There was a surprise for me in my mailbox yesterday, namely, the November issue of American Rifleman, which happens to be the premier publication of the NRA. The reason I was surprised was that back in April, a detailed story by Mike Spies that was carried in The New Yorker and The Trace provoked an avalanche of criticism about America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ which made it appear that the pro-gun group was headed for a quick demise.
Not only did the NRA find itself being attacked for shabby bookkeeping, sweetheart business dealings and all kinds of other nefarious deeds, but for the first time in more than 40 years, an attempt was made to jettison the leadership and bring in an entirely new management group. The effort collapsed when it turned out that the chief promoter of this coup d’etat, Oliver North, was himself profiting from an inside deal with the NRA‘s advertising agency which led to the NRA giving the boot both to North and to the advertising agency as well.
Despite this reprieve, the news for the NRA kept getting worse and worse, with simultaneous investigations being carried out by the New York State Attorney General (the NRA is incorporated in New York as a not-for-profit corporation) along with an investigation by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) about the alleged connections between the NRA and Maria Butina, the so-called Russian ‘spy.’ The latter effort resulted Wyden’s report which didn’t show any unlawful NRA activity at all; the former investigation will shlep on until even the cows in all those upstate New York counties come home.
What really got things going, however, was that more than 80 people were killed and injured in two mass shootings which occurred in just two days. The shooting in El Paso on August 3 took 22 lives and injured 24 more; the next day a shooting in Dayton resulted in another 10 killed and 27 injured. That’s quite a score.
Whenever there is a mass shooting two things occur: 1). There is an immediate spike in media coverage and public concern about the event; 2). The gun-control narrative to define these shootings invariably finds some way or another to blame the NRA. Either the NRA is guilty of preventing laws that would curb the violence, or the NRA promotes armed, self-defense which is just another way to spread the idea that guns are good, gun-grabbers are bad.
After all the sturm und drang about guns after those mass shootings, the whole issue of gun control has once again gone back to where it always sits; namely, nobody really cares about it at all. The keywords ‘gun violence’ spiked to four times the usual level of Google searches during the week of August 4 -10; it’s now back to just about the lowest level recorded this year. As for the Presidential candidates, they went through their usual talking-points about guns during their last debate, but the fact that gun control is no longer a toxic issue for Democrats is old news.
On the other hand, getting back to my beloved American Rifleman, the issue contains the usual mélange of reviews of new guns and shooting products and a great article on the M1903-A1 Springfield that was our sniper rifle in World War II. But the issue also contains a lengthy op-ed by Wayne-o, which can be seen on the NRA website, a commentary about the ‘future of the NRA.”
Compared to the NRA’s messaging over the last few years, Wayne-o’s commentary is actually pretty tame stuff. Gone is the bombast of video performers like Colion Noir, gone is the racially-tinged stupidities of Dana Loesch, gone is the attempt to make the NRA a leading voice for the alt-right. If anything, the tone and content of Wayne-o’s spiel reminds me of what I heard when I went to NRA shows in 1980 and 1981.
This change in NRA communication strategy actually seems to be working quite well. From April through June the NRA website registered around 500,000 visits each month. The total for September was 1,750,000 – that’s right, more than three times as many visits as when things were going to Hell.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the NRA‘s death may be greatly exaggerated.