The National Rifle Association is hobbling its own public relations effort by remaining committed to its original Sandy Hook response, namely that an armed guard should be stationed in every school. This view was introduced by Wayne LaPierre at a tone-deaf, now-infamous press conference. That event was held a full week after the mass shooting, allowing the NRA’s opponents, among them significant proportions of the mainstream media, to control the narrative about the Association. Public Relations 101 is to be in control of the narrative about you.
Focusing on school security validates opponents’ exploitation of understandable but misplaced fear for the safety of innocent children in the wake of a horrific tragedy. It also puts the NRA on the defensive and frames the debate over gun safety in a context where the other side enjoys a natural advanage. The NRA’s refrain that we need to “put more guns in schools” alienates potential allies and partners, even if more guns would indeed make schools safer.
The problem, really the good news, is that schools are already very safe on average. Nick Gillespie originally made this point in a brilliant, thoughtful, yet characteristically irreverant post about 4 Awful Reactions to Sandy Hook School Shooting – And Thoughts on a Better Response, and it bears repeating. Between 1992 and 2010, the number of school-associated violent deaths was low and flat, despite a considerable population increase, and the rate of violent victimization of students fell. The enormous cost of turning every school into a secure facility on par with federal courthouses would be better spent elsewhere.
The precipitous decline of the violent victimization rate outside of schools seen in the above data illustrates that our society as a whole has become less violent at the same time that guns have inundated it. The NRA should offer a positive message that demystifies gun culture and demonstrates good faith. Its current proposals come across as unserious. Lending credence to a deceitful narrative about an emotionally resonant but frankly minor aspect of a complex issue is counterproductive.