Monday, December 24, 2012

Wrong about the NRA... the response was anything but masterful. fact... well, it's Christmas Eve... time to be charitable, let's just say they've got a tough row to hoe

I was wrong.

I was wrong last week when I predicted the NRA response to the tsunami of talk about controlling the possession and use of guns would be a masterful stroke of public relations, a case study for the ages. It was, instead, the worst case of public relations in recent memory.

It was, in fact, so bad I started trying to figure out why. I offer four possibilities:

1)      In public relations the cards don’t always come off the top of the deck. This silly message about security guards in every school and armed biology teachers may have not been meant to persuade viewers at all. It may have been aimed at congressmen. The real message may have been this: We’re not cowed. We’re not giving an inch. Betray us one inch and we’re coming after you at election time.
2)      The message was sincere. The brain trust at the NRA actually believes its own public relations message. This is dangerous in any organization but especially dangerous in one that exists on the fringes of reality.
3)      They know their followers and the message was meant only for them. To hell with the rest of the viewers. The NRA understands strength in numbers. It understands true believers, especially if true believers are constantly reminded of some external threat.
4)      The argument they make is so lame because there really is no rational way to explain it.
It’s Christmas Eve and time to be charitable, so I’m going to be. I’m going to assume the answer is number four.

The things these guys are saying publicly seem so lame because they are lame. There just isn’t any rational argument for assault weapons in the hands of private citizens. Just step back from this and think about it. If you were starting a society from scratch, you would never introduce the possibility of private citizens owning assault weapons. It wouldn't make sense. The risk would be too great and the utility would be zero.

So, you are the president of the NRA and you’re on television live sitting across from Bob Schieffer and you have to somehow propose an argument for private citizens owning assault weapons with 30-round clips of hollow core bullets. You’ve memorized your facts, but they were ginned up especially for you and your followers and they work well in that context but Schieffer isn’t one of your followers and he’s been prepared to point out how they’ve been ginned up.

So, you’re still stuck with trying to make a rational argument for something that is – at its core – not rational.
No rational person would chose to introduce the potential carnage of assault weapons into the hands of private citizens in a peaceful, free and open, society. Somewhere inside you know this.

As Schieffer asks questions now and then your face just goes blank. Maybe you are trying to remember the argument you prepared. Maybe you are thinking this was a terrible idea and one of your public relations people will be fired from the limo as you leave the studio. Maybe you realize that clam you swallowed at lunch wasn’t so fresh.

Then Schieffer says something simple to you. If the person who broke into that school was armed with a baseball bat, a few concussions might have resulted before he was taken down, but 26 children and teachers would not have been bleeding to death on the floor. And the only response you can manage is, ‘right… and they don’t ban baseball bats, do they?’ Then you mumble something about an attack in a Chinese school by a madman with a hatchet, but you’ve lost the train of how that fits here with the baseball bat and the Bushmaster with the 30-round hollow-core clip. Suddenly, what you're doing seems familiar to all of us who have tried to talk our way out of trouble.

We’ve listened to so many of these convoluted arguments in the last week. The questions seem to be coming from the heart and the answers from outer space. And, in the spirit of charity, the reason is simple. It takes an answer from outer space to justify such a thing as a society with no limits whatsoever on the guns its private citizens possess. 


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