Posted: September 19th, 2022

Question

SampleRhetoricalAnalysis Document41 jpg2pdf6

Jensen 1

Bethany Jensen

Professor York

English 124

17 November 2014

Rhetorical Analysis of Cory Doctrow’s

“Why I Won’t Buy an iPad (and Think You Shouldn’t, Either)

Cory Doctorow’s article on BoingBoing is an older review of the iPad, one of Apple’s

most famous products. At the time of this article, however, the iPad was simply the latest Apple

product to hit the market and was not yet so popular. Doctorow’s entire career has been

entrenched in and around technology. He got his start as a CD-ROM programmer and is now a

successful blogger and author. He is currently the co-editor of the BoingBoing blog on which this

article was posted. One of his main points in this article comes from Doctorow’s passionate

advocacy of free digital media sharing. He argues that the iPad is just another way for

established technology companies to control our technological freedom and creativity. In “Why I

Won’t Buy an iPad (and Think You Shouldn’t, Either)” published on Boing Boing in April of

2010, Cory Doctorow successfully uses his experience with technology, facts about the company

Apple, and appeals to consumer needs to convince potential iPad buyers that Apple and its

products, specifically the iPad, limit the digital rights of those who use them by controlling and

mainstreaming the content that can be used and created on the device.

The purpose of the article is to convince consumers that the iPad is not a worthwhile

thing to buy because it has very limited uses outside of the set content, as well as technological

problems and the potential to quickly become obsolete. Cory Doctorow wrote this article stating

his negative opinion of the iPad in the wake of enormous media hype over the iPad’s release.

Commented [A1]: The opening of a rhetorical analysis

essay should provide some context and give some

background information on the article

being analyzed.

Commented [A2]: It is a good idea to provide some

context and background information for the author of the

piece being analyzed.

Commented [A3]: Even a rhetorical analysis will have a

thesis statement. In this thesis statement, the writer makes an

assertion about the effectiveness and main idea of the article

being analyzed.

Commented [A4]: Purpose should be part of an effective

rhetorical analysis. Here, the writer establishes the purpose

of the article being analyzed.

Jensen 2

Apple has proclaimed the iPad as a technological revolution, but Doctorow disagrees. He made

this statement in response to Apple’s policies, exemplified by the iPad; “of course I believe in a

market where competition can take place without bending my knee to a company that has erected

a drawbridge between me and my customers!” (3). He is out to convince his audience they

deserve the right to be responsible for their own media sharing and content.

One example of Doctorow’s position is his comparison of Apple’s iStore to Wal-Mart.

This is an appeal to the consumer’s logic—or an appeal to logos. Doctorow wants the reader to

take his comparison and consider how an all-powerful corporation like the iStore will affect

them. An iPad will only allow for apps and programs purchased through the iStore to be run on

it; therefore, a customer must not only purchase an iPad but also any programs he or she wishes

to use. Customers cannot create their own programs or modify the hardware in any way.

Doctorow has a very clear opinion of this. He says, “as an adult, I want to be able to

choose whose stuff I buy and whom I trust to evaluate that stuff. I don’t want my universe of

apps constrained to the stuff that the Cupertino Politburo decides to allow for its platform” (3).

By referencing the constricting forces of communist Russia, the author appeals to his readers’

emotions and a basic human fear of being controlled. This is an appeal to pathos, and it stirs up a

natural rebellion against being told what to do. Big corporations want consumers to believe that

if they give up their creativity, their lives will be better. In that way, it is like Wal-Mart. “Save

money, live better,” just do not think outside of the box.

Doctorow appeals to logos again by quoting technology guru William Gibson’s

comparison of iPad consumers to a mutant creature. The author also builds his character, an

appeal to ethos, here by quoting a renowned expert, one who actually coined the term “virtual

reality.” By referring to the specialist’s opinion, Doctorow is acknowledging his need for

Commented [A5]: In a rhetorical analysis, the writer

should emphasize appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos.

However, it is not enough to simply list them. Here the

writer explains how this example is an appeal to logos.

Commented [A6]: Here, the writer describes an appeal to

pathos and explains with specific references to the article

being analyzed.

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additional counsel. Doctorow reinforces his ethos by building on the solid foundation of an

established technological leader.

Doctorow makes another appeal to logos in the form of showing potential iPad buyers

what they could have instead of the dictated usage and expensive content that come with the

iPad. He argues that consumers do not have to settle for limit digital rights, we have other

options. He declares, “the reason people have stopped paying for a lot of ‘content’ isn’t just that

they can get it for free, though: it’s that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too” (4).

This is an example of how Doctorow uses reason and logic to make his point. He essentially

says, “you could have this one thing…or you could have all of these things.” Why pay for an

expensive iPad and monitored apps, when you can get equal or better products and programs for

free?

The article “Why I won’t buy and iPad (and Think You Shouldn’t, Either)” does have a

few flaws. One example of a weakness is Doctorow’s obvious bias against big corporations and

digital rights management. He is a software creator, and so he has something personal to gain

from free digital media sharing. He displays this bias by giving a rather one-sided argument. He

says, “it [Apple] uses DRM to control what can run on your devices, which means that Apple’s

customers can’t take their ‘iContent’ with them to competing devices, and Apple developers

can’t sell on their own terms” (3). The problem is that not everyone can develop software, and,

therefore, not everyone cares. The iPad could be a great piece of equipment with excellent

applications for people who are not looking to develop and sell their own software. Just because

the iPad does not work for Doctorow, does not mean it will not work for anyone else.

In addition to having an agenda, Doctorow does not mention any of the iPad’s positive

qualities and abilities. His only positive mention of the iPad states “clearly there’s a lot of

Commented [A7]: Here, the writer describes the appeal to

ethos and, again, makes clear connections to the author of

the article and the article itself.

Commented [A8]: Near the end of the rhetorical analysis,

the writer addresses flaws in the argument and the writing. In

a rhetorical analysis, a writer doesn’t share whether or not he

or she agrees with the content. Instead, the writer focuses on

analyzing the effectiveness of the rhetorical choices in the

piece.

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thoughtfulness and smarts that went into the design” (2). In reality, the iPad has a lot of cool

features, and it can do some incredible things; for example, nearly every big company has an app

that represents it, and the internet browsing on the iPad is top notch. Doctorow could have built

his up his ethos by being a bit more fair-minded about the benefits of owning the iPad.

Overall, Doctorow makes a good argument about why there are potentially many better

things to drop a great deal of money on instead of the iPad. He gives some valuable information

and facts that consumers should take into consideration before going out to purchase the new

device. He clearly uses rhetorical tools to help make his case, and, overall, he is effective as a

writer, even if, ultimately, he was ineffective in convincing the world not to buy an iPad.

Commented [A9]: As the writer concludes, she refers back

to the main point of the rhetorical analysis.

Jensen 5

Work Cited

Doctorow, Cory. “Why I Won’t Buy an iPad (and Think You Shouldn’t, Either).” BoingBoing. 2

Apr. 2010. Web. 10 November 2014.

