All Of A Sudden The NRA Doesn’t Want To Mention Guns

Two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day that the unfortunate nine-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a firearms instructor in Arizona, the NRA kicked off a series of Netflix-style video ads that are perhaps the organization’s most disingenuous effort to present itself as something other than what it really is; namely, an organization devoted to ownership and use of guns.  In fact, having watched all 12 one-minute productions, I can tell you that the only way you would know that this is an effort of the NRA is that each commentator ends his or her spiel by telling the viewer that their wholesome and didactic script was produced by the “National Rifle Association of America” with a slight pause and then heavy emphasis on the word ‘America’ even though officially the NRA is still just the NRA, not the NRAA.

panera                This new media blitz by the people who used to bring us messages like “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”  is significant insofar as the word ‘gun’ is never mentioned in any of these videos, not even once.  You would think the NRA had become some kind of touchy-feely civics organization devoted to uplifting our moral virtues rather than a trade association committed to getting everyone in America to own a gun.  And not only are the minute-long lectures all about honesty, and decency, and respect for everyone’s point of view, but only four of the homilies are delivered by White males, who just happen to own most of the guns in America – seven of the commentators are women, one is Asian-American and, of course, there’s always room for Colion Noir, aka NRA’s house Black man.

When I first started watching these videos I thought I was looking at a remake of the Reagan “its morning again in America” campaign ads from 1984.  Those were slickly-produced messages which never showed Reagan, who was beginning to look his age, but instead had a variety of American families proudly standing in front of a farmhouse, a factory gate, a well-manicured suburban lawn, all smiling, all happy, all gently reminding us that if we just remembered to vote Republican that all those things we cherished and loved would never be taken away.

The NRA scripts flow back and forth between a kind of Tea Party lite condemnation about the problems we face – government spying, unlawfulness in high places, fear of crime – and an immediate sense of setting things right with the help of the ‘good guys,’ the real Americans who can be counted on every time to keep us safe, honest, decent and sound.  And who are these good guys?  They are your neighbor with a decal on the back of his truck which reads: N-R-A.

I can’t imagine anyone actually watching one of these messages and coming away having learned anything at all.  But I don’t think that’s the point.  What the NRA is trying to do is cast itself in a softer, more reasonable and, if you’ll pardon the expression, less combative way, because for the first time they are up against an opponent whose money, smarts and media access can sway lots of people to go the opposite way.  And not only does Bloomberg have that kind of dough, for the first time he might be able to energize non-gun owners to stay active and committed to the gun control fray.

This week we have another retail chain, Panera’s, who is walking down the path blazed by Starbucks and Target and asking gun owners to leave their weapons at home.  Like the other chains, Panera’s isn’t posting a gun-free sign on their front doors, but if any of the 2nd-Amendment vigilantes believes that this isn’t a victory for the folks who want more gun control, they better think again.  The fact that Panera’s announcement coupled their concern about guns with their desire to build social “communities” in their stores should tell you why, all of a sudden, the NRA has stopped talking about guns.

 

Advertisements

Guess Who’s Joining Bloomberg’s Gun Crusade Now?

Until recently, conventional wisdom had it that nobody could go up against the NRA and win.  They had too much money, too much clout, too many politicians doing their bidding and, most of all, a dedicated and energized membership that could swing public opinion and election results their way. They were so strong and so effective that in 2013 they even kept the mildest legislative compromise from getting through Congress after the horrifying tragedy at Sandy Hook.

gates                But that was then and this is now.  And the now I am referring to is the news that another billionaire named Bill Gates has teamed up with Mike Bloomberg to challenge the NRA in a Washington State initiative that would require background checks for all firearm transfers conducted within the state.  Now Bloomberg may be a pretty rich guy, make no mistake about it, but he’s still in the minor leagues when compared to Gates who is not only worth somewhere north of 60 billion real dollars, but has spent the last decade doing a pretty effective job of giving it away.  When he decides to get his money behind something, we’re not talking about the 50 million that Bloomberg is putting up this year to deal with guns, we’re looking at the 1.5 billion that the Gates Foundation spent last year on only one of four major initiatives – global development – alone.

