It's an unbelievably sad commentary that high-profile shootings occur frequently enough that we know the National Rifle Association's rote four-step crisis management response.
One. Don't talk to the press. You don't want the NRA's name associated in the public's mind with mass shootings and the inevitable carnage that results from our nation's lax gun policies. You want to make sure that the last thing anyone associates with a gun massacre is firearms and those who promote them. To argue to the American public that 32 dead college students and teachers is, as the NRA says, "the price of freedom" is far more difficult when the cost is seen with graphic horror, the faces and stories of the lives lost confronting us. The NRA depends on gun violence being an abstract concept to most Americans. Mass shootings make it all too real.
Two. If the press coverage is broad enough, issue a statement expressing sympathy for the victims. If not, ignore them.
Three. When the shooting no longer dominates the news cycle, abandon the bunker and rebuke any and all who have dared to call for gun control. Be sure to indignantly argue that anyone calling for measures to control guns is exploiting tragedy for "political gain." And be sure to attack the news media for actually covering the story.
Four. Work to stop measures to address America's growing gun problem that may be proposed in the wake of the shooting.
Repeat as necessary.
Having employed steps one and two since the Virginia Tech shooting, the NRA is now at step three. Yesterday, in a blog entitled Stop Exploiting Tragedy, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre excoriated those who would talk about the need to stop gun violence in the wake of gun violence. Today's blog is Time for the Media Vultures to Stop. In it, LaPierre has the gall to state the following: "I'm not blaming the media for what happened at Virginia Tech. That responsibility ultimately rests with the killer himself. But the press is responsible for what is [sic] does, for the images it presents us, and there's not a doubt in my mind that the press coverage of this individual gave comfort and validation to others with the same twisted evil in their hearts." So to LaPierre, the problem isn't mass shootings, but press coverage of mass shootings. And when the next inevitable massacre occurs, it will be the news media's fault. All of LaPierre's blogs are accessible from the front page of the NRA's web site.
Only in the gun control debate could someone get away with this. Think of any other event--from the most stunning to the most mundane. In the wake of 9-11, was it wrong to talk about security? In the wake of passenger jet crashes, is it wrong to talk about air safety? In the wake of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's motor vehicle crash, is it wrong to talk about seat belt use? In the wake of food contamination incidents, from poisoned spinach to even pet food, is it wrong to talk about food safety? The reality is that America seldom addresses important public health and safety issues until there is a crisis. If the Virginia Tech massacre--the worst mass shooting in America's history--is not the time to look for ways to prevent the next deadly shooting, let alone the nearly 30,000 gun deaths that occur in our nation each year, then when will be the time?
The NRA's existence is a constant gamble: that our nation's longstanding acceptance of gun violence will always outweigh our short-term anger in the wake of tragedies like Virginia Tech. To date, the NRA is winning as America stands alone as the only industrialized nation unwilling to grapple head-on the problem of gun violence.
Towards the end of yesterday's blog, LaPierre wags his finger at those who oppose him: "There is a time and a place for the discussion, the debate, and even the argument over gun control. I believe there is a time to resume this conversation. That is not hours after an event like this takes place. I wish my opponents felt the same way."
Of course you do Wayne. Of course you do.