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Exposing the NRA’s Messaging Playbook

The National Rifle Association uses messaging strategies employed by

dictators and demagogues to advance its gun rights narrative within the

United States.

AUTHORS

• Rukmani Bhatia

Gun Violence, Gun Violence Prevention

MEDIA CONTACT

Tricia Woodcome

Senior Media Manager

twoodcome@americanprogress.org

GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS

Peter Gordon

Director, Federal Affairs

pgordon@americanprogress.org

Jerry Parshall

Senior Director, Safety and Justice Campaign

jparshall@americanprogress.org

Gun Violence

Gun Violence Prevention

Tricia Woodcome

Tricia Woodcome

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Peter Gordon

Peter Gordon

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Jerry Parshall

Jerry Parshall

Guns, Lies, and Fear

DOWNLOAD

• Report PDF (697 KB)

IN THIS ARTICLE

Introduction and summary

• How the NRA mutated from supporting gun safety to advocating gun

rights

Leveraging the demagogue’s playbook

The NRA’s core messaging pillars

How the NRA spreads and engrains its message

How the NRA quashes opposition

Consequences and implications of the NRA’s illiberal messaging

Conclusion

• About the author

• Acknowledgments

An attendee walks by photographs of National Rifle Association executive

https://americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/NRA-report

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

Guns, Lies, and Fear

vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre (R), NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox,

and NRATV commentator Dana Loesch outside the NRA Annual Meeting &

Exhibits at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center on May 5, 2018, in

Dallas. (Getty/Justin Sullivan)

Introduction and summary

“Our Second Amendment is freedom’s most valuable, most cherished, most

irreplaceable idea. History proves it. When you ignore the right of good

people to own firearms to protect their freedom, you become the enablers of

future tyrants whose regimes will destroy millions and millions of defenseless

lives.”1

– Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO, National Rifle

Association

The National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization originally established

in 1871 to train hunters and marksmen on gun use and safety, has

transformed into one of the most effective political lobbies in modern

American history. The group advocates for gun rights, resisting any

encroachment on what it deems to be an inalienable right to unhindered,

unregulated gun ownership. To advance its mission, the NRA deploys a

disinformation campaign reliant on fearmongering and the systematic

discreditation of opposition voices in order to secure its position as a

powerful lobbyist for the gun industry. The NRA has masterfully constructed

a narrative based on gun rights propaganda, evoking images of a society

devoid of rule of law and under constant threat of attack from an

unidentified but ever-present enemy.

Due to the insidious nature of this messaging approach, the NRA has

successfully embedded its false narrative throughout much of the country.

By deploying a carefully crafted campaign of misinformation, deception, and

confusion, the NRA has both undermined legitimate arguments for

common-sense gun law reform and made it substantially more difficult for

its emotive, provocative propaganda to be countered with fact and reason.

In this way, the NRA’s tactics are deceitful not only because they falsely

allege to protect American freedoms but also because they mirror

fundamentally un-American sources. The propaganda machine of the NRA is

similar to that of authoritarian and undemocratic political regimes around

the world that deploy disinformation campaigns to secure control over

public discourse in their nations, enabling autocrats to maintain a vice grip

over information and ensure their power is unchecked and unquestioned.

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The efficacy of the NRA’s deceitful tactics has been destructive. Gun

violence shatters communities across the United States—particularly

communities of color—and ravages the nation’s youth.2 Each day, more

than 95 people die from gun violence.3 This epidemic is a uniquely American

experience, with the United States standing out as an outlier among its

peers with both a disproportionately high percentage of the world’s armed

civilians and a disproportionately high rate of gun-related fatalities.4 Yet

despite the harsh realities of gun violence, as well as a plethora of attempts

to pass legislative solutions to address the issue over several decades, the

NRA has skillfully used its control over the narrative around guns to

influence lawmakers, repeatedly blocking common-sense legislation on

local, state, and federal levels. At the same time, the NRA has churned out a

steady stream of messaging and marketing designed to increase American

ownership of firearms and sell more guns.

This report examines how the NRA successfully both created the identity of

the American law-abiding gun owner and vilified those in government, civil

society, and academia working to reform gun laws to reduce firearm-related

tragedies. It then illustrates the ways in which nondemocratic leaders

construct narratives to secure political power, and how these tactics

compare to the messaging strategy deployed by the NRA. By analyzing the

messaging tactics used by NRA leadership and paid NRATV hosts, this report

shows how the NRA has a specific strategy designed both to control the

debate around guns and to influence legislators and policymakers to prevent

the implementation of common-sense legislation focused on public safety.

This report dissects the NRA’s messaging approach and provides examples

of the group’s rhetoric in order to depict how the organization is mimicking

the tactics of autocrats and demagogues.

As gun violence prevention advocates around the country seek to build on

the recent public momentum demanding stronger gun laws at the state and

federal levels, it is crucial to understand the underpinnings of the NRA’s

messaging strategy in order to develop a compelling counternarrative

capable of challenging the NRA’s messaging campaigns.

Glossary of key terms

Illiberal nation or regime: A nation or regime whose leaders are

democratically elected but who then implement policies that repress the

political rights and civil liberties of their nation, standing in opposition to

liberal democratic principles.5

Authoritarian nation or regime: A nation or regime where power is

concentrated among the leadership.6

Populist leader: A politician who creates two groups within society: an

established, corrupt political elite and a marginalized “common people”

whom the leader seeks to uplift in social standing.7

How the NRA mutated from supporting gun safety to advocating gun rights

The National Rifle Association has existed for almost 150 years. Today, it is

one of the most powerful gun lobbies in the country. However, this modern

manifestation would be unrecognizable to its founders. For the

organization’s first 106 years, its mission was to educate gun owners about

guns, with no reference to the Second Amendment.8

On November 17, 1871, a group of Union army veterans founded the NRA to

train men to be better marksmen. For decades, the group focused on

training gun owners to be better hunters, teaching Boy Scouts how to shoot,

and discussing hunting and conservation efforts.9

The organization’s transformation began in the 1960s following a wave of

gun control laws; for example, the passage of the Gun Control Act in 1968

created a category of people prohibited from legal gun ownership, including

those convicted of violent felonies and domestic abuse.10 With federal laws

beginning to regulate gun ownership, factions within the NRA’s membership

base felt threatened. This perception resulted in an eventual leadership

coup at the 1977 NRA Annual Meeting—often referenced as the “Cincinnati

Revolt”—where a large contingent of gun rights radicals ousted the

leadership, replacing them with individuals keen to advance an agenda that

protected gun ownership rights.11 The change in leadership also marked a

pivotal moment for the organization’s mission, with the group shifting

starkly away from focusing on hunting and gun safety and instead engaging

directly in the political debate around guns.

Following that meeting, the NRA became an organization focused almost

exclusively on political issues related to gun rights. Under the guise of

protecting civil liberties, the group cultivated a political reputation

advocating for the protection of gun rights across federal, state, and local

laws.

