Thoughts on the NRA Presser

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.

The Bad

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.

The Good

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.

51 thoughts on “Thoughts on the NRA Presser”

  1. But I firmly believe that Wayne’s style and rhetoric is sorely in need of an update…

    Pity you then NRA members (I became one again yesterday after the speech satisfied me the NRA’s going to fight this) allowed the “Winning Team” to insulate themselves from member opinion and ensure there will never be another Cincinnati revolt through bylaws changes that were rammed through with even a touch of violence.

    In reference to the latter, imagine the situation we’d been in if he’d waved a white flag and we couldn’t replace him and his team. Fortunately the NRA is still dead set against “assault weapons” bans, ignoring that trial balloon they had Heston release.

  2. I am going to respectively disagree. Codepink was not NRAs fault, they do this often, and breach security often. I am sure some media division was involved in it. (for the direct insult) Wayne kept his composure and shook his head annoyingly, but did not mention or quip about it. He stayed on message and stayed on script. That being said, a security guard slamming them on the floor when the banner was unfurled would have made better press. So he chose wisely, IMHO.

    To make people look at other constitutional issues is not a bad thing. He was just pointing them out. His suggestion, again IMHO, is to not fail to see other influences, other than just the guns. Maybe you think he failed on that, I seemed to get that from it. That includes the mental illness portion, magicians use slight of hand, let’s make them look over here?

    Lastly, the set up of “We are the Professional Gun Trainers was brilliant. Staying out of the whole teachers with guns thing, and bringing in money and offer to truly help.

    But we are split once again, our membership wanted more, but they are not PR specialist. Together we win this thing, by bickering about the org we do not.

    1. Agreed on all points; WRT to Code Pink, it’s a really tough problem, authorized “journalists”, i.e. Democratic operatives with that job description, routinely lend their press credentials to them for just this purpose. The NRA isn’t at the level of the White House, they can’t pre-screen the press for real.

  3. One can only hope that they try to buy one group or another with a new ban bill. Adding spending to the bill means they either have to add new revenue or be subject to the sunset provision that has affected the first Clinton Crime Bill, the Bush tax-cuts, and many other pieces of legislation.

  4. yeah, it wasn’t the worst press release but that is the nicest thing I can say about it.

    Frankly I think it unwise for us in the firearms community to point the finger at mental health, media, and video games as it breaks down potential allies. Altho the gammers of today might be pretty insignificant as a politically active block – I expect with the popularity of games like call of duty can have a positive effect because it generates interest in guns. Why alienate any group?

    I like keeping our message simple and neutral to other groups: bad men with guns go where good men with guns can not to do evil things. Since we cannot remove the guns from ALL of the bad men, we should brake down the barriers to good, law abiding, citizens to having guns while stamping out “soft targets” by having armed security.

    I wish every voting American would read Terror at Beslan for perspective on why it is so critical to start protecting our children as much as we protect our politicians. Call me sentimental, but I think the affect of one Beslan-style situation in America would be worse than another 9/11 even if the body count was much smaller.

    If there is one group we need to protect, it is our children – our future. This means preserving their safety AND their rights.

    1. I am a new gun owner (bought my first two this year at age 41) and an avid video game player. I was considering sending some money to the NRA but after this speech my money, for now, is staying local. Virginia Civil Defense League will be getting my money instead.

      I would say this speech really hurt, though I do like the idea of police in schools.

      1. I will echo what Dannytheman said. VCDL is a fine organization, but they have no presence on Capitol Hill that I know of, and even if they do, they don’t have the clout of NRA. NRA is the only organization who can stop this. They are the only group in Washington that politicians care about, when it comes to gun rights.

        1. Yeah. How about this for compromise; make a portion of what you were planning to donate as a membership as a donation with a note explaining why you are doing a *one time* donation of $10 instead of the yearly $25 contribution you were planning on making as a new member. Donate the remainder to another organization such as the 2nd amendment foundation, JPFO, NSSF, or whoever.

