Friday’s horrific violence in Newtown, Connecticut, understandably dominated every corner of the American media this weekend.
Many citizens (most prominently President Obama) spoke of taking every available step to prevent similar shootings in the future while others warned against politicizing the tragedy. Quite a few Americans also had energetic debates about gun control, both online and off. Even West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who built a campaign around disagreeing with his party’s leaders on gun rights, suggested that the nation must now have a “sensible” dialogue on gun control.
Nearly every business and organization in the country, from The National School Board to a group representing the families of Virginia Tech shooting victims, made some sort of official statement. Yet the nonprofit at the center of America’s relationship with guns was conspicuously silent: The National Rifle Association has not released an official statement or tweet since the tragedy, and its Facebook page is no longer visible today. While officials at both the NRA and Facebook have not responded to requests for comment, bloggers at TechCrunch speculated that the group took its page offline in order to “avoid hosting flame wars” between commentors on opposing sides of the gun control issue. Knowing the nature of online debates as well as we do, we think that was a very good idea.
We sympathize with the NRA’s position from a PR perspective:
No official statement would benefit the organization at this point in time, and any promotional campaigns would rightly strike the public as insensitive and completely inappropriate (on Friday, the group cancelled a series of messages about an event featuring a country music star).
We are very interested to see how the NRA eventually begins to address the Newtown horror and resume its regular messaging operations via social media channels and official spokespeople. We have little doubt that statements will be released and that many conversations–both polite and combative–will occur. But we also have a feeling that this story will weigh heavier on the conscience of the American public than other recent shootings and that the following debates will be different as well.
PR pros: How and when should the NRA break its silence?