Stoking Fear

The NRA’s Multimillion-Dollar New Ad Campaign Is Despicable

In the age of Sandy Hook and a little girl’s fatal Uzi lesson, the organization’s stamp of approval looks like a liability. Cue ads about "good guys" and "cowards."


When the gunman announced a stick-up, 51-year-old McDaniel Watson Jr. likely worried less about his wallet than about the small King James Bible he always carried in his front pocket.

Watson said something the wife beside him could not make out. The gunman’s response to Watson’s slight hesitation rang out through the park in Birmingham, Alabama, where the couple had been taking an evening walk a week ago Friday.

The Navy veteran and father of three fell with a fatal bullet wound to the head and became the country’s latest gun victim. He still had the Bible that he not only carried but also lived by.

“He loved that Bible,” his mother, Cellie Watson, later said.

The death of such a truly godly man in such ungodly circumstances on August 29 further makes an obscenity of the National Rifle Association’s new multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign, in which it seeks to use high ideals to obscure the disgraceful truth: The NRA is essentially a shill for the firearms industry, which sees restrictions on gun rights as restrictions on gun profits.

The new campaign happens to have been launched on August 25, the very day a 9-year-old girl accidentally killed a gun range instructor who was coaching her in firing an Uzi.

Eleven of the TV spots are available for Netflix-like binge viewing, and the NRA is lucky that they do not repeat its longtime mantra that guns don’t kill people, people do. The slogan would have turned all the more ghoulishly ridiculous when the gun in question was a fully automatic weapon of war and the particular person was a little girl in pigtails.

In fact, the spots do not mention guns at all. One, called “Courage,” does mention a little girl, but only to suggest that the “Good Guys” of the NRA stand against cowards who would ignore such innocents in peril.

“Is there anything still worth fighting for?” begins this low and creepily cynical invocation of lofty and noble principles. “Because we are surrounded by a world that demands we submit, succumb, and believe in nothing.”

The narrator is an earnest, clear-eyed woman who speaks as if for all decent folks.

“And more and more, we do,” she continues. “The yes men who turn their heads when the boss breaks the rules…”

Then there comes the bit involving a child.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

“…The cowards who pretend they don’t notice the elderly man fall and walk right past the little girl who’s way too young to be here alone…”

This from an organization that had nothing to say about the little girl at the firing range who must now live with the trauma of that horrible moment when the recoil of the Uzi caused it to twist in her small hands and shoot the instructor in the head.

“…who raise the volume to silence the scream in the night.”

The NRA itself not seeming even to hear the screams of the unending gunshot victims—a daily average of 289 Americans shot, 86 fatally—and their families.

“It takes courage to face the world at its worst,” the ad continues. “To run towards burning buildings and struggling neighbors, dishonesty, corruption, and abuse.”

The ad shows firefighters silhouetted against a raging fire. The next image is a bleak urbanscape.

“Knowing what must be done won’t be done unless you do it,” the narrator says.

Then the only gun in this ad appears, a holstered sidearm on the hip of a man in civilian clothes who has a badge of some kind on his belt as he stands stalwart and vigilant on a hill in a Western landscape, his right hand on his weapon, a border-like fence behind him.

“That’s what Good Guys do.”

The same man is seen looking stoically burdened and contemplative as he gazes at a row of shirts hanging on a rack, the rank insignia on the sleeves marking them as uniforms. But no shoulder patches are visible, thereby saving the NRA the trouble of trying seek permission from a responsible police chief who is not in favor of stricter gun regulations.

“And that’s why we’re still free.”

This would have been true enough if the ad had been speaking about firefighters and cops and other guardians who stand ready to rush into mortal danger for the sake of people they do not know. But those are not the “Good Guys” the ad is about.

“We’re the 5 million men and women of the National Rifle Association of America, and we will NEVER back down. Join us today.”

As always, the NRA suggests it is some kind of grassroots organization that arose out of a common concern. That masquerade has long facilitated its efforts on behalf of the gun companies to manipulate the fears of decent working people, seeking to convince them that gun regulation is a government scheme to strip away their precious freedoms. Never mind that the government in fact is attempting to find some way to end the carnage that calls into question whether we are a civilized nation.

But do not confuse despicable with dumb. The NRA knows what it is doing. It is aware that the fear on which it ultimately thrives is that of politicians who quake at its supposed influence and money.

The problem at the moment for the NRA is that horrors such as the Sandy Hook school massacre of 20 youngsters and six adults have threatened to make the organization’s stamp of approval a liability and its disapproval a badge of honor. Billionaire former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg has long bankrolled an effort to take on the NRA and now Bill Gates has joined him.

The NRA understands it needs to appear that it is about more than guns. And both to cloak its true purpose and make itself politically more potent, it now is seeking to stoke and manipulate more general fears that many of us do indeed harbor about the state of our society.

