NRA goes dark after Vegas massacre – Politico
Democrats lashed out at the National Rifle Association after the worst mass shooting in American history on Monday, but instead of fighting back the gun rights group retreated to a familiar posture: silence.
The NRA’s website, Twitter feed and Facebook page — all of which are typically updated frequently throughout the day —went dark on Monday, posting no new content, and the group did not respond to several calls and emails seeking comment.
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But that doesn’t mean the powerful Washington lobbying organization isn’t extremely busy behind the scenes.
After a mass casualty shooting like the one that killed 59 in Las Vegas Sunday night, the NRA invariably turns to a playbook it has perfected over several decades, critics and supporters alike told POLITICO. The approach calls for aggressive fact-finding and long strategy sessions before any public statements. The Fairfax, Virginia-based organization has waited weeks before responding to past deadly incidents that NRA critics call the indirect result of its resistance to tighter gun control.
“They’re trying to figure out what happened,” said Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist and author of the 2011 book “Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist.” The first priority would be to “learn what we can about the shooter,” Feldman added.
“Already, one hears the call for every kind of ban in the world for guns before they know what happened,” Feldman said. “What matters isn’t the particular type of gun but the person holding it … and how did they obtain this gun?”
Local law enforcement said the gunman, Stephen Paddock, had 23 firearms in his hotel room, including a handgun, plus 19 more — as well as explosives, thousands of rounds of ammunition and “electronic devices” — at home. It remains unclear where and how he acquired the weapons and whether he did so legally.
The NRA’s official Twitter account tweeted 11 times on Friday on a variety of subjects, including a story about President Barack Obama’s “war on the Second Amendment,” but was dormant Monday.
“The basic NRA response to high-profile mass shootings is to go dark, say nothing for as long as possible” said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group. Sugarmann added that the gun owners’ group would likely swing back at critics who call for changes to gun laws by saying they are politicizing a tragedy.
Those critics did not hesitate on Monday. Hillary Clinton tweeted that Americans “must stand up to the NRA … to try to stop this from happening again.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) issued a statement saying his colleagues in Congress “are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic.”
One possible sign of the group’s behind-the-scenes activity is its decision to delay by one week a political ad buy in Virginia ahead of its November statewide elections that had been scheduled to begin Tuesday, although a source told POLITICO the delay was unrelated to Sunday’s shootings.
The NRA made no public statements for days after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in which Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults using a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle. The group even took down its Facebook page amid an angry backlash from critics blaming the NRA for promoting a gun culture that encourages such tragedies.
A week after that atrocity, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre held a news conference in which he blamed several factors other than gun control laws, including rap music, films and video games and a lack of armed guards in schools.
“Their plan is to avoid the media until the story passes and then figure out someone else to blame,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Horwitz said the NRA’s response to mass shootings has remained virtually unchanged over the 28 years he has been monitoring it.
One Nevada NRA official did react on Monday, when reached by a VICE News reporter who was the first to inform him about the shooting in Las Vegas.
“When someone has that kind of mentality, it doesn’t matter what kind of laws you have,” Don Turner, president of the Nevada Firearms Coalition, an NRA affiliate, told VICE. “In the emotion of the moment, there’s a tendency to push anti-gun agendas. We need to find out what really happened.”
Feldman, a staunch gun rights supporter and head of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, defended the NRA’s resistance to stricter gun laws after tragedies like Sunday’s.
“Why in God’s name should the NRA apologize?” he asked. “They didn’t do it. Gun owners aren’t responsible for this any more than airline pilots are responsible for 9/11.”
“If I was still in the business of giving the NRA advice, it would be to go dark, stay quiet. They’re going to be blasted for whatever they say, that they’re either doing the wrong thing or they’re not doing enough,” Feldman said. “That’s the best among a series of bad choices at the moment.”