          In spite of my criticism of the NRA, for the first time in my life I am becoming a member. In the past I’ve donated and been a member of other 2nd A. groups, but the NRA really is a central force even if I prefer other organizations. I’d rather help re-enforce it from within than stomp my feet on the outside.

        2. Sebastian is right. NRA does some great things on the training side. I’ve got no loyalty to the NRA on the political side. I think SAF is doing better work. Having said that, I’m a life member of both organizations. Why? Because SAF just doesn’t have NRA’s muscle. Like it or not, for now they are the horse to bet on. Just support the other ones, too.

        3. I will consider. I like the idea of sending a donation but not getting the membership. I know this is going to be a hard fight. Hell its already split in my house. My wife is 180 different from me on this issue. And she is a “regular” person.

          Thanks for the input guys.

  5. The speech made some good points but overall was an unmitigated disaster. He should have stuck to the school security issue and left out the pop culture and video game references. How can we support the second amendment by blaming the first amendment? Also, the NRA needs a leader who is more media savvy has the public speaking skills to effectively deliver a speech on a national stage without looking overwhelmed. The NRA choked and needs new leadership.

    1. I’d say you sound like a Millennial, but my father (Baby Boomer) pretty much said the same thing as you about blaming the First Amendment being as wrong as blaming the Second.

      1. I’m Gen X like you, but I’d have to agree. Video games are a monster entertainment industry. $10B+/yr. Average gamer is in the 30’s. 40% are female. It is significant, and tossing them under the bus was stupid.

        U.S. ticket sales for the movie industry was $10B+ last year. While overall revenues for movies is far more than ticket sales, video gamers are still relevant.

        His message is getting at least some positive responses:

        But Barge notes what will be true everywhere, that small cash strapped districts will need some assistance. The big systems here in the metro ATL already have a resource officer at the high school and some middle school levels. There are far more elementary schools, so expansion will still cost some amount of cash.

        The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), of course, agrees.

        It’s time to find the next Heston.

        1. Have to agree with the need to find the next Heston. Wayne LaPierre is getting compensated a million dollars per year and wasting NRA money on a crisis strategy that seems to be rooted in betraying conservative principles.

          1. There’s nothing “conservative” about exposing children to “pornography” (a video game about killing kindergarteners surely qualifies for that label) or, better, exposing them to age inappropriate materials (libertarian is another thing). See Matt’s comment in this discussion where he said:

            It’s fine if you are an adult playing these games because you are suppose to be able to tell the difference between play and reality. I took the comment from LaPierre to mean unsupervised violent video gaming by impressionable underage kids who may not be able to tell the difference. I didn’t give my nephew his first “Medal of Honor” video game until he was 16 and old enough for me to take to the range and demonstrate to him the destructive power of a gun.

            But I agree that the introduction of this topic in the speech was maladroit at best, i.e. if the above was a point Wayne was trying to make, it wasn’t obvious to me.

            All in all, though, as a speech to stop a new gun ban it and that might be good, I don’t know. I do know I don’t care that much if it delays people’s joining the NRA (which I only reluctantly rejoined after this speech, due to their not waving the white flag and the danger we face right now)—rather obviously, having changed the bylaws, we’re going to have to wait until the Winning Team dies or becomes totally disabled before new blood can introduce new ideas. Such as a modern take on and use of video games to recruit new members instead of turning potential ones off. But that should happen sooner or later.

            Note to all those complaining about the 1st Amendment; I don’t recall his calling for banning these games. Note he used the word pornography, which in various contexts is legal (i.e. showing it to the too young is not legal), not obscenity, which is plain flat illegal.

      2. I’m 43, gen Xer, in SoCal. I never owned a gun until 2010, but have supported the 2 amendment for as long as I can remember. I never knew much about guns but joined the NRA in response to Steve Kroft’s Interview of Barack Obama during the 2008 election. Kroft mentioned the NRA with an elitist eyerolling smirk and I thought, screw him, I’m going to join the NRA. I didn’t even own a gun, but then I started getting the magazine (American Hunter) and started reading about guns/hunting. Now I own 5 guns (all rifels, 3 of them black), got my hunting license, and am planning my first hunting trip this year.