As the organization was establishing itself as a lobbying operation, it began

to develop a stronger connection with the multibillion-dollar gun industry.

According to analysis conducted by the Violence Policy Center, the NRA

enjoys strong financial ties with the firearms industry, receiving millions of

dollars in contributions from industry conglomerates such as the Freedom

Group, Bushmaster, and Smith & Wesson.12 Furthermore, as revealed by

Mother Jones’ investigative reporting, the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom”

membership status, marking donors who contribute at least $1 million to

the group, has numerous executives from firearms manufacturers.13 The

NRA also creates programming and messaging that is sponsored by specific

firearms manufacturers.

For example, the NRA developed specific programs sponsored by different

gun industry entities, including the creation in 2012 of the Smith & Wesson-

sponsored NRA Women’s Network,14 which purportedly provides women

gun owners a resource on gun use.15 The linkages between the gun industry

and the NRA’s messaging are particularly visible when it comes to semi-

automatic assault weapons.16 The NRA staunchly advocates that these

weapons of war continue to be unregulated and readily available on the

civilian market, despite evidence that assault weapons increase the lethality

of public mass shootings.17

In order to advance a political agenda and establish itself within the debate

around gun rights, the NRA deploys an aggressive messaging strategy similar

to the approaches dictators use to consolidate and secure power. At its

core, the messaging strategy of the newly politicized NRA embeds the idea

that the Second Amendment is the lynchpin for all other freedoms; the

NRA’s messaging bedrock rests on the claim that the right to own a firearm

is the freedom that protects all other freedoms.18 This basic concept has

become the gun rights organization’s rallying cry; stripped of all nuance, the

anchor of the NRA’s narrative is the idea that the group represents

“freedom,” making any opposition easily labeled as “anti-freedom.”

NRA surrogate and actor Charlton Heston often used his prominent platform

to echo this message. In 1997, after being selected to serve as the NRA’s

First Vice President,19 the longtime gun rights supporter delivered a speech

at the National Press Club, stating:

I simply cannot stand by and watch a right guaranteed by the Constitution of

the United States come apart under attack from those who either can’t

understand it, don’t like the sound of it, or find themselves too

philosophically squeamish to see why it remains the first among equals:

Because it is the right we turn to when all else fails. That’s why the Second

Amendment is America’s first freedom.20

Heston’s words have become one of the NRA’s most prolific slogans to

ground its lobbying efforts in protecting American freedoms, and the

sentiment of his remarks is routinely parroted by NRA leadership. Chris Cox,

chief lobbyist for the organization, stated at the 2018 NRA annual

convention, “Together, we’re the most bare-knuckled defenders of

individual freedom in American history.”21 In an NRATV ad campaign, NRA

President Wayne LaPierre claimed, “The only truly free people who have

ever walked this earth have been armed people capable of defending

themselves and their families.”22 Meanwhile, the infamous sign-off line, “I’m

the National Rifle Association of America and I’m freedom’s safest place,” is

used by the group to end various testimonials and video advocacy

campaigns, insinuating that the group is fighting to protect fundamental

freedoms.23 This message is, of course, tainted by the fact that the gun

rights lobby’s mission runs counter to public safety and advocacy efforts

focused on reducing the high levels of gun violence that affect communities

across the nation on a daily basis.

Leveraging the demagogue’s playbook

“Every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten,

bloodied, robbed, raped, and murdered … When a criminal attacks,

politicians aren’t there to protect you. Their laws can’t protect you. And the

media’s lies can’t protect you, either. You’re on your own. But you know

what can protect you when no one else can, when no one else will? The

ironclad, absolute safeguard of the Second Amendment right to keep and

bear arms.”24

– Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO, National Rifle

Association

The manipulation of fear and identity politics to develop a convincing

narrative that can be shared widely across a population of people is not

unique to the NRA. Indeed, it is a core strategy used by autocrats and

aspiring dictators to secure power and influence. Demagogues consolidate

power by exploiting fear, a primal human instinct, rather than using facts or

logical arguments to secure their political standing.

Historically, the approach used by these strongmen includes a common set

of tactics:

• Construct a political identity that also serves as a demagogue’s target

audience

• Craft a political narrative illustrating the existential crises that threaten

the defined identity group

• Control the narrative, undermining critical media outlets

• Vilify, discredit, and malign any opposition voice

Construct a political identity

Establishing a target group within the nation is vital for a political narrative

to be constructed based on fear of impending doom. A specific group needs

to be manipulated into believing itself to be a marginalized population,

neglected by the existing power structures and facing demise or attack.

In recent years, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey has attempted to

build a new Turkish identity that brings together his conservative religious

base and the broader conservative nationalist constituency.25 By targeting

both these factions, Erdoğan seeks to create a more unified, dominant right-

wing alliance on which he can rely to advance his political agenda and

overwhelm any opposition to his

power.

Similarly, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has capitalized on the idea of a

“Hungarian citizen,” playing up fears about how the European Union and the

migrant crisis would affect Hungary. Orbán’s persistence in establishing a

threatened Hungarian identity is evident in his public speeches, including

one recently delivered in 2018 in which he declared, “We must state that we

do not want to be diverse and do not want to be mixed: we do not want our

own colour, traditions, and national culture to be mixed with those of

others.”26 Through this xenophobic rhetoric, a marginalized Hungarian

identity has emerged in a nation that is largely homogenous.27

Craft a political narrative of crisis

Once an identity group is created, the next piece of the puzzle is to make

that group fearful for its existence. By creating a narrative that outlines a

pending threat to the group, the illiberal leader is able to manipulate that

group and gain political power.

This approach was masterfully deployed by Orbán, who built a political

platform centered on the “Hungarian” identity to propel his populist rise to

power. He seized on moments of conflict and war in Hungarian history to

evoke sentiments of “the glorious Hungarian nation,” crystalizing the

identity of the Hungarian people and claiming that they are under direct

assault from both the large numbers of migrants seeking asylum from

conflicts in the Middle East and the European leaders in Brussels who would

allow Hungary to be overrun by migrants.28 In Orbán’s own words:

