On Rhetoric From NRA And Others

This article in the Daily Caller is reflective of the rhetoric you often encounter from NRA and others when it comes to Obama’s record on guns:

As a state senator in Illinois, he supported a one-gun-a-month limit on gun purchases, supported laws making it illegal to use a gun for self-defense, and opposed laws that allow law-abiding citizens to get permits to carry guns on their persons. As a U.S. senator, he supported bans on high-capacity magazines and he supported the assault weapons ban. And at the same time, with a straight face, he claimed to support the Second Amendment.

This is, of course, all true. But there are nine very important issues with Obama left out there, and those issues are named Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Ginsburg. Five are in favor of the Second Amendment, and four would likely erase it from the Constitution given the chance. That chance comes down to one of those five, two of which are in their 70s, not retiring or dying in the next four years. To me this is the most important issue we face. Everything else literally pales by comparison.

Let’s turn to some of Wayne LaPierre’s rhetoric at CPAC 2012, laced with words like conspiracy, but I think, unfortunately, without making a solid case as to exactly why Obama is such a threat to the Second Amendment if he gets a second term. I’m glad that Wayne did go on to mention the Court, if only to smear Kagan and Sotomayor, but I don’t think Wayne really got to the true magnitude of the threat. The entire speech is unfortunately unsophisticated and simplistic.

One of my great criticisms of Wayne’s rhetoric is that he’s poor at tailoring it to specific audiences. This speech for CPAC, which is full of highly engaged young conservatives, is something you’d deliver to a room full of blue collar senior citizens at a gun club. The CPAC audience can receive, and is probably eager for, a more sophisticated political message – something I know Wayne is capable of delivering because his roots go back to being a policy wonk.

I’m reminded of a humorous story Bitter tells, when Wayne came to visit her college — the first time that NRA had ever spoken at a women’s college. Her particular school had a very high percentage of international students which, along with many of the domestic students, made International Relations the top major at the school. In addition, more than a quarter of the student body studied abroad for at least a semester during their time in college. Wayne’s speech focused pretty heavily on “faceless, nameless, unelected UN bureaucrats.” That’s a good message for gun owners, but many of the members of the audience called those same bureaucrats Dad or worked for them during their last internship.

The problem with NRA’s messaging lately has been that they are continuing to speak to the membership they had a decade or two decades ago with the same platitudes that have always worked for them, while probably simultaneously wondering why the average age of their membership is so high. NRA needs to reach different audiences, and that means tailoring NRA’s messaging to the specific audience the message is being delivered to. I believe that for NRA to enjoy continued success, it needs to be able to speak to the suburbanite in a business suit as readily as it speaks to the retired farmer. The NRA of the 21st century is going to necessarily look and operate very differently than the NRA of the 20th century. Maybe if I have some time later, I’ll lay out what I think the 21st century NRA should probably look like.

17 thoughts on “On Rhetoric From NRA And Others”

  1. In my opinion, the changes at the NRA are due to the membership percentages changing from the long established gun club/hunting group and their list of “buts”, versus the new influx of serious 2nd amendment folks that are more self protection folks and gun club newbies or resistors.

    All the woman getting involved is a great thing, and I hope it continues! NRA is starting to wake up to them more also! I mean even the NRA Store has over a full page of women’s merchandise now! Welcome to 1990..

  2. Well stated. There are different ways to deliver the same core message to different groups and get the maximum in return for it.

  3. You are right about the message that should have been delivered at CPAC. The message should have been a simple, “Can we count to five?” kind of message, with the reminder that two pro-2nd Amendment votes on that court are from men who were born in 1936 (Scalia and Kennedy).

    Such a message could have served to remind CPAC members that the election of 2012 should be about “anyone but Obama.” However, there also has to be the message communicated of just how little of a friend Obama is to the 2ndn Amendment. He was a director of the Joyce Foundation while the Joyce Foundation was spending money (after Emerson) in anticipation of a 2nd Amendment case getting to the Supreme Court. And the Joyce Foundation, of course, was spending money to try to get the Court to rule the other way.

    The short message is that Obama has a proven track record of being anti-RKBA, and Obama put two anti-RKBA justices on the Supreme Court, and Obama will put another anti-RKBA justice on the Supreme Court if he gets the chance to do so.

    From the perspective of anyone who supports the RKBA, this election should be about, “How much do you want to bet that Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts will all still be living by the end of 2016?” By then, their ages would be 80, 80, 68, 66, and 61.

