The National Rifle Association board might want to quiz its communications shop. With President Obama set to unveil his gun proposals on Wednesday, the NRA spent its Tuesday “no-commenting” on what was apparently a sponsored shooting app geared to 4-year-olds, and releasing an ad calling Obama a “hypocritical elitist” for having the Secret Service protect his children.
The common denominator? Guns and kids. One month after Sandy Hook. It was a rare and ugly combination of cluelessness and callousness—and almost makes you think someone inside the NRA is trying to ruin its reputation.
But such offensiveness is what happens when groups become consumed with speaking only to their base, self-satisfied with the sounds of the echo chamber. It’s the same dynamic that left members of the conservagencia so shocked when Mitt Romney lost the election: they were looking only at their own “unskewed” polls. By focusing only on the true believers, they had forgotten how to persuade sensible skeptics on Main Street.
The mystery of the shockingly tone-deaf shooting app, released one month to the day after the Sandy Hook slaughter, might best be understood as a bad idea put on autopilot. The makers of the app, MEDL mobile, told The New York Times’s Bill Keller that the NRA had commissioned their work. The NRA did not respond to requests for comment on the app from The Daily Beast or, apparently, any other news organization. If the app were an ugly hoax, the NRA would have been justified in crowing that it had been set up, and the media bought it hook, line, and sinker. Instead, crickets—a tacit admission of at least some guilt. My guess is that the app had been commissioned and forgotten about. But silence ain’t going to make the thing go away. At least someone decided they’d better change the age appropriateness of the app to ages 12 and up—because that will make it all better.
But the “Stand and Fight” ad cannot be explained away as mere incompetence. It was a deliberate insult, conjuring up the “jackbooted thug” imagery that led President George H.W. Bush to resign from the organization. It also managed to grab hold of the third rail that is politicizing a president’s school-age children. This is a simple question of decency and, surprise, the NRA failed that test in spectacular fashion.
It’s almost painful to list even a few of the many ways the ad is stupid, but using words is what separates us from the apes, so here goes. The president’s children have Secret Service protection because they are the specific target of serious threats from foreign governments, terrorist cells, and unhinged individuals who have never heard of your kids. And that’s just for starters.
The New York Post’s Robert George offered a series of tweets that captured the craziness of the comparison: “Obama is SO elitist! Planes can't fly over the White House, but condo board won't let me install rocket launcher on MY roof! ... Obama is SO elitist! HE gets to carry nuclear ‘football,’ but feds ARREST private citizens trying to assemble nuclear device!”
To that I’ll just add an open question: why does this president seem to get called elitist and arrogant by conservative populists so much more than his predecessors?
There are good Second Amendment arguments for conscientious citizens to make. But the NRA isn’t making them. Instead it seems to be busy doubling down on indecency. It will all backfire because it doesn’t pass the common-sense test. Instead it just offends and alienates.