Why the NRA's press conference was actually quite smart
The NRA may or may not actually believe that we should increase the supply of force at schools, but either way, Friday's contentious press conference wasn't really about substantive policy. Don't expect the NRA to be back after Christmas actively pushing this "arm our schools" campaign. And make no mistake — it is not a coincidence that the NRA waited until the ultimate "take out the trash" Friday — the one before Christmas week — to hold its press conference. By doing so, the NRA was able to speak directly to its hardline members while simultaneously limiting the amount of press coverage the substance of its message might otherwise have received.
The leaders at the NRA have two overriding concerns: Protecting themselves and their members from overzealous gun regulation, and making sure that they maintain their position as the primary representative of the gun rights community in America. Those two goals sometimes conflict, as they did today.
The NRA clearly has a big PR problem. In the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook shootings, the group is being portrayed as being led by crazy, unreasonable people who will not tolerate regulation of any kind, ever. That image is not one that is favorable to NRA's goal of ensuring that public opinion remains firmly against meaningful gun regulations. Of course, the NRA would much rather be seen by the broader public as reasonable representatives of hardworking Americans who merely wish to retain the ability to defend themselves.
At the same time, there are quite a few truly unreasonable people within the pro-gun movement who view any and all claims that the government has any right to regulate firearms as tantamount to war on all second amendment rights. This group of people is therefore hyper-sensitive to the NRA's public comments relating to gun regulation. If the NRA were to publicly welcome any additional regulation of firearms, a meaningful number of its dues-paying members would not only balk, they might in fact withdraw their support for the NRA and transfer it to an organization that supports the absolutist position on gun rights. Such a revolt would hurt the NRA and threaten its institutional power, which its leaders are not eager to see happen.
So the NRA's press event today was crafted to do two things: Reassure its most ardent members that it is not backing down AT ALL, while simultaneously ensuring that as few members of the broader public as humanly possible concentrate on this reality. Sure, Twitter temporarily exploded with outrage during the NRA press event. But by waiting until the Friday before Christmas week, the NRA managed to get its message out to the true believers while simultaneously ensuring that the coverage of the NRA response will never gain any traction with the public at large. Far fewer people focus on news during the weekend, and that is especially true when millions of Americans are traveling home to be with their families over Christmas. Pro-gun absolutists have been comforted. And most everyone else will have forgotten about today's event by New Year's.
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for FrumForum. Follow Jeb on Twitter: @JGolinkin.