I meant to get this up yesterday, but there is, allegedly, an annual holiday of some importance coming up, and we headed out to my dad’s immediately after the presser to do an early Christmas. Having initially been sorely disappointed in NRA’s performance, I think I’m ready to offer thoughts, and some constructive criticism.
While sleeping on it helped my sense of perspective some, no amount of time is making me feel better about the parts of the press conference I thought were a disaster. So let’s start with an obvious thing; it was infiltrated by Code Pink — twice. Despite some jabs being made by anti-gun folks about NRA checking out media more than they want to check out gun owners, clearly they didn’t check very hard. You could take this two ways. NRA members generally take attacks on the organization personally, so a visible and rude attack on NRA’s ability to speak is likely to motivate members to action. But the protesters also interfere with NRA’s ability to try to change the narrative, with the media burying the rest of the story to tell everyone how NRA was so bravely protested by gun violence prevention advocates demanding an assault weapons ban. In the big picture, I think the Code Pink protesters were a minor setback. I thought there was worse.
Wayne’s introductory speech detracted from what could have been a very persuasive and focused message. I’d say about 1/3rd of Wayne’s introduction was good and on point, and 2/3rds of it was unnecessary, unproductive, and unpersuasive. NRA faces the same issue that many causes on the center-right face; we’re not reaching young people. The youth vote went overwhelmingly to Obama. So why in the world would Wayne decide attacking violent video games and lambasting popular culture was a smart thing to do? You might reach a lot of NRA’s core audience with that message, but it turns off NRA’s future, most of whom play those games. Whether Wayne realizes it or not, many young people who are getting into guns and the shooting sports, developed that interest because of those very video games that Wayne derided. Does NRA really want to end up having to do a marketing campaign years from now, like Oldsmobile did, saying “It’s not your father’s NRA?” And we know what happened to Oldsmobile. While I understand we need to win this fight today, I’d hate to do that at the cost of sacrificing NRA’s future.
I agree the topic of mental health needed to be touched upon, but why go so far as to advocate creating a national database of the mentally ill? Why pick a fight with mental health and privacy advocates? I think there are better ways to frame that issue than suggesting we need to create some Orwellian national database. My final criticism is that I think Wayne’s speech writers, and his delivery, left much to be desired. I think one problem with Wayne is that they keep his rhetoric folksy and, to be blunt, simple minded. I don’t think LaPierre is naturally either of those two things; it’s not his background, and not who he is. He should be himself. When Wayne delivers speeches, they don’t honestly connect with me at all, and I often feel like his speech writers don’t have a very high opinion of the education level of NRA members. We can make our case for our beliefs without boiling away real substance and going with simplistic notions like “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun,” like our people have about the same moral depth of understanding as you’d get from a spaghetti western. Also, when we’re increasingly dealing with shooters who have a mental illness, they aren’t “bad guys”, they are deranged. They are sick in the head. That changes the moral dimension.
I thought the policy proposal was quite good, and as we showed a few days ago, is very much in line with what people think will work. Recruiting Former Representative Asa Hutchinson to spearhead the effort was a stroke of brilliance. By suggesting we bring more police officers, retired police or military, give them proper training and establishing clear and responsible standards, we will help keep law enforcement on our side when it comes to the legislative fight. Folks who can remember back to the 1994 assault weapons ban remember that Clinton included it in an overall crime bill that put 100,000 new law enforcement officers on the street. This cost us the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, which was a huge blow in the fight to stop it. The police were basically bought. I suspect the White House will try to similar maneuver, though with mental health being the focus instead of crime. Despite much criticism about the timing, I think NRA’s timing was good, as the media is now covering this stories as people are starting to get with family. I just wish NRA had put more emphasis on the policy, and gotten to it more quickly, after briefly framing the issue (and some of the framing in Wayne’s speech, like explaining contexts in which no one argues guns are a bad thing, was genuinely good).
It is easy to Monday Morning quarterback. I can sympathize with the fact that Wayne LaPierre likely didn’t get any sleep this entire week, and under those circumstances, it can be difficult to deliver your A game. Also, having the entire media, the White House, celebrities, talking heads, fair weather conservatives, and the left-wing activists all playing pile on is tiring and demoralizing. The death threats probably didn’t help either. But I firmly believe that Wayne’s style and rhetoric is sorely in need of an update, and after a week of taking a beating, I was looking for something different, and I didn’t quite get it.
46 Responses to “Thoughts on the NRA Presser”
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