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How The NRA Just Used The 3 Biggest PR Crisis Response Tricks In The Book

When the tragedy struck in Newtown, the National Rifle Association (NRA) decided to take down their Facebook page and go dark. In the press conference they just completed, they refused to take questions. In a world filled with conversation, the NRA chose to skip transparency and authenticity … and instead used three time honored strategies of crisis response to help their organization weather the media storm around gun ownership. It would be easier if they stood up and said everyone should have every kind of gun and the 2nd amendment’s stated right to bear arms is irrefutable. But they didn’t.

Instead, the press conference was the NRA’s chance to lay out their brilliantly evil communications strategy in a way that will most likely shield them from long term criticism and sadly move the conversation away from guns. As experts in marketing, it may seem that there isn’t much we can do. Still, the greatest threat to a brilliant strategy is revealing the wool that is being pulled over our collective eyes.

So here’s my attempt to reveal the three big strategies and messages the NRA is using to divert attention beyond taking guns away from people or making them more difficult to get access to:

NRA Message #1 – Guns are not the problem – unsafe and unprotected schools are the problem.

Strategy: Elevate the issue. If the issue being debated is easy access to deadly weapons, then the NRA will lose. If the issue, instead, becomes that our schools are not safe enough … then the NRA has a chance. So we saw over and over again throughout the press conference that NRA CEO Wayne Lapierre talked about the ways that our schools aren’t safe enough, and called on the government to spend whatever would be necessary to better protect schools.

NRA Message #2 – The only defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Strategy: Play offense instead of defense. When it comes to defending anyone’s right to have guns, the NRA would have a difficult argument because anyone can point to mentally unstable people like the shooter* as reasons for why gun access should not be so free. Instead, the NRA laid out plans to introduce a comprehensive “school shield program” led by independent experts. Introducing such a program lets the NRA flip the issue to go on the offense to solve what they have already positioned as the biggest issue – school safety.

NRA Message #3 – Our culture of violence is really to blame for mass shootings.

Strategy: Change the bad guy. A topic that has not been getting nearly enough attention is how violent video games and “blood soaked films” are creating a desensitized culture of violence. The last mass shooting was at the opening of a very violent Batman film. In his short talk, Lapierre called this a “race to the bottom” and likened it to pornography. Add to that the media’s coverage of the shooter and how they have turned him into something of a celebrity, and the argument that the real bad guy is media and entertainment (and not guns) is complete.

Time will tell if the media and public gets wise to these strategies – but the more we can publicize them, hopefully the more awareness people have of just how strategically they are being manipulated by masterful communications … and perhaps they can build a more informed point of view as a result.  If you’d like for that to happen, please consider sharing this post.

*Note – As a member of the extended media writing about the Newtown tragedy, I have chosen not to mention the shooter by name. Just like NFL games don’t show streakers on national TV as a deterrent for fame seekers, I think this is one small step anyone writing or speaking about tragedies like this should choose to take. Let’s not make evildoers into celebrities.

15 thoughts on “How The NRA Just Used The 3 Biggest PR Crisis Response Tricks In The Book”

  1. “if they stood up and said everyone should have every kind of gun and the [Second Amendment’s] stated right to bear arms is irrefutable.” And do you honestly think than any mainstream medium in this country would give an assertion like that fair play?

    Nice analysis on the “three strategies” bit, but I could do without the politicking. Your blog, though. Say what you want.

    Also, I applaud the idea of not naming the criminal. I wish that others would follow suit.

  2. Hi Rohit,

    First, I do not own a gun, I am not a hunter, and to be honest I do not know if having no guns or less guns would even change very much in this wishful alturistic world we live in.

    I am going to have to agree with Mike, this is your blog, and you have the right to say what you want. Amen. But the tone of the headline, in my opinion, reflects a attitude that does not have the capacity to explore various viewpoints. Maybe non of us have that capacity?

    Permit me to change directions slightly.

    If we can reduce the word “marketing” to a pure sense, isn’t it just trickery.

    It has been spoken of advertising as a methodology to “take a customer, turn him upside down and shake all of the coins out of his pocket”.

    Those words do not sound very proper to a marketing or advertising person. In fact, they probably would make the hair stand up.

    The point is the words trickery or tricks, definitely carry a tone of bias.


  3. Thanks for the comments – you’re right that I did present the headline with a bias towards labeling the strategy used to deflect criticism as “tricks.” In many cases, that’s exactly what crisis response boils down to … if you can distract enough of the attention away from a point of view unfavorable towards your position, then you can win. I personally hate this type of PR spin, no matter who is using it. And no, I don’t think all PR is like that. Personally, I’m not a gun owner … but I think the third message the NRA is using actually has a lot of merit as well.

    This was a issue that should have gotten more attention back in March with the controversy around the MPAA giving a rating of “R” to the documentary about bullying because of a few bad words – but chose to give Hunger Games a rating of PG-13 despite kids killing other kids in the film ( We are a culture that has become desensitized to violence – and that’s a huge problem. But to say that the easy access to extremely deadly guns doesn’t contribute to that is just plain myopic.

