UPDATE: After I posted this piece — and four days after the tragedy in Newtown — the NRA has released a preliminary statement that, much to my surprise, is incredibly close to what I suggested below. Let’s keep an eye out and see what happens, eh?
Note: This is a thought exercise. Please don’t send me hate mail about how I’m helping the NRA. Thanks.
I have been sort of flabbergasted by the NRA’s response — or, rather, lack thereof — to the Newtown shootings. The organization has missed an incredible opportunity to advance the debate on mental health, to help the country, and — truthfully — to help itself.
In the wake of the shootings, the NRA has gone into lockdown mode, not discussing the incident, shutting down its Facebook page, and ignoring Twitter.1
But, oh, what could have been!
Had I been in charge of the NRA2, this is what I would have done:
On the day of the shooting, when the media came knocking for comment, I would have issued a statement saying:
We at the NRA are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. We are sickened by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Right now, the world’s focus should be on the families and the victims, so we respectfully decline to comment at this time, and hope that the world will direct its attention to those who so desperately need it in this time of sorrow.
Then, on Sunday, I would have the top brass (no pun intended) go on all the talk shows and announce this:
The NRA is horror-struck and shocked over the horrific murders at Sandy Hook. This man was a deranged, sick beast, and it is to our eternal shame as a country, as a people, that we could not and did not identify him as dangerous before he was able to murder so many innocents.
Consequently, the NRA is today announcing a pledge drive of its members — though anyone is welcome to contribute — in order to form the Sandy Hook Memorial Mental Health Fund. The goal of this fund is to work with the mental health community to develop better and more accurate ways of identifying individuals who may be in danger of striking out at their fellow citizens. This country has a mental health crisis on its hands, and no one is doing anything about it. Well, we have close to five million members and if we only get ten dollars from each one, we’ll have a fund of 50 million dollars to get us started.
Furthermore, since this is also an issue of public policy, the NRA will be lending its considerable lobbying clout to this issue, forcing Congress and the White House to deal seriously with the issue of our national mental health infrastructure, making it easier for families with ill individuals to find resources and help, drafting new legislation where necessary. There should be no more Sandy Hooks.
And then when someone inevitably says, “Well, that’s great, but what about gun control?” they could pivot to:
“We’re not here to talk about that today. We’re here to talk about mental health. You know, if every gun in the world magically disappeared tomorrow, there would still be dangerously mentally ill people in the world, and they would find some kind of weapon to hurt someone with. We want to attack this problem at the source.”
This would be a PR bonanza for them. Cynically speaking, yes, they benefit by changing the topic from gun control to mental health. But so what? Mental health is a real issue here. If the NRA could help on that end, I don’t care if they get good PR out of it. There are people who need real psychological help out there. (Let’s add to the lunatic gunslingers the 200 moms who kill their own kids every year, right?) They need help and it’s in everyone’s best interests to get it for them.
This would have been win-win. The NRA has to have people smarter and more creative than I am on its payroll. I don’t understand why they decided to huddle like cowards in the Cone of Silence instead of taking the lead on this.
It is in the interest of the nation to have a sound, reliable, effective mental health policy. It’s in the interest of the NRA to have guns still legal in this country. These two interests dovetail. If there are fewer lunatics like the Newtown shooter, there will be fewer gun massacres and, consequently, fewer calls for gun control. And for the gun control advocates, well… Do you really care if there are guns out there, as long as crazy people aren’t using them to kill people? Do you really care if a bunch of hunters and fetishists collect them, in that instance?
We could have made some actual progress and broken through the bullshit “us vs. them” mentality that confounds so much of our politics.
Up Next: How the Second Amendment is like the First…and why that’s good for gun control advocates.