We shall not allow it [Brussels] to force upon us the bitter fruit of its

cosmopolitan immigration policy. We shall not import to Hungary crime,

terrorism, homophobia, and synagogue-burning anti-Semitism. There shall

be no urban districts beyond the reach of the law, there shall be no mass

disorder or immigrant riots here, and there shall be no gangs hunting down

our women and daughters.29

Control the narrative

To perpetuate the fears embedded in the narrative, leaders of the political

party—along with designated surrogates from different parts of society,

including civil society, media, and academia—are used to emphasize the

threats facing the chosen populace.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime has built effective and expansive

systems that enable the Kremlin to control and manipulate narratives

throughout the nation.30 Putin’s constructed paradigm claiming that the

survival of the Russian state is at odds with liberal democracy justifies his

vice grip over the media and information. Within the nation, there is limited

independent Russian reporting that is free from the influence of either

Kremlin officials or Russian oligarchs beholden to Putin’s regime.31

Moreover, academic research and teachings that deviate from Kremlin-

approved narratives have come under bureaucratic attack. In 2018, for

example, the European University at St. Petersburg, a private liberal arts

college, had its teaching license revoked and was temporarily shuttered by

Putin under the guise of failing to meet bizarre bureaucratic requirements.32

In the Philippines, in an effort to control the narrative around his

controversial “war on drugs” and quash criticism of his regime, Rodrigo

Duterte attempts to control the narrative by undermining the media’s

legitimacy, referring to the press as liars, spies, and distrustful members of

society.33 His targeted attacks on press freedom are part of a strategy that

seeks to erode people’s confidence in the media’s reliability, resulting in

critical reporting being discredited or deemed unreliable. Recently, Duterte

has focused his efforts on silencing Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of

Rappler, a prominent news outlet that conducts thorough investigative

reporting that often criticizes Duterte’s administration.34 By transforming

the media into an unreliable source of information, Duterte seeks to

establish his rhetoric around the drug war as the only true narrative.

In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s regime engaged in suppressing press freedom by

either systematically shuttering independent news outlets or having Orbán’s

allies seize control of outlets via hostile takeovers—such as in the case of

Népszabadság, the nation’s largest independent daily news outlet.35

Népszabadság had a reputation for conducting quality investigative

reporting on scandals involving members of Fidesz, Orbán’s party, which

many thought to be the reason the outlet was abruptly suspended in 2016

before being sold to an Orbán ally.36 This crackdown on press freedom is a

necessary part of Orbán’s strategy to continue perpetuating the anti-

immigrant, xenophobic political narrative that swung voters to support his

illiberal party.37

Vilify, discredit, and malign the opposition

Once the political narrative is clearly defined and an “us vs. them” dynamic

is established, it becomes easier to sideline, discredit, or malign critics of the

regime. Criticism is viewed as a form of treachery and a threat to the

survival of the core identity the leader is claiming to protect.

The situation in the Philippines again provides an example. Duterte’s

unending “war on drugs” has resulted in the extrajudicial murder of

thousands, with death estimates ranging from 12,000 to 20,000.38 His harsh

approach has been largely condemned by civil society and government

leaders around the world, including Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, who

often used her position in the Senate to voice opposition to Duterte.39 In

February 2017, Senator de Lima was arrested on charges of drug trafficking;

however, human rights organizations have denounced her arrest and

charges as transparent efforts by Duterte to use his political power to

silence a prominent voice of dissent.40

In Turkey, the attempted coup in 2016 provided Erdoğan with an

opportunity to intensify his crackdown on political and civil rights and cast

all opposition to his rule as a betrayal of the nation—as defined by his own

conception of Turkish identity.41 Erdoğan created a list of perpetrators and

co-conspirators that extended far beyond those involved in the putsch itself,

using the crisis to mark political enemies as traitors and enemies of the

state.42 By targeting critical members of the media, academics, and civil

society activists, as well as members of the military and government civil

service deemed to be disloyal to his regime, Erdoğan purged the state and

body politic of dissent.43 The state-sanctioned purges and widespread

arrests have left him with total control of state institutions and the media in

Turkey, virtually ending democratic politics in a nation once poised to join

the European Union.44

In Hungary, Orbán’s regime has challenged dissent or opposition to its

xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric by vilifying George Soros,45 a

philanthropist and democracy advocate, claiming he is allied with European

bureaucrats who seek to require Hungary to accept migrants who will

destroy the country.46 The government even passed a law making it illegal to

assist documenting migrants in any way—a measure dubbed the “Stop

Soros” law.47 Orbán’s attacks seek to demonize Soros and undermine his

advocacy efforts while also systematically removing links that Soros, a

Hungarian American, has to the nation. Orbán’s regime has forced the

beleaguered Budapest office of the Open Society Foundations—which is

funded by Soros and focuses on human rights and democracy advocacy—to

relocate to Berlin due to the repressive environment in Hungary.48 Similarly,

the embattled Central European University, also funded by Soros, is

relocating to Vienna after Orbán’s relentless efforts to shutter the revered

academic institution.49 Orbán’s continued attacks on Soros allow the

populist leader to undermine a key opposition voice and continue to

perpetuate the fear-based narrative that enabled him to secure power in

the first place.

Consequences of the playbook

Collectively, these tactics are regularly implemented in illiberal nations

whose leadership is focused on stifling debate, with the extreme methods

resulting in crackdowns on political rights and civil liberties in order to

suppress a nation into submission. This technique of controlling information

around key policies has been successfully used by authoritarians and

populists throughout the world.

While the NRA is certainly not seeking complete control over a political

system, a comparison to the messaging tactics of autocrats is still instructive,

as the group is seeking to retain and maintain political power in order to

challenge a growing movement to strengthen gun laws. The NRA’s political

power rests on its ability to embed a narrative about gun ownership into the

American populace and key voting demographics. Therefore, the gun rights

organization has needed to build a narrative capable of countering the

realities of gun violence and the overwhelming evidence that weak gun laws

are causing a public health crisis in the United States. To do so, the NRA

chooses to draw from the demagogue’s playbook and deploy a campaign

based on fear and disinformation to retain power, regardless of the human

cost.

The NRA’s core messaging pillars

Just like a demagogue, the National Rifle Association chooses to direct its

messaging efforts toward one simple constructed identity: the “American

patriot,” a law-abiding citizen who loves the United States and the freedoms

enshrined in the U.S. Constitution—chief among them the right to bear

arms.50

In keeping with the demagogue’s playbook, the American patriot is

constantly threatened by two different but related enemies. One existential

crisis is represented by the security threats constantly facing the American

patriot. In the NRA’s crafted narrative, law-abiding citizens are preyed upon

by lawless criminals who seek to commit acts of violence; a subcategory of

lawless criminals are undocumented migrants or, to use the NRA’s label,

“illegal immigrants,” who are undermining the safety and security of

Americans throughout the nation.51 Following the NRA’s logic, the only way

law-abiding citizens can address these constant threats and keep themselves

and their families safe is by possessing a firearm—a right enshrined in the

Second Amendment. In the words of NRA President Oliver North, “The

Second Amendment is the purest metaphor for freedom because if you are

not free to defend yourself and your loved ones, then you are really not free

at all.”52

This ostensible need to possess a firearm for self-preservation is connected

to another existential crisis the NRA has constructed: The NRA has

consistently undercut advocates for gun violence prevention and common-

sense legislation in order to maintain power over the narrative. To achieve

this goal, the NRA has turned its political opposition into an anti-American

enemy poised to seize guns and suppress freedoms through its anti-gun

agenda. Wayne LaPierre verbalized this message at the 2018 NRA annual

convention, stating, “The leadership of the National Democratic Party is the

most anti-Second Amendment bunch of socialists in United States’ history.

