse without giving any ground, he failed miserably.
Instead of leading, he put a target on his back, symbolizing the worst caricature of gun-toting fanaticism. He sounded, indeed, like a the gun nut. He missed the chance to be thoughtful, to express real remorse for the Newtown victims and their families.
He failed to realize that the “opponents” he’s up against in this debate are not members of Congress, the president or various gun-control organizations. They are 20 beautiful, murdered six- and seven-year-olds, their heroic teachers crying out from the other side of the grave, and a Nation’s shame at failing to protect them.
What came across Friday and Sunday is NRA panic. It realizes that Newtown mobilized what Richard Nixon used to fantasize was “the silent majority.” Newtown was the last straw. Yes, there have been hundreds, thousands of shootings — too many of them in our inner cities — without meaningful gun law reform. But now it feels different. The American public is slow to anger, maddeningly so at times, but when it gets off the lazy couch, watch out.
LaPierre missed these signals. Facebook is awash with the counter-claim to LaPierre’s armed cop in every school:
“Put a teacher in every gun shop.”
Maybe the holiday season played a role. It’s one thing to see small white coffins at 20 funerals, but it’s another to see hearses passing parks, churches and homes decorated for Christmas and Hanukkah. Maybe Newtown’s temporal proximity to the Aurora theater shooting and Gabby Giffords’ recent public appearances played a role. The confluence of all these events is focusing political will.
The NRA’s strategic failure is not realizing that it has won nearly every fight in this arena for 50 years. Giving ground now would not jeopardize in any way Americans’ rights to own guns — multiple guns, semi-automatic guns, high-caliber, large clip guns.
Despite the run on these weapons by paranoid gun owners around the country in recent days, not even the most zealous and optimistic gun control advocates would suggest that Americans’ rights to own guns will change.
Clearly, LaPierre and his advisors decided to fight any gun legislation with all the vitriol and power they can. They believe their own insensitive rhetoric: The Diane Feinsteins and Barack Obamas of the world want to turn gun owners into villains and eunuchs.
Just as apparent to anyone watching this Greek tragedy play out is that this crisis will continue — probably to the NRA’s detriment. Like suddenly irrelevant French knights facing British longbows at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the NRA is clueless that the weapons of choice in this fight are no longer guns and the right to bear them.
They are American outrage and citizen determination.
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 http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.