  6. Sebastian,

    You pretty much covered everything I was thinking — with one exception. It’s a bit egregious to hold a press conference and then not take questions. It smacks of desperation.

    1. Or being smart enough not to make frontal assaults; the press are our sworn enemies, what could possibly be gained by allowing such a broad swath of them to ask questions?

      The press will be engaged, just on more favorable terms, starting with Meet the Press tomorrow.

      1. If he’d come out at the beginning of the week, then I would’ve agreed with you.

        He waited a whole week. Anyone worth their salt as a media spokesman should have been ready for any question. They’re going to have to address them anyway.

        1. There’s lots of debate on that first issue, and I for one do not have an informed opinion on it.

          For your “worth your salt” issue, in part I addressed it immediately above, the rest is addressed by my first reply way above (the 2nd of all of them).

          As for “They’re going to have to address them anyway.“, no, that’s letting the enemy set the terms of battle. We have no need or duty to answer or provide a venue for “when did you stop beating your wife?” style attacks couched as questions.

  7. Last year the Supreme Court struck down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to those under 18. The vote was 7 to 2. LaPierre showed a clip of Kindergarten Killers. I exspect the best we can hope for to delay things to give the hystaria time to die down. Then Congress can pass somethingthat is so watered down to be meaningless. There will most likely be some national data base of mentally ill people to be turned down for buying a gun. The NRA can get in front or let the anti-gun people do it.

    1. We already have a “national data base of mentally ill people to be turned down for buying a gun”, it’s called the NICS. The biggest problem with it are too many states refuse to report to it, like Pennsylvania. Then we have the total reluctance of the courts to involuntarily commit people (although the usual suspects are all to willing to report more than 100,000 soldiers to it as “mentally deficient” without the due process of a proper adjudication). Only after that need we get to the thorny issues of making it available to individuals (a privacy problem) and/or requiring the use of it by them in some way (the best solutions to that are much worse for privacy).

  8. I can’t agree with you more. I’ve converted a significant fraction of my friends and people I know to say things like: “Banning guns doesn’t solve the real problems.” which is a MAJOR achievement, given that I live in gun-control capitol, NYC.

    It helps that we all attended an engineering institution, and that I’ve been able to show them things like 9mm British Standard Pipe Submachinegun, but all of us are hardcore gamers. Messages like “Games R Bad 4 you” is a massive turnoff.

    It is my analysis that the Right-wing coalition, currently centered around the Republican Party, may implode, from its inability to attract my generation and the one after me.

    The silver lining though, is that America itself may collapse into a UK-like hellhole afterwards, and perhaps even civilization in general. At least we’ll be able to say ‘Ha-Ha! Told you so!’

  9. I went ahead and joined the NRA today for the first time. When I said I wanted a years’ membership, the representative on the other end said they were running a special, two years for $50, so I went for that just to put a little more money in their pocket for the fight at hand.

    I joined by phone solely because I wanted to ask if they were busy, and the reply I got was, “Yes! It’s been crazy here.”

  10. Don’t ever try to combat emotion with emotion. Focus on the failures of the state of Conn, despite the many guns laws. Show people that guns are not even a significan part of violent crime. The bureau of Justice shows only 8% of violent crime is committed with a gun. 73% has no weapons involved at all. Finally as we look at what guns mean to the US. They freed us from the tyranny of england, they kept Japan from attacking the mainland during WWII and they are one of few remaining strengths in the world today. Yes there are millions of personal reasons and opinions and emotions, but be smart and attack emotions and beliefs with fact and statistics. The Bureau of Justice statistics and CDC have all the facts you need to show the real dangers to our world.

  11. “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.”