They’ll aim to seize your firearms, destroy your NRA, and entirely obliterate

our great Second Amendment.”53

By routinely associating gun violence prevention advocacy with

disarmament—even going so far as to label Democratic members of

Congress “disarmocrats”54 and the 2020 Democratic presidential primary the

“disarmament primary”55—the NRA has insidiously developed an “us vs.

them” dynamic, pitting the NRA’s constructed gun-owning American patriot

against those who want to pass common-sense reforms. The NRA depicts

the conflict of ideas as an existential battle between the two groups in an

NRA-constructed zero-sum game, in a manner similar to how Erdoğan

brands political opponents in Turkey as existential threats, routinely labeling

them as enemies and terrorists.56 At the 2019 Conservative Political Action

Conference (CPAC), Oliver North made clear this absolute fight for gun

ownership: “Our opponents call themselves gun control advocates. They are

not. They ought to call themselves what they really are: the vanguard of the

disarm America movement. … They want to disarm you. No 2nd

Amendment, no individual freedom, no civilian ownership of firearms

period.”57

The NRA generically vilifies people who represent and advocate for liberal

and progressive gun policies, labeling them the “violent Left.”58 It exploits

and expands the political divisions between the law-abiding gun owner and

the political left in an effort to discredit the work that is being done by gun

violence prevention advocates, similar to how Duterte attempted to

undermine Senator De Lima’s credibility—and, subsequently, her

investigation into his drug war—by making crass comments about her

personal life.59 NRATV program host Grant Stinchfield recently deployed this

divisive tactic by claiming that law-abiding citizens were essentially at war

with progressives, stating:

The threats from many on the Left are turning to violence and intimidation.

All of this tears at the heart of a nation because we aren’t just divided

anymore, we are in an all-out fight, a brawl. While we try to fight fair with

truth on our side, the Left uses a win-at-all-costs mentality. It means they no

longer play fair. That is the greatest threat to our nation.60

The demonization of “the Left” in this manner tarnishes the work of

members of Congress, civil society advocates, members of the traditional

media, and academics who seek to advance common-sense gun

legislation.

Moreover, it likens these individuals to other perceived dangers facing the

American patriot, such as “criminals” and “illegal immigrants.”61 As a result,

the NRA never has to engage in the actual debate over policy around gun

violence prevention, nor does it have to provide evidence and facts to

support its opposition. Instead, the gun rights group can claim that freedom

and fundamental American rights are again under attack from an anti-

American faction of the “violent Left,” thereby deflecting from real policy

debate and shifting the focus to a narrative it has skillfully constructed.

How the NRA spreads and engrains its message

Implementing this messaging strategy is effective both for political leaders

seeking to retain power—such as Putin, who has held control over Russia’s

political system for two decades—and for the National Rifle Association,

which seeks to hold political clout over lawmakers in the United States. The

group uses both the Second Amendment and the constitutional right to bear

arms as justifications for its lobbying and advocacy efforts around gun

legislation.62 It has infiltrated legislatures and offices in Congress with

substantial effect. The NRA has had astounding success at using its

messaging to support advocacy for legislation that expands gun rights while

endangering public safety. For example, NRA board member and lobbyist

Marion Hammer wields substantial influence within Florida and is known to

have authored the state’s “stand your ground” law.63 And within Congress,

the NRA’s influence is pronounced, with some members parroting NRA

talking points in hearings about gun violence.64

The NRA’s narrative is accessible through its various media outlets, including

Twitter, Facebook, and its own media channel. The gun rights group

launched NRA News in 2004; the main programming was “Cam & Co,” a TV

show hosted by Cam Edwards that discussed gun-related news throughout

the United States.65 In 2016, NRA News transformed into NRATV, a 24-hour

network with programming on gun rights as well as greater discussions of

state and national politics in the United States.66

NRATV perpetuates the myths about gun legislation that sit at the core of

the NRA’s messaging. By using hyperbolic language and extreme examples

that are often disconnected from the realities of gun violence, it maintains

that guns are needed for self-defense and that legislation only burdens law-

abiding citizens. Prominent NRATV host Grant Stinchfield has linked gun

violence prevention advocacy to the Islamic State and the Iranian regime,

stating: “You got ISIS wanting us disarmed, you got the ayatollah of Iran

wanting us disarmed. Last time I checked, both are enemies of the U.S. that

do not want us with an ability to fight back. And the Liberals think that’s a

good idea.”67 Stinchfield is likening those who seek common-sense gun

legislation to violent actors who have publicly stated they seek to attack the

United States. This not only serves to “other” those working on common-

sense gun legislation but also underscores the NRA’s crafted narrative that

anyone who opposes its gun rights agenda stands in opposition to the

freedoms granted to those living

in the United States.

In addition to discussing the perceived challenges facing gun owners,

NRATV’s coverage has expanded beyond just discussing gun rights. In 2017,

Wayne LaPierre’s speech at CPAC focused more on the need to support

newly elected President Donald Trump than protecting gun rights, matching

the programming’s expanding focus on other policy debates within the

United States—such as immigration and women’s rights.68 For example,

commentator Dana Loesch recently used her platform as the host of

“Relentless” to criticize efforts to increase gender and racial diversity on

children’s TV program “Thomas the Tank Engine,” depicting the animated

characters in Ku Klux Klan hoods.69 The NRA’s expansion into policy

discussions outside its traditional bailiwick aligns with the populist

tendencies of the current executive branch leadership under President

Trump, thus attempting to further the political division between law-abiding

gun owners and anyone aligned with the liberal or progressive political

spectrum.70 By expanding its coverage to include partisan issues such as

immigration policy, access to health care, and free speech, the NRA is

widening the political chasm between law-abiding gun owners and their

supposed progressive enemies, creating fewer policy issues upon which the

two constructed identities can agree, deepening the “us vs. them” dynamic.

Yet even with these tangents into other polarizing political issues, the core

message of the NRA continues to be about protecting the freedoms and

rights of the law-abiding American—a message that makes it easy for

discussions to be spun back into the gun rights debate.

Exploiting xenophobia on issues of border security

The issue of security along the U.S.-Mexico border is a prime example of the

NRA’s messaging tactics. President Trump campaigned on the proposal of

installing a wall along the U.S. southern border to ebb the tide of people

seeking asylum in the United States. The discussion surrounding this issue is

not directly linked to firearms or the gun lobby, yet it has still dominated

NRATV programming since President Trump’s election.71 Considering the

demagogic approach the NRA uses to craft its narrative, the incorporation of

immigration policy in its messaging makes sense.

