When the tragedy struck in Newtown, the National Rifle Association (NRA) decided to take down their Facebook page and go dark. In the press conference they just completed, they refused to take questions. In a world filled with conversation, the NRA chose to skip transparency and authenticity … and instead used three time honored strategies of crisis response to help their organization weather the media storm around gun ownership. It would be easier if they stood up and said everyone should have every kind of gun and the 2nd amendment’s stated right to bear arms is irrefutable. But they didn’t.
Instead, the press conference was the NRA’s chance to lay out their brilliantly evil communications strategy in a way that will most likely shield them from long term criticism and sadly move the conversation away from guns. As experts in marketing, it may seem that there isn’t much we can do. Still, the greatest threat to a brilliant strategy is revealing the wool that is being pulled over our collective eyes.
So here’s my attempt to reveal the three big strategies and messages the NRA is using to divert attention beyond taking guns away from people or making them more difficult to get access to:
NRA Message #1 – Guns are not the problem – unsafe and unprotected schools are the problem.
Strategy: Elevate the issue. If the issue being debated is easy access to deadly weapons, then the NRA will lose. If the issue, instead, becomes that our schools are not safe enough … then the NRA has a chance. So we saw over and over again throughout the press conference that NRA CEO Wayne Lapierre talked about the ways that our schools aren’t safe enough, and called on the government to spend whatever would be necessary to better protect schools.
NRA Message #2 – The only defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Strategy: Play offense instead of defense. When it comes to defending anyone’s right to have guns, the NRA would have a difficult argument because anyone can point to mentally unstable people like the shooter* as reasons for why gun access should not be so free. Instead, the NRA laid out plans to introduce a comprehensive “school shield program” led by independent experts. Introducing such a program lets the NRA flip the issue to go on the offense to solve what they have already positioned as the biggest issue – school safety.
NRA Message #3 – Our culture of violence is really to blame for mass shootings.
Strategy: Change the bad guy. A topic that has not been getting nearly enough attention is how violent video games and “blood soaked films” are creating a desensitized culture of violence. The last mass shooting was at the opening of a very violent Batman film. In his short talk, Lapierre called this a “race to the bottom” and likened it to pornography. Add to that the media’s coverage of the shooter and how they have turned him into something of a celebrity, and the argument that the real bad guy is media and entertainment (and not guns) is complete.
Time will tell if the media and public gets wise to these strategies – but the more we can publicize them, hopefully the more awareness people have of just how strategically they are being manipulated by masterful communications … and perhaps they can build a more informed point of view as a result. If you’d like for that to happen, please consider sharing this post.
*Note – As a member of the extended media writing about the Newtown tragedy, I have chosen not to mention the shooter by name. Just like NFL games don’t show streakers on national TV as a deterrent for fame seekers, I think this is one small step anyone writing or speaking about tragedies like this should choose to take. Let’s not make evildoers into celebrities.