Newtown shootings: NRA silent on gun laws

By Daniel Nasaw
BBC News Magazine, Washington

image captionLaPierre, the strident face of the pro-gun movement, has been absent from the news media since Friday

Prominent pro-gun political organisations and US senators have kept quiet since the mass killing in Newtown, Connecticut. Why is the National Rifle Association leaving the floor to gun control advocates as a national debate takes shape?

The day after two teenagers killed 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in April 1999, one of the chief spokesmen of the US gun rights movement was on television assigning blame.

Don't fault guns, he said. Instead, Americans should look at the moral breakdown in US society and at violence in Hollywood.

"We're increasingly looking away at behaviour that our parents would never have tolerated," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), said on MSNBC television.

"We're looking the other way at evil behaviour and we need to really focus on what would turn students into homicidal maniacs."

Since the latest American massacre, the Friday killings of 20 young children and seven adults by a 20-year-old man in Newtown, Connecticut, Mr LaPierre and his organisation have stayed silent.

Gun control advocates have blanketed the media calling for measures such as a renewed assault weapons ban. President Barack Obama has indicated he will back new policies "aimed at preventing more tragedies like this".

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the most prominent gun control advocates in America, has publicly called on Mr Obama to propose specific legislation.

"The trouble is that the NRA is just never willing to have any restriction whatsoever, no matter how reasonable it is," Mr Bloomberg said on Sunday on Meet the Press, a politics chat show.

To counter him, the show's producers invited 31 pro-gun US senators onto the show - but they all declined. By Monday morning one of the 31, Democrat Joe Manchin, publicly changed his tune on a US morning news show.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner, another Democrat, then joined his colleague.

Since Friday's shooting, the National Rifle Association, which did not respond to a request for comment, has kept silent on Twitter, pulled down a Facebook page, and cancelled an online chat with a country music star.

The organisation "appears to have staked out a strategy to take its brand out of the social media picture in the wake of a mass-shooting news event," commented AdWeek.

"The social media buzz after such events seems to be an unenviable conversation for the org to partake in."

The group has been so successful at shaping public opinion over the last dozen years it has nothing to gain by speaking out now, says Scott Melzer, a sociologist at Albion College in Michigan and author of Gun Crusaders: The NRA's Culture War.

"Action is not going to be taken in the next few days," he says.

"The organisation doesn't need to win the PR battle right now to be effective."

One of the NRA's major public arguments, repeated mantra-like by gun-control opponents over the years, is that guns do not kill people - people kill people.

"They would look cruel and inhumane coming out after this shooting and saying 'guns don't kill people', when there are 20 children about to be buried in Connecticut," says Peter Dreier, a professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a critic of the NRA.

"They're sort of hiding. These guns were purchased legally, so they've got nowhere to go on this."

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