December 21, 2012 / 6:11 PM / in 5 years

Analysis: NRA tries to seize initiative on gun debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At a news briefing interrupted by angry protesters, the leading U.S. gun lobbying organization, the National Rifle Association, proposed on Friday putting armed guards in American schools and offered to put money and support into an idea in keeping with its longstanding positions.

Following is a snap analysis of the event, which took place a week after gunman Adam Lanza massacred 20 young children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

* NRA SAYS IT HAS THE ANSWER: Turning aside calls for new gun control laws, the NRA volunteered itself as the organization to prevent future school massacres. It offered to use its network of firearms training programs to coordinate a new cadre of armed officers in schools. Contrasting its plan with what would be drawn-out, months-long debates in Congress, the NRA said it could act immediately in time to have people in place for the reopening of schools in January after a winter break. The NRA did not address calls for a ban on certain semi-automatic firearms. It answered no questions at the news conference, saying that would happen only next week.

* NRA LASHES OUT AT THE MEDIA: Much of the NRA’s message was aimed at about 200 reporters, editors and photographers at the news conference and their organizations. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said the news media get facts wrong about guns, confusing, for example, a semi-automatic weapon with a machinegun. LaPierre asked reporters why they had not written about a video game he called “Kindergarten Killer.”

* FRIDAY BLACK HOLE: By holding its news briefing on the Friday before Christmas, when most Americans are tied up with family gatherings and celebrations, the NRA effectively limited the ability of opponents to mount a quick and sustained response to its message. Even most of Congress was taking a brief break before they return on about December 27 - to deal not with gun control, but with taxes and spending.

* UNUSUAL THAT IT EVEN HAPPENED: The NRA is press shy, so the fact that it held a news conference shows some extra concern about the fallout from the Newtown shooting. The organization’s headquarters are in suburban Fairfax, Virginia, about 20 miles from the downtown hotel near the White House where the news conference took place. Its usual audience is its membership, which it speaks to daily through an active news website. The audience-shifting will continue on Sunday, when NRA leaders take to political talk shows.

* EXPERIENCED HANDS AT THE WHEEL: The NRA is not led by a group of novices. LaPierre, who runs the organization day-to-day, has been in his job since 1991. Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, has held his position since 2002. David Keene, who is serving a two-year position as NRA president, is a veteran of Washington’s think tank world, having served as the longtime chairman of the American Conservative Union and as an adviser to Republican campaigns. Guiding them from the outside are Washington lobbying and law firms - SNR Denton, Crossroads Strategies and Prime Policy Group - whose typical clients are more likely to be corporations. Asa Hutchinson, picked to lead the NRA’s school plan, is a former Bush administration prosecutor.

* OUTGUNNING THE OPPOSITION: In 2011, the NRA spent over eleven times more on lobbying than all gun control lobbyists combined. In 2011, the NRA spent $3.1 million lobbying lawmakers and federal agencies, while all gun-control groups combined spent $280,000 according to records the groups filed with Congress.

Editing by Howard Goller and David Brunnstrom

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