– Gun control: Obama’s PR machine can crush the NRA (Telegraph, Jan 17, 2013):
On the day that President Obama announced his determination to defy the will of the US Congress and push for an assault weapons ban, he could hardly have wished for a greater gift than the one handed him by the National Rifle Association.
That’s right. Once again the main lobby group for gun owners went right ahead and shot itself in the foot, releasing an advert that turned Mr Obama’s innocent teenage daughters into pawns in the fight over gun control.
The White House managed to contain its glee, correctly describing the advert as “repugnant and cowardly” for calling Mr Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for letting his daughters have armed protection (their Secret Service detail) but denying the same protection to ordinary folk.
You have to wonder who is advising the NRA at the moment, and how long it will take “responsible gun owners” to rise up and do away with a leadership that is so badly misrepresenting them?
The extreme clique of Conservatives that took control of the NRA in 1977 and systematically set about re-interpreting the Second Amendment (see brilliant Jeffrey Toobin synopsis here) so that it guaranteed the rights of individuals, not militias, to bear arms, appears to have begun to consume itself.
For years the NRA operated largely behind the scenes, buying-off and bullying members of Congress so that any attempt to pass common-sense gun laws could be thwarted.
Today, with more than half of members Congress receiving an “A+” NRA rating they may still have that power, but you sense a moment approaching when its grip could suddenly be rendered precarious by a momentous shift in public opinion – and the NRA knows it.
You can smell the fear in the desperation of the NRA’s advert; the ludicrous press conference it staged after the Sandy Hook massacre, and the television interview where the group’s cadaverous chief executive Wayne LaPierre almost literally foamed at the mouth, as he ranted and raved about the crazy people out there.
Like a vampire dragged from his coffin after dawn, Mr LaPierre and his colleagues are slowly shriveling up under the glare of the daylight.
The gun-loving America public won’t turn against the right to own guns, but they might yet turn against the right of the NRA to make a fool of all gun owners. The NRA berates the liberal Left for demonising gun-owners, even as it hands liberals gold-plated ammunition to do just that.
The NRA claims jubilantly that they’ve signed up 250,000 new members since Sandy Hook, but the polling data on gun controls shows that that is a drop in the ocean set against the many millions of the hitherto silent majority who now see the NRA top brass for what it really is.
The truth is that the interests of responsible US gun owners, who want to hunt or go target shooting have been hijacked and distorted by an NRA leadership who scaremonger about a liberal conspiracy to “take away our guns” which they say need to defend against the “tyranny” of government.
Take a look at this video of James Yeager, the CEO of Tactical Response, a Tennessee-based company that specializes in firearms and tactical training, to see a version of that argument.
This should be the absolutely fringe of any argument on gun control, and yet the NRA has put it front and centre, promising the “Fight of the Century” to block plans to limit magazine sizes, ban assault weapons (a move even Reagan supported, back in 1994) and institute mandatory background checks.
It’s clear from Obama’s press conference that the administration senses the opportunity to mobilise the silent majority.
This was a campaign speech delivered over the heads of Washington’s politicians, a direct call to the “millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting” not to allow themselves to be represented to the world by the NRA.
It is difficult to predict where this leads, but if the NRA loses the PR war, it may yet well wish that it had stuck to its usual modus operandi – keeping its mouth shut while quietly working to ensure that it has Congress in its pocket.
The problem is that the NRA’s guerrilla army, led by Mr LaPierre, has now been forced into the open. A small force of lobbyists now confronts, on the open field of public opinion, one of the most powerful and effective PR machines the world has ever seen – Obama for America.
As Robert Gibbs, the former White House spokesman observed, now is the moment for Mr Obama to mount his charger and get out in front, flying the standard for sensible gun controls as he delivers his second inaugural and the State of the Union.
He has the technical war-fighting apparatus to do the job. As Mr Gibbs pithily observed: “If the NRA’s got a list, then Obama for America has a bigger list.” It is going to be fascinating to see how the battle unfolds.