What is wrong with this country?
What sensible human being thinks it’s OK to put what’s essentially a machine gun in the hands of private citizens?
The tragedies keep coming with the latest mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta leaving 18 dead.
Here’s the problem. These events serve as a form of smelling salts, helping politicians come to their senses in response to public outcry. Then, nothing happens.
What could be more horrific than a madman mowing down kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in 2012? If there were ever time for gun control legislation to pass, this was it. Yet, the legislation failed.
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, I extrapolated from the NRA’s communications in the public domain to piece together the dialogue between the NRA’s PR function and Wayne Lapierre, NRA’s EVP at the time and the individual who led the press conference after Sandy Hook.
Let’s listen in:
PR: Sir, I suggest silence as our best course of action. There’s nothing we can say at this point in time that’s going to be perceived in positive light.
Wayne: Silence is an action?
Wayne: You said our best course of action is silence. But silence isn’t an action. An action generates noise, which by definition can’t be silent. Is this too deep for you, son?
PR: Sir, my point is …
(Cuts him off mid-sentence)
Wayne: I get your point, and I’m going to give you half credit for suggesting action. By the way, this will count toward your 2012 KPIs. I agree. We need action. This is no time to head for the bunkers. Do you believe the best defense is a good offense?
Wayne: Good. Then it stands to reason the more aggressive our offense, the more effectively we defend the NRA. I’m tired of every yahoo and his brother taking pot shots at us. Enough. We’re holding a press conference to tell our side of the story.
PR: And what is our side of the story?
Wayne: We stick with our go-to narrative: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
PR: With all due respect, that line has been wrung dry. If we’re going to do this, we need something fresh.
Wayne: Now, we’re getting somewhere. Like the pushback. Like the collaboration. Like Rush Limbaugh said, it takes a village to defend a cause. By the way, you should have said, the two lines have been wrung dry.
Wayne: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. That’s two lines, plural.
PR: My mistake. Any ideas for the new narrative?
Wayne: Journalists love juxtaposition. And it’s got to be simple. One-syllable words. Something they can remember.
PR: Why don’t we play off the words “good” and “bad.”
Wayne: Like it. How about – It’s what’s in the man, not the gun, that determines good from bad.
PR: Good start. Just not catchy enough and too many syllables in “determines.”
Wayne: I’ve got it – The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.
PR: That’s more like it. If I can make just one tiny suggestion – We bring some nice alliteration to the line by replacing “man” with “guy,” so the line ends up: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Wayne: Love it. That’s teamwork.
PR: Are you OK with the word “only” having two syllables?
Wayne: Well, let’s think about this. We could replace “only” with “one,” which sounds pretty good.
PR: I don’t know. “One” doesn’t sound quite as authoritative as “only.”
Wayne: Then let’s keep “only” and live with the two syllables. See, I value your counsel.
PR: Thank you, sir.
Wayne: We still need the big idea.
PR: What do you mean?
Wayne: A strong narrative isn’t enough. We also need to give the American people a reason to see how guns can be part of the solution. That’s how we diffuse the gun control zealots.
PR: Any ideas?
Wayne: Let’s brainstorm – what’s in every school? What assets are already there that we can leverage and use to distract?
PR: Desks, chalkboards, teachers, apples, books, principals …
Wayne: Right. We offer to put the principals from every school in America through the NRA handgun training on our dime.
PR: Sir, our research shows that not even 10 percent of school principals own any type of firearm. They don’t even paddle kids as punishment anymore.
Wayne: OK, like the logical pushback … I got it! What’s every school got we didn’t list?
PR: I don’t know. Sandboxes. lockers. pencils …
Wayne: No, no, no. Go back to thinking about the people in schools.
PR: I don’t know.
Wayne: You give up?
PR: I’m not following.
Wayne: Every school in America has janitors. They’re often immigrants from Eastern Europe and Latin America where guns are part of the culture. We put THEM through the NRA handgun training.
PR: Sir, I don’t think turning janitors into security guards is going to work. People won’t see the connection between holding a mop and holding …
Wayne: Stop! That’s it. We recommend that an armed security guard be placed on the grounds of every school in America.
PR: It does fit nicely with our narrative.
Wayne: And it moves the debate away from gun control to school security.
PR: Now, that’s a big idea.
Wayne: Exactly. Couldn’t have done it without you. Time to get cracking on the speech. I want the type of language that will grab America by the scruff of their collective neck.
PR: Yes, sir.
Back in 2012 the NRA took a combative, even defiant approach. Their words at the press conference were toxic, more fitting for Christopher Buckley’s fictional PR parody “Thank You for Smoking.”
Fast forwarding to today, there’s cause to believe this time will be different, that gun control legislation will get over the finish line.
For starters, politicians no longer quiver in the shadow of the NRA, a wounded organization that can’t seem to balance its own checkbook. And President Biden appears willing to spend political capital to make it happen.
If somehow, some way, they can keep the legislation out of the partisan muck, it’s got a chance.