    Not at all. I really don’t care WHY someone is shooting innocent people. It matters not a tiny bit to me as to whether they are “sick” or a professional terrorist. Anyone doing this needs to be treated exactly the same, by rapid and accurate application of deadly force. If they happen to survive this we can have let their attorney come up with an explanation.

    Anyhow it is clearly both wrong and illegal to to shoot innocent people and the word bad certainly encompasses that sort of behavior. Look it up in a dictionary.

    1. I completely agree. Since I have a sister who is struggling with schizophrenia, I have an unusual amount of sypmathy for these monsters who shoot people. It’s a little weird to have sympathy for a monster, but I have some vague idea of what it’s like to live with awful voices in your head, and I do not wish that on anyone.

      Thus, if a monster survives these shootings, I hope that they get treatment, if it is found that they are schizophrenic. I don’t think putting them in prison is quite the right answer, but they *did* kill people–so it’s an understandable, if regrettable, response. If they aren’t schizophrenic, however, then death is too kind to them.

      Having said all that, if someone walks into a room, and starts to shoot innocent people, it doesn’t matter to me what their state of mind is: I will do what I can to stop the threat, and if the person dies in the process, then I mourn the loss of life, and move on. It doesn’t matter if the person is schizophrenic, or an innocent person acting out an unannounced drill (which is really tragic to me that someone died doing just that several months ago–but, really, if you are even going to *pretend* to threaten someone’s life, that person has the right to defend it, if they have a reasonable belief that the threat is for real), or a downright evil person: if the threat to life is there, it needs to be stopped.

      For that matter, if I burst into a meeting of the National Socialist Communist Baby-Eater Association of Evil, and start shooting at everyone, it doesn’t matter if they are evil: I expect that they are going to shoot back, or at least fight back. To assume otherwise would be stupid, at best, because everyone (even evil people) want to live–even if it is only just long enough to commit as much evil as possible, before the calvary arrives.

  12. I look at the video game comments as a bone tossed out to the social conservatives within the NRA.

    Like it or not, the presser has changed the conversation: The controversial now isn’t “ban high capacity assault clips”, it’s “The NRA hates video games”

  13. For what it’s worth, the people that I asked in my friend the FFL’s shop had a positive reaction to the press conference. The point which had the most reaction being the point of having armed response available within the school. Nearly everyone could cite the Israelli policy of armed adults in their school system. And with regards to the comments about the video games turning some off from supporting the NRA. It’s fine if you are an adult playing these games because you are suppose to be able to tell the difference between play and reality. I took the comment from LaPierre to mean unsupervised violent video gaming by impressionable underage kids who may not be able to tell the difference. I didn’t give my nephew his first “Medal of Honor” video game until he was 16 and old enough for me to take to the range and demonstrate to him the destructive power of a gun.

    1. I wish someone would find a definitive cite of policy, because all reaction I find from Israel is “Do what now? No, we don’t arm teachers, though there is a armed guard at every school”. A picture of someone with a M1 carbine on a field trip isn’t definitive. That’s a guard, not a teacher.

  14. It was a horrible presser. Embarrassing. It makes our work harder. When you make a presser that the OTHER side can use in their commercial against you, you messed up. Now, instead of writing letter to my elected officials, I need to write letters to the NRA telling them to fix this. Wayne needs to retire and spend more time with his family.

  15. Honestly? I cringed during most of the press conference.

    I’m a late 20’s, female, avid gamer, love my sci-fi and movies. I’m a new shooter. I have not purchased my first gun yet but plan to within the next 6 months. I despise media hysteria and the way they focus on the killers and not on the victims or the way they gloss over, simplify, or ignore the mental health topics.

    I’ve received most of my safety and training locally (I understand that the NRA “trains the trainers” but I’ve never felt any common ground with the NRA. For better or for worse, I don’t feel they speak either for me or in my language.

    I think Penny Arcade said it best. I think Penny Arcade said it best.

  16. I largely agree with Sebastian that the NRA overall had a good positive message, but ultimately undermined their position when Wayne went off on the tangent beginning with:

    “And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.”