One result is the ad campaign, which sounds an alarm:


Along with the “Courage” spot, there are also such spots as “Golden Rule”: “When people know the right choice but refuse to make it, we give up on each other. And we give up on our freedom, too. And that’s what makes Good Guys so special—they will never give up.”

And “Honest Broker”: “We are surrounded by a world where lying is in and the truth means little. The best lies are called spin, and the buck never stops. But the Good Guys are still here.”

And “Mom and Dad”: “We’re surrounded by a world where, for too many, being a parent no longer means being there. But we remember when being a parent meant being there when things went right…or wrong. Those moms and dads are still here—they’re the Good Guys.“

In “Work Ethic,” the same organization that for many years made the actor Charlton Heston its face and voice bemoans the sorry fact that “Our most valued citizens are entertainers. School kids can name a hundred of them for every philanthropist, small business owner, or soldier, a thousand for every average parent on an assembly line or construction site.”

The spot continues: “But there are still hundreds of millions of Americans working as hard as ever. Good guys who don’t seek the spotlight but deserve it. And for the future of our country, we should demand it.”

The NRA’s true agenda under all its dishonesty and spin about honesty and spin nears the surface in the spot “Selective Law Enforcement.”

“We say we are a nation of laws, not a nation of men, but do you still believe it? Too often, the law doesn’t seem to be written honestly or enforced fairly, and we watch lawmakers escape their own rules with loopholes and vague language,” the narrator says.

The viewer could almost be back in the NRA ads of old with “Safety,” though even here there is no explicit talk of guns.

“Do you believe the government can keep you safe?” this narrator asks. “You can say it can. You can even choose to act as if it can. But do you truly believe it?”

The narrator goes on, “Do you believe speed limits, stoplights, and turn lanes protect you from road rage and drunk drivers?”

That spot and the one about the importance of mom and dad being present immediately bring to mind 42-year-old Derek Flemming of Michigan. He and his wife were driving to collect their two young children from their first day of school on September 2 when a pickup truck suddenly cut them off at high speed, then tailgated them inches from their rear bumper and careened around them as they reached a stoplight. Flemming got out of his car and walked up to the pickup.

“What’s your problem?” he was heard to ask.

Before he could say or do anything else, a shot rang out. Flemming collapsed with a gunshot wound to the head.

“You’ve got to stay! You’ve got to stay alive. Stay alive for your kids! We need you, we need you!” his wife, Amy, was heard to cry out as he lay bleeding in the street.

She issued a statement three days later:

“My heart is forever broken and it will never be fixed. Yesterday, we celebrated our daughter’s 6th birthday. At the same time we are planning Derek’s funeral. I can’t believe my children will have to grow up without their father. He won’t be around to play catch with our son or walk our daughter down the aisle one day.”

The hundreds of others who have fallen victim to gun violence in the two weeks since the NRA launched its ad campaign range downward in age from a Missouri couple in their 80s to an unborn child who was shot to death along with her mother in New York. The mother, Milagro Canjura, had just posted her daughter-to-be’s sonogram on Facebook, adding a pink polka dot hair bow and the words “Mi Princessa!”

Down in Alabama, the grieving 85-year-old mother of McDaniel Watson Jr.—the Navy vet who died with a Bible in his front pocket—was recalling how he had come to become her adopted son a half-century ago. She confided that she and her husband had been sadly childless for 16 years when she chanced to hear of a woman who was about to have a child she did not want.

“She said, ‘Do you want an unborn baby?’” remembered the mother, Cellie Watson. “That was on a Monday, and on Wednesday I got him. He was 2 1/2 hours old. He’s in the blanket looking up.”

She recalled that he had been a happy child who never got into fights or any other trouble and who grew up to become a happy and devoted parent who never smoked or drank and lived by the principles in the Good Book this particular good guy carried.

“He was a love child, he was a loving child,” she said.

Now he was gone because of the squeeze of a trigger. And there were many more guns out there.

“Stay prayed up,” the mother advised.

And then there was 32-year-old Daryl Pierson, a police officer in Rochester, New York, who was shot and killed on September 3 while chasing a suspect. Pierson had served with the Army National Guard in Afghanistan. He left a wife and two children, a 4-year-old son named Christian and 4-month-old daughter, Charity.

One video that contains the searing truth about guns is the one made by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. The officer’s widow is filmed holding her baby in what had been the happiest of homes. She speaks of being taken to the hospital to see her husband after two cops appeared at her door saying he had been shot.

“I laid my head on his chest for a long time and held his hand and kissed his face, and it was just like it was him,” Amy Pierson said. “He could have opened his eyes right up.”

Police Officer Daryl Pierson will be laid to rest on September 10 with full honors, as befits one of the very best of the true Good Guys.