Don’t be fooled by the NRA’s ‘gun control’ issue scam

Tony Jaques considers how the international media's response to the NRA's recent gun control announcement reveals a frustratingly good lesson in issue management.

Whatever you think of the National Rifle Association you have to give them credit for some highly effective yet totally cynical issue management.

In the wake of the terrible mass-shooting in Las Vegas, the NRA turned a potential PR disaster into an issue management near-triumph.

They could have dusted off their usual response after every previous mass-shooting. But instead the plotters at NRA came up with an audacious new approach – they called for a review of the so-called bump stocks, which turn a legal semi-automatic weapon into an illegal automatic killing machine.

In issue management terms it was a classic case of ‘look over here’ while maintaining their core objectives. By seeming to give away something which is peripheral to their gun rights commitment, NRA implemented the tried and true issue diversion strategy. Moreover they positioned themselves as part of the solution and not a key part of the problem.

And it was remarkably effective. Commentators and reporters in the US and elsewhere rushed to express amazement that the NRA was actually ‘supporting gun control,’ when what was really amazing was the media’s gullibility. Headlines around the world hyped this minor concession into a supposed change of direction.

For example ABC America headlined it: “Las Vegas shooting leads to first signs of movement in gun control stalemate” and The Orange County Register trumpeted: “Gun control war dramatically changes with GOP, NRA agreeing to regulations.”

Mashable went so far as to claim: “Hell freezes over as NRA supports a gun control measure”.

Meanwhile, in Australia The New Daily said: “Las Vegas Shooting: NRA calls for tougher gun regulations” and ABC Radio reported: “NRA supports crackdown on rapid-fire device used in Las Vegas.”

Of course there were some sceptics and doubters. For example the website deathandtaxes carried the headline: “NRA pretends to support gun control by encouraging tiniest possible regulation” while US Today tried to have it both ways: “The NRA GOP now want gun control. Kind of. Sort of. Not really.”

But overall the NRA achieved a real media win, plus a significant political success. By blaming former President Obama’s administration for “approving the sale of bump stocks on at least two occasions,” they gave an easy free kick to their political allies as well as to their endorsed nominee for the presidency. As the Washington Examiner reported: “Trump White House has a new bump stock strategy: Blame Obama.”

The NRA plan was certainly politically astute. Republicans were predictably quick to embrace a call for ‘sensible regulation’ which they could endorse without alienating their guns-right voters, while anti-gun Democrats had little choice but to welcome the proposal, delivering a faux image of bi-partisanship.

Most importantly, this was all effortlessly achieved at effectively no real cost to supporters of gun-rights. Even for an organisation like the NRA, with a long history of issue campaign success, this was undoubtedly a slam dunk.

Whatever you think of the NRA, it was a lesson in well-executed issue management. The real shame is that such strategic audacity wasn’t applied in support of a more worthy cause.

Tony Jaques is a crisis and issue management specialist.


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