The day after Virginia journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward were murdered by one of their former colleagues live on television, Everytown for Gun Safety spokeswoman Erika Soto Lamb told the Huffington Post: “We've previously lamented not having our own ‘Eric Garner video’ that really shows Americans how gun violence is affecting all of us. This unfortunate tragedy provides us that opportunity to widen the conversation and call for action."
Let that statement sink in for a minute. Apparently the folks at Everytown for Gun Safety have “lamented” not having a murder caught on camera for all the world to see. But now that Parker and Ward have lost their lives, it’s “an opportunity to widen the conversation and call for action.”
Keep in mind that Lamb couldn’t tell you what Everytown proposal would have prevented these awful murders. In fact, the anti-gun folks like Lamb have been awfully quiet when it comes to specific policies that would have stopped the killer of the WBDJ journalists from acquiring a firearm. Instead, anti-gun advocates have spent most of their time making vague references to so-called “common-sense gun regulations” like universal background checks, as well as bans on magazines and semi-automatic rifles. Oh, and talking about how horrible NRA members and gun owners are for not supporting their anti-gun agenda—even though none of the proposed laws they’re touting would have prevented these murders.
Anti-gun activists and politicians wasted no time in issuing their clarion calls to vague and unspecified action. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton tweeted about the need for more gun-control laws within hours of the shooting, and Democrat Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe talked about the need for more gun laws in his first statement on the shooting, which was released while police were still actively looking for the suspect.
This is an actual strategy of the anti-gun movement, laid out in the 2012 guide “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging.” The first of nine(!) tips on how to effectively communicate as an anti-gun advocate immediately after a “high-profile shooting incident” is to hop on television, Twitter or Facebook and start commenting. “Don’t Hesitate to Speak Out,” is followed by a reminder to “Express Concern for the Victims” without losing the potency of your anti-gun message, “Don’t Assume the Facts … And Don’t Wait for Them Either (honestly, they actually say you shouldn’t wait for the facts to be known before you start opining!), “Never Apologize” and so on, until at last they come to the ninth and final rule—“Challenge the NRA’s Silence.”
It’s a strategy predicated on the stated idea that “the most powerful time to communicate is when concern and emotions are running at their peak.” If anti-gun activists really believed that to be the case, though, wouldn’t they be happy with the NRA’s refusal to start stumping for or against gun laws in the hours immediately after a mass murder? After all, under their theory the NRA isn’t taking advantage of “the most powerful time to communicate.” You’d think gun-banners would be thrilled, yet their last strategic instruction is to attack the NRA for its “silence.” The fact is, most people, whether we’re gun owners or anti-gun activists, know that it’s inappropriate to start injecting our politics into a tragedy moments after it has occurred.
The fact is, most people, whether we’re gun owners or anti-gun activists, know that it’s inappropriate to start injecting our politics into a tragedy moments after it has occurred. It feels wrong to us, which is why “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging” has to convince readers that it’s okay to spout off about gun control as soon as they hear of a horrible crime. The guide explicitly says the worst thing an anti-gun advocate could do would be to say something like, “I know this is a time for mourning and reflection, but …” As the authors write, “Your audience can’t be comfortable with what you’re saying if you signal your own discomfort.” And why would the speakers that the playbook was written for be uncomfortable? Maybe because they feel weird about trying to turn a tragedy into an opportunity—particularly when no one yet knows the facts of the situation.
My working policy at “NRA News Cam & Co.” is to report on the facts of a story as they come in—recognizing that it may take time for the facts to emerge—and to wait a respectful amount of time (usually a day) before starting to talk about the political ramifications, policy proposals and existing laws surrounding the crime. I know the anti-gun activists aren’t happy with this. Media Matters invoked Rule #9 of the “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging” playbook after I discussed our policy and pointed out the immediate politicization of the Virginia murders by people like Hillary Clinton and Terry McAuliffe. According to Media Matters, what I was actually doing was trying to “shut down” debate as part of the NRA’s strategy of silence. And they say gun owners are paranoid conspiracy theorists!
In fact, it’s not about a strategy or messaging tactics. The Roanoke Times newspaper, in an editorial after the murders titled “What Would Have Prevented This?” noted how quickly Clinton and McAuliffe were to bring up gun control, writing that while, in their opinion McAuliffe was right to say it’s appropriate to ask questions, “Perhaps not on the day of such a horrific killing; give us at least some grace period to grieve.”
That seems reasonable. But in order for a grace period to exist, we all have to exhibit grace. It doesn’t mean we have to change our opinions, or that we are trying to shut down a debate. It just means we recognize that there’s absolutely nothing wrong (and a lot that is right) with setting politics aside even for a few hours to pay our respects and offer support to those who are grieving.
This requires recognizing the tragedy and not immediately seeing opportunity. Frankly, it means going against the grain of not just anti-gun strategic consultants but most of the media, whether it’s traditional, new or social. Still, it can be done. And I think that when we all try, we’re all better off for it.