The gun lobby has raised the silent treatment to an art form.
It has been just over seven days since Dylann Roof sat through an hour of Bible study at Emmanuel AME church before executing nine African-American men and women. In those seven days, the press organs of the National Rifle Association have maintained a monk-like silence on the nation’s most recent mass shooting. That includes:
* The only apparent statement from the NRA’s press staff was to say that the group“will not be making any public statements until the facts are known.”
* No mention from the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action
* No direct mention of Charleston on any of the NRA’s official Twitter feeds: @NRA, @NRA News, or America’s 1st Freedom.
* A search of the America’s 1st Freedom website shows that themost recent mention of the word “Charleston”was made on June 4th, 2015.
Of course, those affiliated with the gun lobby haven’t been totally silent. NRA board member Charles Cotton and Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) executive director Larry Pratt were both caught blaming the Mother Emmanuel 9 for their own deaths. Overall, however, the gun lobby has remained incommunicado. Seven days have passed and the facts about Charleston are clear, yet the gun lobby is nowhere to be found even as its allies in the media spout the gun lobby talking point of “more guns, everywhere”.
Silence his the gun lobby’s go-to play in the days after a mass shooting, and their silence has a very specific goal: to run out the clock on a mass shooting in hopes that the American people will forget. In fact, the gun lobby’s silence is so familiar that Buzzfeed and Mediaite chronicled its use after mass shootings throughout 2012 and 2013:
How The NRA Twitter Handles A Mass Shooting: Silence
The model is to go silent for at least a day, depending on the scope of the tragedy.
July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colorado, Theater Shooting: 10 Days Without Tweeting
Aug. 5, 2012, Sikh Temple Shooting: One Day Without Tweeting
Dec. 11, 2012, Clackamas Town Center Shooting: One Day Without Tweeting
Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting: Four Days Without Tweeting
In the days after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, the New York Times encapsulated the gun lobby’s strategy of waiting for public anger to subside before smothering any type of public response:
Over the years the N.R.A. has perfected its strategy for responding to mass shootings: Lie low at first, then slow-roll any legislative push for a response…After the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, for example, an effort to close the so-called gun-show loophole, requiring unlicensed dealers at gun shows to run background checks, ultimately died in conference after being stalled for months…After the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, Congress did manage to pass a modest measure that was designed to provide money to states to improve the federal background check system. But the N.R.A. secured a broad concession in the legislation…”
As the Times reported, analysts friendly to the gun lobby offered insight into the relationship between public anger and NRA policy:
“Given how high emotions are running right now, this is not a good time to try to have a meaningful conversation about gun violence, particularly if you fall on the pro–Second Amendment side of the debate,” said Todd Harris, a veteran Republican strategist. “The public is not interested in hearing reasons right now for why assault weapons shouldn’t be banned. They may be receptive to those arguments in a month or two, as they have been in the past.”
Only for the gun lobby is the immediate aftermath of a shooting “not a good time to try to have a meaningful conversation about gun violence”. It is in these periods that the public is most engaged in taking action on policies to strengthen gun laws that it consistently supports:
A large majority of Americans – including gun owners – continue to support stronger policies to prevent gun violence than are present in current federal and most state law, according to a new national public opinion survey conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health…Support for requiring background checks for all gun sales remained high, with 85 percent of gun owners and 83 percent of non-owners favoring the policy. In the 2013 survey, 84 percent of gun owners and 90 percent of non-owners supported background checks for all gun sales.
The gun lobby is betting big on the cynical – and all-too-often successful – expectation that the American people will soon disengage on Charleston, on gun violence, and on strong gun policies. The cycle of inaction and indifference aids and abets the cycle of mass shootings that has gripped the United States. The question before the gun violence prevention movement – and, ultimately, the American people – is how to break that cycle, hold the gun lobby accountable for its deadly rhetoric, and convince the American people of their own power to reduce gun violence.