Why the NRA’s Press Conference Was Silly and Brilliant

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Dec. 21 2012 3:56 PM

Wayne’s World

The NRA didn’t persuade its critics. But it did trick the media into discussing its popular, gun-industry-friendly master plan.

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls on Congress to pass a law putting armed police officers in every school in America.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls on Congress to pass a law putting armed police officers in every school in America during a news conference Friday in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Be fair: Nothing that the NRA said on Friday could have possibly won over its enemies. Perhaps if he was a different sort of person, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre could have fallen to his knees, cried “Hosannah!” and announced his conversion to the cause of gun control. But that’s not who Wayne LaPierre is, and that’s not why the stagey “press conference” became a predictable circus.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

The organization, based in the D.C. suburbs, rented out a location that was far more convenient for the media. Satellite trucks from all major cable networks were parked around the downtown Willard International Hotel, clustered around the main entrance with a view of the White House. If you tried to get in another way, two guards with NRA pins were ready to politely march you out.

No, you had to pass a small group of pro-gun-control protesters, mostly from the groups CREDO and Avaaz.org, waving signs at anything that looked like a camera. I had the misfortune to enter the hotel along with some aimless protesters who wanted to get in the NRA’s face but hadn’t thought to hide their signs. “You shouldn’t be holding this!” muttered one protester as she was turned away. “Children are dying because of these people.” I continued to the second press checkpoint, eyed warily by yet more guards, and I picked up my hard-copy event pass: “NRA Press Conference, Friday, Dec. 21, Washington, D.C.”

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The world’s leading gun rights organization had booked a room fit for a second wedding—a room that filled up fast. Cameramen who showed up late, and missed out on the press risers, ambled around the print-press seats, looking for a good view of the stage. They shot over a short barricade that had been covered with a velvet curtain, keeping the “program”—as it was called in our two-minute warning—about 15 feet from reporters. Finally, at 11 a.m., NRA President David Keene walked onto the stage and set our rules.

“And at the end of this conference we will not be taking questions,” he said. “Next week we will be available to any of you who are interested in talking about these or other issues of interest to you, so contact us, please, at that point.”

A rare event that had attracted top anchors was transformed into a one-way conversation. The media’s questions, suddenly, were subject to a three-day waiting period. We stayed quiet as LaPierre, a 64-year-old who has spent most of his life at the NRA, took to the podium. His head sunk, as if he needed to compose himself for a confession.

“While some have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain,” he said. “We have remained respectably silent.” This was what the NRA said in response to every mass shooting, but it hadn’t been enough this week, so LaPierre promised to “speak for the safety of our nation’s children.” America’s youth were being put at risk by the lack of armed guards in schools.

“How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order!” said LaPierre. “Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, court houses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security.”

Unbeknownst to LaPierre, or to any of the security guards lurking around wearing NRA pins, two members of the leftist protest troupe Code Pink had gotten into the event with media credentials. Now, one of them had a cue. He walked toward the barricade and unfurled a sign, giving photographers a perfect shot—the NRA president in the background and a pink sign in the foreground.

“Stop killing our children!” yelled the protester. “It’s the NRA and—the assault weapons that are killing our children, not armed teachers!”