  4. That shooter broke 41 existing laws in the commission of his terrible act – do you honestly believe new laws would stop him or others like him? Also, the primary purpose of recognizing & upholding our right to bear arms in the 2nd Amendment is so we, the people, may defend ourselves from a tyrannical government. You remove that right and capability and the abuses will far exceed government thugs shoving their hands down our pants at airports, telling us what size drink we can buy, and that it’s against the law to sell lemonade or collect rainwater. The answer is a return to responsible parenting, better mental health access, and allowing trained adults within schools to carry concealed weapons (instead of marking everyone there as helpless targets with signs proclaiming “This Is A Gun Free Zone”). It is government that forces parents to put their kids in those schools or face having them removed from their homes, forces the adults in charge to be helpless in the face of an insane armed attacker, and breeds this Nanny-state mentality of always turning to them instead of asserting self-reliance when any problem emerges. There’s a reason the NRA has received record donations and gun sales are out the doors nationwide since this incident – most people reject the government response. Thank you for allowing my opinion – I respect yours and understand why you feel the way you do too. Emotions are high as they should be in a matter as tragic as this event.

    • Mike – I would attribute the record sales of guns to fear … when people are afraid, of course having a gun will make some of them feel more safe. But this argument that if everyone had guns they would immediately turn into some sort of sharp shooting Jason Bourne-like super spy that could take out a bad guy with one shot is just plain dumb. Very few gun owners have that kind of training. With the kind of weapon this shooter had, he would already have fired dozens of shots before any armed person could even get a gun out to fight back. If we say as a culture it is not ok for anyone to have access to their own personal nuclear weapon, or anthrax for self protection – why is it ok to have these deadly people-killing weapons? There are plenty of reasonable people who can see the difference between allowing people to own a gun to protect their family and NOT allowing them to have a gun that can kill dozens of people in 30 seconds. Why does the NRA believe that is an impossible line to draw between those two?

      • I agree fear is the reason Americans are demonstrating record support for the NRA and buying guns at record numbers – fear of losing their right to bear arms and to be able to defend themselves with them. I also agree most people are not well trained in their safety, storage, & use. They should be and I support legislation requiring proficiency in those areas as a requirement of firearm ownership. Regarding why it is O.K. to have weaponry equal to that of the government I suggest looking to today’s Syria or Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq where governments decimated their citizens like ants due to lethal superiority. From the killing fields of Cambodia to Stalin’s Russia and beyond, history is replete with examples of why people need adequate means to stand up to tyranny. As to the NRA, I do not represent or speak for them.

  5. I completely agree on not naming or giving publicity to the shooter or his past. That’s exactly what desperate people want. They want to know that live or die they will have been heard. And when they watch tragedies like this unfold they know exactly how to get that attention.

    As Virginia Tech alum I’m calling on all media leaders to change their policy now! Use the same guidelines and restraint as the sports leagues with fans that decide to run on the field.

    You, the reporters, anchor-men and women, camera-men, producers and media CEOs who decide to profit from stories about kids being shot and killed ARE partially responsible and it’s a bigger part than you’re willing to stomach.

  6. Flashback 2000: Clinton Requests $60 Million to Put Cops in Schools

    the same elite media who no doubt send their own kids to private schools that
    employ armed security, just can’t stop howling ridicule at the NRA’s idea to
    give every student in America those same protections. Because the NRA’s idea is so appealing, as I write this, the media’s going overboard, mocking it as
    bizarre, crazy, and out of touch.

    This is how the media works to silence and vilify the opposition and to ensure that only their ideas control The Narrative. The media doesn’t care about securing our schools, they only care about coming after our guns and handing Obama another political win.

    The media also doesn’t care how wildly hypocritical they look.

    In their zeal to rampage this left-wing agenda, the media has apparently forgotten that back in 2000, on the one-year anniversary of the Columbine shooting (which occurred with an assault weapons an in place), President Clinton requested $60 million in federal money to fund a fifth round of funding for a program called “COPS in School,” a program that does exactly what the NRA is proposing and the media is currently in overdrive mocking:

    [ click to watch the video! ]

    Clinton also unveiled the $60-million fifth round of funding for “COPS in School,” a Justice Department program that helps pay the costs of placing police officers in schools to help make them safer for students and teachers. The money will be used to provide 452 officers in schools in more than 220 communities.

    “Already, it has placed 2,200 officers in more than 1,000 communities across our nation, where they are heightening school safety as well as coaching sports and acting as mentors and mediators for kids in need,” Clinton said.

    The media is not only so driven to ensure Sandy Hook is used to win this round on gun control that they’ve become morally blinded to what really needs to be done to immediately secure our schools, they’ve lost their grip historically and politically.

    Think about it: The media is entering a new year attempting to convince parents that their children will be less safe with a policeman in their school.

    Off the rails, doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    • Kids will not be safer with one policeman present either, unless you want to convert every school into a prison like facility.
      What about day care centers, playgrounds, youth sports fields…. the list of soft targets is endless. Would you like to have armed personel everywhere? Where does that lead us? To less violence? A freer country? Really?


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#1 WSJ & USA Today Bestselling Author

Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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