In 2012, including a couple of million thrown into the pot by the Koch Brothers, the NRA spent slightly more than $25 million on donations to candidates and political ads.  That kind of money buys a lot of traction in Washington but it’s chump-change compared to what Gates could pony up if he decided that gun control was going to help makes his day.  And just so you don’t think that putting a hundred or two hundred million out there might strain Bill and Melinda’s cash flow, let’s not forget that their best buddy and Trustee of the Gates Foundation is none other than Warren Buffet, who might just be worth another 60 billion, give or take a billion here or there.

Sometimes it’s difficult to translate large sums of money into something that we can understand, but look at it this way.  The combined net worth of Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg, if considered as equivalent to an annual GDP, would make these three guys the fiftieth wealthiest country on Earth, somewhere around Qatar, Portugal or Peru.  According to the 2010 financial filing made by the NRA (the latest I could find online), the outfit had revenues of slightly under 230 million which represents roughly 20% of Microsoft’s revenues each week!  In 2014 Berkshire-Hathaway looks like it will have weekly revenues of nearly 4 billion and Bloomberg L.P. is also no slouch.  We’re not talking here about the nickels and dimes that the NRA carts off to the bank.  When it comes to putting up dough for whatever Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg want to promote, those guys are the bank.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not in favor of buying elections or using deep pockets to influence electoral outcomes either from the Left or the Right.  But the NRA’s biggest problem is they really can’t reach out to anyone who doesn’t own a gun.  Meanwhile, the gun control folks have suffered over the years from the waxing and waning of public concern about guns that usually only spikes upward when a horrifying or high-visibility shooting takes place.  Guess what?  The kind of money represented by Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg can go a long way towards funding ongoing, grass-roots activities that the NRA would find it difficult, if not impossible to match. In the last month, Bloomberg’s group  Everytown forced Target to declare itself a gun-free zone, and now they are trying to add Kroger to the gun-free list as well.  Notice any big retailers inviting open-carry activists into their stores?

Here Comes Bloomberg And Some Senators May Not Be Able To Duck

Several months ago I wrote a blog in which I pointed out that Mike Bloomberg’s access to media at all levels would make him a formidable opponent of the NRA when it came to talking to non-gun owners about guns.  The NRA has a lock on communicating with the gun-owning community, but a majority of Americans don’t own guns.  So how do you engage this usually-silent majority to counteract the power and influence of the NRA?  Well here comes a good test case.

Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) that would more clearly define domestic violence and strengthen what is already a Federal prohibition against the purchase of guns by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse.  The NRA is against the measure but in atypical fashion is opposing it in a rather quiet way, restricting themselves to sending a non-public letter to some Senators, but so far avoiding any public comment on the debate. Their stealth approach to this issue lies in the fact that they have been making a major marketing push towards women as owners and users of guns, but they know that opposing domestic abuse laws would, from the perspective of most women, put them on the wrong side.

bloom                It can’t be said, however, that Mike Bloomberg shares the NRA’s reluctance to make a lot of public noise. On the eve of the Senate hearing, he’s running a 30-second television spot in media markets covering territories belonging to Senators Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, three Republicans who last year voted against the Manchin-Toomey compromise after Sandy Hook and whom, it is felt, may this time with Klobuchar’s bill, be swayed to go the other way. The ad is pretty dramatic and the Everytown website also contains a quick-click method to send a message to Ayotte, Heller and Flake.

Last month the Everytown group won a big one when their pressure pushed the mega-retailer Target to issue a public statement requesting that shoppers refrain from bringing guns into their stores.  Target’s decision was a slap in the face of the NRA which has been pushing a roll-back of gun-free zones as part of their strategy to widen the acceptance of concealed-carry laws.  But the strategy used by Bloomberg’s group against Target was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a very targeted affair.  Inviting local media to a picket-line around a store entrance is one thing; inundating elected officials with emails and calls is quite another.  The latter tactic has always been seen as a major weapon in the NRA’s arsenal for swaying votes.  For the first time, the other side in the gun debate is doing the same thing.

It’s not really the number of phone calls or emails that makes politicians respond.  It’s a less tangible thing that we call the intensity of the folks sending their messages, a devotion to the cause that the NRA has diligently developed amongst its membership over many years. When something terrible and high-profile occurs like Sandy Hook, it’s not very difficult to get a grass-roots response from either side.  But a Senate hearing isn’t usually the stuff that makes for media buzz, so it will be interesting to see the degree to which Bloomberg’s group can generate a grass-roots response to their ad.  And if they do, the playing-field that has been tilted for so long in the NRA’s direction may just start moving back the other way.