    The tangent that followed had absolutely no place in the briefing. Spouting conspiracy theories and scapegoating other forms of media lowered him (and us) to the level of the people we are trying to stand against. As a lifelong sportsman, competitive shooter, and gamer I found Wayne’s comments about gaming completely ignorant and cringe worthy.

    I recognize that the NRA is the best choice to persevere in this coming fight, and that we need to present a united front. However, it is also self evident that the organization needs a figurehead more in touch with generation X and subsequent generations. The baby boomer generation is the NRA’s past, generation X should be it’s present focus along with the millennials and future generations.

    We need to focus on the task at hand (securing our schools from attack), stick to the facts, don’t get mired down in the moral or ethical debates, and a deal with the internal stuff afterwards.

  17. I’m considerably less kind. Wayne LaPierre and David Keene need to be removed by the Board, immediately. Our 2A rights are in danger because of this piker.

    1. If you’ve studied corporate governance you’ll have come across the concept of boards that are too big to reign in executives. The usual threshold is something less than 10 as I recall; at 76 members (!!!) the NRA’s board is merely for show, ignoring special cases like one of the executives going objectively crazy or the like. Like it or not, the Winning Team is going to be running the NRA as long as they live/can function.

  18. I am presently listening to LaPierre on NBC’s Meet the Press. He does tend to be disjointed, even when he gives good facts. The reporter set him up for a “gotcha” and partially trapped him because Wayne didn’t qualify his “do whatever is possible to save lives” with “short of violating the 2nd Amendment prohibition against infringing upon the individual’s right to keep and bear arms.”
    You are right, Sebastian. We need a better, more polished spokesman.

  19. Senator Lindsay Graham, on the other hand, was masterful. He said, “I have an AR-15 at home. Will prohibiting me from buying another one make America safer?” Obviously not. He was very eloquent!

    ABC’s This Week, on the other hand, is filled with traitors, calling the NRA a shill for gun manufacturers. Grover Norquest is the only good voice on that program, and he is very good on the gun issue. (George Will was absent.) Even Peggy Noonan was weak in her defense.

    1. Geeze, not that I wish to aim opprobrium at them, especially since they and SAMMI (standards setting organization) are located in Newtown and know people who’ve lost relatives, but it’s the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) that’s the gun manufacturers’ and distributors and dealers lobby, they run the SHOT show, do lots of other good things (get on their mailing list(s)).

      Then again, it seems to be a widely held belief by the Left that the NRA is opposed to all background checks (ignoring that the NICS is in part their baby), and of course much wilder stuff (think of all those grenades the Mexican cartels are buying over the counter at gun stores and shows) … but we could still point out this distinction.

      1. Peggy Noonan wants the AWB, of course she’s weak on the issue. She wrote a column not too long ago saying that we should have an AWB again and that Repubs would not “go to the wall” to stop it. I think it was after Aurora, might have been some other event.

  20. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Ga. was ok. Asa Hutchinson was good on ABC’s this week. Minnesota Sen. Kobuchar was a typical traitor, stupidly claiming the Second Amenment is about hunting and sport shooting, and calling for laws infringing on our rights to bear military firearms in order to disarm our ability to resist federal tyranny.

  21. The optics of three old white guys up front were terrible.

    Wayne should have said a few brief words, then turned it over to a smart, competent professional female from NRA HQ, or one of the outstanding female competitive shooters we have here.

    The core constituency we need to convince consists of moms and single young women. Wayne LaPierre is not the guy to persuade them.

    1. We disagree on who the most important audience is; ultimately it’s the politicians who the “three old white guys” have been sending home to spend more time with their families for decades.

      The “moms and single young women” aren’t going to see this presser at all, except in carefully chosen maximally negative sound and video bites. E.g. look at the picture of LaPierre that France 24 chose for their article (linked to by Drudge). Reminds me of how the Boston Globe never featured a flattering picture of Reagan when I was reading an office copy in the early ’80s.

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