The issue of immigration at the border presents an existential crisis for the

so-called American patriot—a crisis narrative that is perpetuated by the

president and his own staff, who have spread blatant falsehoods about the

border and the scale of the problem of migrants seeking asylum in the

United States.72 NRATV pundits seized on this political debate, reporting on

the alleged border crisis as if it were a threat to all Americans.73 For

example, in March 2019, Grant Stinchfield hosted Maria Espinoza, director

of The Remembrance Project, to discuss migration at the border. Espinoza

delivered a condemnation of undocumented immigrants that evoked the

NRA’s rhetoric around immigration that questions the character of

undocumented immigrants, equating them with criminals.74

NRATV programming also often hosts so-called angel families, whose loved

ones were killed by undocumented immigrants, to link the threat presented

by the NRA to law-abiding American patriots.75 Mary Mendoza, whose son

was killed in a 2014 car crash with an undocumented immigrant driver, was

interviewed by Stinchfield to share her story and thoughts on the

congressional debate around border wall funding. Mendoza criticized

politicians for ignoring the perceived violence associated with increased

numbers of migrants entering the United States, at one point claiming,

“We’re set to see over a million people come over our border this year. This

is an invasion. This is a national emergency.”76 Stinchfield did not fact-check

her statements, nor did he counter with the overwhelming evidence

showing that migration across the southern border does not increase crime

in the United States.

The goal of this interview was not to describe the actual problem but rather

to depict an imminent threat to the American people. This tactic continues

to perpetuate a sense of insecurity that aligns with the NRA’s core message

that people need guns to protect themselves.77 For example, after University

of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts was tragically murdered by an

undocumented immigrant in summer 2018, her death became an NRA

rallying cry not just for Trump’s border security policies but also for more

people to be armed. Yet these efforts neglected the fact that this incident

was a tragic outlier and that cities with increased migrant populations do

not see changes in crime rates.78 Just like autocrats stir up fears among the

populace and present themselves as the only political voice focused on

protecting from that threat—something Orbán has done successfully for

years in Hungary79—the NRA is fomenting fear of violent immigrants to

advance its political agenda: ensuring that people feel the need to buy

firearms for their self-preservation.

The narrative spun by NRATV is devoid of facts, focusing instead on

sustaining the myth of gun ownership being necessary for self-defense in an

increasingly dangerous United States. In this way, the NRA’s disinformation

campaign mimics the rhetoric and approach of populist Hungary, as Orbán,

too, often claims that accepting migrants would result in heightened levels

of violence and crime.80 Perhaps most disturbingly, the NRA seems aware of

these similarities, as multiple reports on NRATV have equated the U.S.

situation with Hungary.81 Chuck Holton, a prominent correspondent for

NRATV, will often discuss the issue of migration within the United States and

compare it to the rise of people fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in Europe.

Holton has claimed previously that the asylum seekers’ arrival in Europe

resulted in increased levels of crime and that the asylum seekers took “great

advantage of the generous welfare policies and the more liberal social

mores in countries like Germany, France, and the U.K.”82 The goal of these

comparisons is to make people in the United States fearful of migrants

crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, but it deliberately ignores the distinctions

between the two cases. Unlike the demographics of asylum seekers entering

Europe, the majority of migrants seeking asylum in the United States are

women and children fleeing violence.83 Moreover, evidence shows that U.S.

communities with immigrants do not see increases in crime.84

Manipulating gender stereotypes

The NRA also projects images of vulnerable women and children under

attack in order to propel its message of fear to the American populace. The

gendered nature of the NRA’s approach manifests in two main ways:

hypermasculinity and women’s vulnerability.

The image of the American patriot is largely linked to the concept of

hypermasculinity. In the NRA’s narrative, firearms represent the only tools

that will protect a person and their family from harm. The subtext of this

narrative is related to imbalanced gender dynamics that frame men as

protectors of their vulnerable families, thereby implying that to be a

masculine man, one must also be a gun owner; otherwise, one is forsaking

his duty as a man to his family.85 It is worth noting, however, that the NRA’s

narrative about the “good guy with a gun” stopping “the bad guy with a

gun” is patently false.86 Armed civilians have rarely been successful in

engaging with and stopping an active shooter. The FBI reviewed 250 active

shooting incidents in the United States from 2000 through 2017.87 In only

seven cases was the shooter stopped by a civilian with a valid firearms

permit; unarmed bystanders were more effective at intervening and

stopping active shootings. Regardless of the evidence, the NRA continues to

peddle this flawed rhetoric because it feeds into the fear-based narrative

central to the NRA’s message. It implies that the world is full of bad people

and the only way to defend yourself is through owning a firearm.

Through its narrative, the NRA will also target women in an effort to

encourage them to purchase firearms. The gun rights group uses the image

of women in two intertwined, problematic ways. First, the NRA portrays

women as vulnerable and susceptible to violence, again building on the

fearmongering trope that is central to its messaging.88 The gun rights group

will also claim that gun ownership is a means of empowerment for women,

giving them agency over their life and body.

In order to push the specific message that women are uniquely vulnerable,

the NRA imagines a world in which women face constant attacks and threats

from unknown entities that can only be addressed through gun ownership.89

The organization will often highlight the experiences of individual women

who are survivors of violence or harassment, using their stories as proof that

all women need to be armed to defend against violent offenders.90

To advance the idea that guns are a means for women to feel empowered,

the NRA has created programs for women gun owners. For example,

“Armed & Fabulous” focuses on glorifying women and guns, linking the

featured women to a female iteration of the law-abiding patriot—a women

who is self-reliant and able to defend herself and her family because she

carries guns.91 The NRA also runs a women’s leadership forum to cultivate

young women aspiring to become Second Amendment activists.92

Dana Loesch, perhaps the most vocal NRA personality on this subject, has

repeatedly pushed the idea of women needing firearms for self-defense and

autonomy.93 In an NRA campaign ad, Loesch delivered the following

problematic statement:

Here’s a message to every rapist, domestic abuser, violent criminal thug,

and every other monster who preys upon women. Maybe you’ve heard the

stories about millions of us flocking to gun stores and gun ranges for the first

time, the second time, and the 100th time. Here’s what that means for

despicable cowards like you: Your life expectancy just got shorter because

there’s a very good chance your next target will be armed, trained, and

ready to exercise her right to choose her life over yours. This is what real

empowerment looks like.94

This rhetoric—along with the rest of the NRA’s messaging around women

and guns—is merely designed to stir up emotions and fear rather than

address the problem of violence against women within the United States.

The realities of women and violence are much more nuanced than the NRA’s

crafted message. While there is some anecdotal evidence of successful cases

of women using guns in self-defense, academic research finds that defensive

gun use is relatively rare. Prolific gun ownership is, however, associated with

increased harm to women.95 Analysis of National Crime Victimization

surveys from 2007 through 2011 conducted by David Hemenway and Sara

Solnick not only found that a firearm is rarely used in self-defense but also

found that during the years reviewed, there were no reports of guns being

used in self-defense in incidents of sexual assault.96 Furthermore, research

shows that firearms are used to intimidate and victimize intimate partners

rather than defend against violent attacks.97 In the United States, 4.5 million

women have been threatened by an intimate partner with a firearm.98

Moreover, evidence shows that in cases of domestic violence, a firearm’s

presence increases the risk that the woman will die by 500 percent.99 In light

of this evidence, the goal of the NRA’s messaging becomes clear: It is only

focused on advancing the idea of fear, vulnerability, and the need to buy a

gun to feel safe.