    And the one who would be 68 in 2016 (Thomas) had a brother die of a heart attack when he was about 50.

    The odds are against all five of them still being alive by the end of 2016.

    Vote accordingly.

  4. I agree with the overall premise but what about the overall msg of NRA and other groups? Yes, I know there are programs that NRA supports like Boy Scouts, 4-H, FNRA supports various gun clubs and ranges, Scholarships, etc…but they are somehow all culturally linked to the shooting sports.

    How about having something outside of the “culturally linked” programs to have the mainstream/suburban family person learn about firearms…and the “big-bad” NRA (as it is often times portrayed in the MSM)?

    Eddie Eagle is an excellent program that goes outstide of that “culturally linked” area and does cater to the younger folks. What about the 75/76 NRA Directors? Where do they go/communicate and promote Firearms or NRA education…that is outside of shooting competitions, Boy Scouts, 4-H, etc?

    This would be a communication skill necessary to cater to these types of folks also. Townships or Counties have a Public Safety night or workshop might be a good idea to start out with…just a thought here.

    Perhaps there is something that is done that I am not aware of, but it would seem to be a good idea to get mainstream people used to the idea of Firearms, Safe & Responsible Ownership/Use of Firearms, NRA initiatives, etc.

  5. Agree with the sentiment, entirely.

    It’s like the old-school NRA folks know how to trump the “new demographics” of gun owners…to the old demographic of gun owners.

    I personally helped convert some serious liberals to the pro-gun-rights cause. Enough to influence their votes. Not one of them want to be in the NRA (though the SAF is fine if they learn enough to realize the are “not the NRA”).

    NRA risks losing the new gun people, and that is not good for the rest of us. We need them.

    Of course, the state groups have been more adept and agile with the newer members. Our group (Maryland Shall Issue) is bringing in new memberships from these new folks all the time.

  6. It’s not just the outdated rhetoric. Other than NRANews, they have no clue as how to use technology. The ILA website is pretty much useless. They don’t have a list of gun bills under consideration at either the state or federal level. There are no links to look up state legislation. If you look up federal legislation through Thomas, there is no simple page to find out what NRA’s position on those bills are. I don’t see contact information for any of their lobbyists so there’s nobody to call to find out this information either. This is the way it was when I joined 20 years ago. They only “improvement” is in the graphics, not substance.

  7. ile probably simultaneously wondering why the average age of their membership is so high

    The same can be said for the Board of Directors. I was shocked, when voting this year, at how old the slate of nominees was and how they had no potential new board members (other than Jeff Crane – and even he is in his 50s (I think, if he’s in his 40s he’s gonna hate me)).

    They should be developing a young leaders program to try to get the next generation involved in a serious way (including placing them on their committees), and at the same time the nominating committee needs to think outside the box and identify one or two new members under 50 to nominate for the Board.

    Maybe set a goal of having at least one nominee in his/her 30s and one nominee in his/her 40s to at least be institutionally supported for the board.

  8. Unlike some pro-gun people who dislike the NRA, I truly believe the NRA has their heart in the right place. They really are trying to do the right thing.

    The problem is, the NRA tends to lead from behind. I think that accounts for a lot of the clumsy rhetoric from the NRA.

    1. I think they are on top of things more often than many people give them credit for. The problem NRA has is they have to hold together a large enough coalition that they command political power. A lot of people who are really passionate about this issue make the mistake of believing there are millions of people out there just like them. There aren’t. There are plenty of people who will tell you they are with us, but will never lift a finger. You might be able to get them to vote. They probably will accept a few restrictions on your gun rights here and there that you or I would find abhorrent. But we need those people.

      NRA’s problem isn’t really that they are leading from behind, but that they have to keep a diverse group of people in the same political tent. My argument here is that they could be doing better on that count.

  9. NRA sends me American Rifleman. It has never had a good, coherent argument for gun rights. The President’s Column is trash; the Political Report is trash, the ILA report is trash. No details that I can use to argue with anti-gunnie friends. Lazy writing. Emily gets her Gun from the Washington Times has done more for gun rights than 10 years of NRA magazine articles.

    Sure, NRA has a big ten. Keeping a big tent together means writing at the 3rd grade level sometimes, but sometimes writing at the 10th grade level. NRA never sends anything at the 5th grade level or above; they only ever pander to idiots. Every fundraising letter implies that I’m gullible.

    NRA doesn’t pay Uncle, or Sebastian, or Alphetica (sp?), or Tam, or Jay at Marooned, or Rob Allen, or the other daily bloggers. Why the hell not? Why not hire bloggers to write for an NRA-affiliated blog?

