The National Rifle Association has spent the past couple years rolling up legislative victories in Congress (no background checks!) and state legislatures (guns in bars! churches! schools!). But like a corporate Yosemite Sam, the organization has also been suffering a lot of exploding cigars lately.
This week the group yanked a much-mocked video in which "NRA news commentator" Dom Raso demanded that "Every law-abiding, blind individual should be able to have whatever guns they want." Not everyone thought this was a brilliant idea, including the advocate for the blind who called it "disturbing." And "misleading." And "cynical."
This new twist on "gun blind" followed another much-mocked NRA video in which another much-mocked "NRA commentator" -- Billy Johnson -- mused that firearms classes, like reading, writing and 'rithmatic, should be mandatory in elementary schools. The video prompted a fair amount of debate basically between those arguing that Johnson is a cynical tool of the gun industry and those contending he is more of a mad fool.
And, of course, the NRA's recent spate of public-relations fiascos began on May 30, when it posted a criticism of Open Carry Texas, the group that keeps getting banned from restaurants on the grounds that they're basically a bunch of scary guys carrying rifles. The NRA's betrayal of the gun movement's de facto creed -- All Guns, All Places, All The Time No Matter How Reckless, Uncivil or Insane -- resulted in an avalanche of public abuse from open-carry advocates and a shamed retreat by the NRA.
What's gone wrong with the NRA's public relations? Why does the group's six-shooter keep jamming?
First, like its brethren in the Republican Party, the group has a Tea Party problem. The NRA is a fabulously wealthy organization, in which dozens of employees make six-figure salaries and a couple at the top break seven figures. Gun Owners of America and other more extreme groups, with the NRA's lucrative membership in their sights, accuse the organization of being too wimpy and compromising.
The NRA needs to keep up the appearance of corporate sanity on Capitol Hill. But when the NRA called the behavior of Open Carry Texas "weird," it all but invited the Gun Owners of America to poach some more NRA members who fear the old guard is too establishment and soft.
The other problem is success. Having pushed guns onto campuses and into bars, parks and churches, the NRA is running out of virgin territory. In order to maintain the aura of panic, and the permanent war footing on which its vast fundraising apparatus depends, it must have villains (see Obama, Barack, gun seller in chief) but also new worlds to conquer. Once you've convinced legislators in Georgia to allow guns in bars, giving guns to schoolchildren and the blind isn't all that much of a stretch.
Finally, the Internet is a problem. It preserves the NRA's folly, then amplifies the ensuing mockery. It also helps to remind people of the one thing the NRA wants most to obscure: the many innocents killed just because some reckless or insecure person had a gun.
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Frank Wilkinson at email@example.com