How the NRA quashes opposition

A critical part of maintaining a narrative based on misinformation is

undermining critics who challenge the lies upon which the messaging is

based. Typically, this effort requires either undermining the facts used by

opponents, redirecting the debate through “whataboutism,” or vilifying the

opponents, making their opinions invalid since they seek to betray the law-

abiding gun owner. For example, illiberal leaders, such as Duterte in the

Philippines, will often openly mock their opposition,100 while more

established authoritarians such as Putin will silence critical voices through

threats of violence and assassinations.101 Similarly, the National Rifle

Association deploys a multifaceted strategy to undercut criticism and gun

violence prevention advocacy.

Perpetuating myths and undermining facts

The NRA has a select set of allied researchers who produce academic articles

purporting to provide evidence that supports the organization’s extremely

lax approach to gun policy. One of the most prominent researchers often

interviewed by NRATV is John Lott Jr.102 Gun enthusiasts often tout his 1998

book More Guns, Less Crime, which argues that states that passed concealed

carry laws saw decreases in crime rates—an argument that fits neatly within

the NRA’s narrative that more guns result in less crime.103 However, Lott’s

flagship publication has been widely debunked: In 2002, Ian Ayres of Yale

Law School and John Donohue of Stanford Law School published a report

discrediting Lott’s work. They found that, since 1997, in 14 jurisdictions that

passed concealed carry laws, there was an increase in every category of

crime studied by Lott, thereby undermining the core of Lott’s argument.104

David Hemenway at Harvard University went further than Ayres and

Donohue, finding that the model used by Lott was academically unsound

and deeply flawed, as miniscule changes to the inputs dramatically changed

the results.105 In response to growing academic criticism, Lott chose to

create a fake persona to defend his research, rather than produce credible

studies.106 Further degrading his reputation as a reliable and ethical

academic, Lott lied about producing a peer-reviewed article and has

continued to manufacture or manipulate statistics to fit his—and the gun

industry’s—desired narrative around guns.107

Despite Lott’s poor reputation, the NRA continues to provide him a platform

to share his faulty research and malign the work of reliable academics

whose findings deviate from the NRA’s message.108 For example, Dana

Loesch hosted Lott, who she claimed “is never wrong,”109 to challenge a

Boston University School of Public Health study that linked presence of a

gun in the home to youth suicide. Lott attempted to undercut the study by

stating, “I don’t take the study seriously. I think what’s going on here is they

have poorly done studies and if they keep putting them out again and again

… they’ll just convince people over time that they’ll be afraid to have guns in

the home.”110 The irony of Lott’s criticism is that he employs the very

approach he is attacking—but in Lott’s case, his work is routinely found to

be flawed by credible academics. On Loesch’s program, Lott has also

challenged studies that Loesch deems to be “anti-gun”; he claims they are

“misleading and biased.”111 The NRA and its supporters frequently employ

this technique: lambast academic studies for being part of the “Left’s anti-

gun agenda”112 in an attempt to negate evidence that indicates that more

guns make communities less safe.

Further compounding the challenges around academic research on gun

violence legislation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is

unable to conduct any independent, nonpartisan research on the subject.

The NRA strongly supported the passage of the Dickey Amendment, which

restricted the CDC from using any funding “to advocate or promote gun

control.”113 The amendment effectively chilled gun violence research,

creating a vacuum. As a result, of the top 30 causes of death in the United

States, gun violence is the least researched and second least funded, with

many critical research questions left unanswered.114

Whataboutism

Another tactic masterfully used by the NRA to avoid acknowledging clear

contradictions within its rhetoric is the practice of “whataboutism,” by

which it will raise tangential facts or issues to direct the discussion away

from the issue at hand. The approach—a favorite tactic of Putin’s

regime115—is often used by the NRA and its surrogates when covering issues

of gun violence prevention in order to misdirect the debate, essentially

requiring people to engage in different topics than the core issue at hand.

Recently, NRATV personalities have deployed this technique to argue

against common-sense legislation introduced in the 116th Congress to

implement a universal background check system for firearm sales. The bill

would close existing loopholes in the background check process, which

currently only requires licensed gun dealers to run a background check on

buyers before selling them a firearm. By requiring private sales of firearms—

including online sales and sales made at gun shows—to require a

background check on all buyers to ensure that they are legally allowed to

obtain a firearm before completing the sale, the legislation would prevent

prohibited people from exploiting gaps in the existing system to obtain a

firearm.116

However, instead of engaging in policy discussion, the NRA chose to pivot

the debate using lies and tangents. On his show, NRATV host Grant

Stinchfield stated that this bill would make it harder for people to get

firearms, arguing that it would “put law-abiding citizens in prison” and that

“even though federal gun registries are illegal, this bill is the first step in

creating one.”117 Stinchfield also made the following misleading statement

to divert the debate around universal background checks:

This background check bill is a vendetta against gun owners and Trump

supporters, turning patriots into criminals, stripping us of the right to

transfer our gun, possibly holding that gun hostage at a gun store if that gun

isn’t registered for who knows how long. That government overreach to

block us from exercising our constitutional right is a clear and present

danger. It is a threat to our republic disguised as gun safety, two words

which are a tip off to mean unconstitutional.118

Stinchfield’s claims are false. Nothing in the bill would criminalize law-

abiding citizens, and the bill contains explicit language barring the creation

of a gun registry.119 Moreover, the expansion of background checks does not

limit one’s ability to legally possess a firearm or to purchase a firearm; the

bill only ensures that all people purchasing a firearm are first determined to

be legally able to own a lethal weapon. Stinchfield further muddied the

debate by claiming that “the criminals, we know for a fact, will never abide

to these background checks,” effectively suggesting that gun laws do not

work because criminals, by nature, do not obey laws.120 This rhetoric has

been repeated by NRATV pundits, who claim that criminals will not submit

to background checks and, therefore, the bill would only punish law-abiding

citizens.121 This misdirection in conversation is deeply problematic, as it

ignores the reality that this law would greatly limit the ability of prohibited

individuals to easily obtain firearms to commit crimes.122 Laws exist to set

standards and norms within a civilized society with good governance

practices; the argument that people break laws is not a reason to reduce

legislation. Yet this is one of the NRA’s primary arguments against gun

legislation.

Stinchfield’s and others’ vocal opposition does not present a

counterargument to universal background checks. It is simply a distraction

from the policy debate intended to stoke the fear of losing guns and

freedom upon which the NRA’s narrative is based.

Vilification of opposition

Much like demagogues and autocrats demonize their opposition, the NRA

attacks advocates of gun violence prevention in order to justify its political

agenda. In this vein, the group and its surrogates have repeatedly painted

the opposition as traitors who seek to strip the law-abiding gun owner and

American patriot of their fundamental freedoms. This tactic serves as an

umbrella to vilify the media, government officials, and civil society members

who advocate for legislation that would reduce gun violence.