    It is not the Rank and Files’ job to figure out what NRA is doing and how to help NRA. It shouldn’t be a mystery. NRA has only ever asked me to send money, to vote, and to write my representatives.

    1. I wouldn’t take their money if they offered. I do it because I care about the issue.

      I would point out that NRA has offered for me to write some columns for their magazine, but I’ve declined. Mostly because gun rights isn’t my career, and that kind of writing takes a lot of time.

    2. I agree that there are various bloggers who get zero pay from the NRA (or from any other pro-RKBA group) who are fantastic pluses to the RKBA. Among them are Eugene Volokh, Sebastian, Uncle, Joe Huffman, Bitter, Glenn Reynolds. They are journalists, not public relations people.

      If the NRA paid them to write for an NRA-affiliated blog, they no longer would be journalists.

      The problem with being a journalist has always been finding a way to get paid for what you do. And with the internet, it’s getting even harder to get paid. One way would be for readers to pay for subscriptions, but then the person’s message would be hiding behind a subscriber wall. Another way would be advertising, and more serious bloggers are going that route. However, my guess is that the amount brought in by advertising (for most bloggers) still keeps the blogging at the “hobby” level.

      If the NRA were paying the bloggers, the NRA could tell the bloggers what to write and how to write it. At that point, the bloggers would no longer be serving the purpose of journalists.

      The arrangement as it now seems to be is excellent for the general public, but may not be so fair for bloggers. They put in hundreds of hours of work and generally get paid nothing for it. We’re sort of in the era of the “penny press” again: Anyone can speak up, and if you speak (write) well enough, people will listen to you. The result is that we have LOTS of ideas out there, and that’s good. We’re thinking; we’re debating.

      I have seen Bitter do some amazing things in organizing the bloggers. And, from what she reports, the NRA accords her and the other bloggers the treatment that would be accorded journalists.

      In 1999, the NRA convention was in Denver, right after the horrible shooting the high school in Littleton. Something happened that could not happen now that there are RKBA bloggers, many who show up at the NRA annual meetings (paying their own costs!): A high-ranking elected official in Colorado (maybe the lieutenant governor) got up and spoke. It was a woman, and (as I recall) a woman of color. She spoke positively about the right assured by the 2nd Amendment, and she made clear that she did not blame gun owners or supporters of the 2nd Amendment for the deaths in Littleton. It was a *fantastic* speech! And, you know what? The media never covered her speech. She was never quoted. And you know why? No, I don’t think it was because the journalists who were there were trying to slant the story. Rather, it was because most working journalists who are covering what they expect will be a “routine” story are lazy, and they go the lazy-journalist’s route: They pick up a press packet, go back to their office, and write the story from the press packet which includes printed copies of all of the prepared speeches. In that case, the woman who spoke had not offered an advance copy of her speech, and the lazy journalists had all wandered off to write the news without being there.

      Now, that can’t happen with a bunch of bloggers hanging around.

      My point is that the RKBA bloggers do a tremendous service for the RKBA (and ultimately for the NRA, and other pro-RKBA organizations). However, if they were “hired-help” journalists, they would not serve the same function. So, readers ultimately are the ones who should be paying bloggers — via “tip jars” and via accepting that good blogs are going to be having increased advertising.

  10. I agree and disagree… part of the problem is the “silo” mentality of various constituencies, especially many of the new areas and Gun-Owner 2.0, 3.0 folks… many traditional hunters aren’t concerned with CCW… many IDPA shooters aren’t concerned with limiting access to hunting… many high-power shooters aren’t concerned about decades-old skeet ranges getting shut down due to noise and bogus safety concerns yada, yada, yada…

    On the other hand, almost every single week, the NRA is helping to fight some Schumer-head at the national, state, or local level that is still trying to put in place draconian gun regulations…

    Heck, PA gun-owners have fought with cities for years over firearm preemption laws as they are continually ignored… same in Ohio… New York tries for micro-stamping and other crazy, worthless legislative measures every year… and every year they are within a couple to a few votes of getting them passed… California has effectively eliminated most from CCW, lead ammunition, and now even open carrying of empty hand guns just this year… yes – NO OPENLY CARRIED EMPTY GUNS – just this past year…

    So before ya’ll bash’em too hard… the second amendment enemy is still out there and using gorilla warfare tactics everywhere they can…

    Dann in Ohio

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