NRA pundits often criticize the media—which they refer to as the “legacy

liberal media”—for perpetuating what they deem a “gun-grabbing”

narrative. The focus on painting traditional media as a self-aggrandizing

disinformation machine is a common theme across NRA media platforms.123

Dana Loesch accused the media of enjoying gun violence tragedies as a

means to increase ratings, claiming that “many in legacy media love mass

shootings. You guys love it. I’m not saying you love the tragedy but I’m

saying you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to many in

the legacy media.”124 The NRA has repeatedly stated that the media

increases panic and misinformation around shootings, arguing that the press

coverage makes gun violence appear more prominent than it is.125

Furthermore, NRA surrogates often imply that the media is deliberately

withholding information from the public about gun violence.126 Much like

Putin’s and Duterte’s attempts to erode public trust in the media, the

ultimate goal of the NRA and its surrogates’ efforts is to make media

sanctioned by themselves appear to be the only reliable source of

information.

Members of Congress advancing gun violence prevention legislation face

regular attacks from the NRA.127 The NRA portrays these officials as gun-

grabbing traitors who seek to make Americans more vulnerable to attack.

For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-

CA), and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) are constantly attacked by NRATV

personalities. The strikes against these elected officials are not based in

policy or fact; instead, the NRA’s rhetoric is apocalyptic, using its public

platforms to portray those who oppose the group’s political agenda as

enemies of the American people. This tactic bears strong resemblance to

those used by Turkish President Erdoğan, who uses his office and control

over the state broadcaster to paint anyone who disagrees with Turkey’s

official narrative as a traitor seeking to undermine the state.

Speaker Pelosi’s leadership has been targeted repeatedly, particularly given

her strong stance on not funding a border wall. The NRA attempts to vilify

the speaker by making her appear elitist and out of touch with the struggles

of average Americans—willing to abuse her power in order to fulfill her

personal agendas, including those that would allegedly limit the rights of

gun owners.128

NRATV personalities depict Sen. Feinstein as someone who is morally

opposed to the Second Amendment and American freedoms.129 Her

repeated leadership on legislation to ban assault weapons has made her a

common target of the NRA. She has been dubbed “the queen of gun

control”130 on NRATV, with some NRATV personalities maintaining that

“assault weapons” do not exist, making Feinstein’s proposed legislation a

slippery slope toward a universal gun ban.131 Stinchfield used his show to

discuss Sen. Feinstein’s introduction of the 2019 Assault Weapons Ban,

stating that by introducing a bill that would likely not advance in the Senate

nor be signed into law by the president, the senator was “spitting in the eye

of hardworking, patriotic Americans.”132

The visibility of Sen. Murphy’s gun violence prevention advocacy efforts

increased following the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in

Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were murdered by

a shooter with an assault rifle. The NRA directly links Murphy’s efforts to

pass common-sense gun violence legislation to disarmament, which, it

claims, will make American families less safe. In response to a speech

delivered by Sen. Murphy in which he discussed the realities of gun violence

as part of a call to encourage his fellow lawmakers to pass common-sense

legislation, Stinchfield stated, “Chris Murphy and his band of loons in the

U.S. Senate and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives

want to disarm me. That could cost me and my family our lives.”133

Stinchfield presents Sen. Murphy as an enemy of gun owners, whose efforts

are only focused on complete disarmament, making it impossible for

someone to support both the senator’s call for legislation and also the right

to own a gun.

Civil society is actively engaged in the quest to end gun violence and prevent

more families from being torn apart by preventable tragedies. The NRA has

not missed the opportunity to undermine the efforts of gun violence

prevention advocacy organizations by demonizing them as “disarmament

advocates.”134 These groups are attacked for being mouthpieces for the

coastal elite who are, according to the NRA, fundamentally at odds with the

American patriot.135 The NRA seizes on Michael Bloomberg’s prominence in

the gun violence prevention movement through his affiliation with the

organization Everytown for Gun Safety.136 By linking the movement writ

large to Bloomberg, the NRA minimizes the efforts being made across the

nation at a local level to address this crisis, which is plaguing communities

on a daily basis.137 Furthermore, by linking gun violence prevention advocacy

efforts to a prominent billionaire, the NRA is able to perpetuate arguments

that the movement is disconnected from the average American—akin to the

model used by Orbán to vilify George Soros and his efforts to spread

democracy within Hungary.138

Nor is Soros free from the NRA’s criticism. Personalities on NRATV will

lambast him and Bloomberg for their alleged efforts to undermine American

freedoms. The attacks from the NRA—and from Wayne LaPierre himself—

against Soros mimic those of the populist, illiberal regime in Hungary.139 The

NRA refers to the philanthropist as a “left-wing gun-hater,” and the “field

general championing and funding liberal progressive causes that amount to

an all-out assault on our freedoms.”140

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America,

is also targeted by the NRA for her work following the tragedy at Sandy

Hook Elementary. Her organization’s partnership with Everytown incited the

NRA to amplify its claims that gun violence prevention advocacy groups are

merely pawns of Bloomberg.141

Consequences and implications of the NRA’s illiberal messaging

Strongman leaders use fearmongering rhetoric as part of an overall agenda

to gain power and retain control over a country. The National Rifle

Association uses these tactics to control the debate around gun violence and

ensure the gun industry continues to be profitable, regardless of the human

toll.

The implications of the NRA’s use of these tactics within the United States

are devastating. By creating confusion around the realities of gun violence

through misleading reporting, inaccurate academic studies, and false data,

the NRA is weakening the public’s ability to properly inform themselves

about the realities of gun violence and common-sense legislation. Public

opinion research indicates that the majority of people in the United States—

across partisan lines—support policies to reduce gun violence, such as

universal background checks for all firearm sales and assault weapons bans,

yet polling data also indicate that a majority of Americans believe gun

ownership increases personal safety.142 Multiple academic studies have

found that gun ownership elevates the risks of homicide, suicide, and

unintentional shootings.143 Americans’ confusion about guns and safety is

indicative of how deeply the NRA’s messaging has penetrated the American

public and how intractable the false narrative can be.

By perpetuating a culture of fear and divisiveness, the gun rights group is

crippling legislators and lawmakers who want to address a public health

crisis that kills more than 35,000 people a year in the United States.144 The

gun lobby has prominent political ties and has historically been able to

advance or block legislation in many states and in Congress. Many members

of Congress not only support or oppose legislation tied to the NRA’s

interests but also will repeat the organization’s talking points in hearings or

on the floors of Congress.145

The NRA and Russia

The implications of the NRA’s use of illicit messaging tactics is problematic

for the health and strength of U.S. democracy, with questions arising

following the 2016 election on the linkage between Russia and the NRA.146

For years, gun violence prevention advocates have raised concerns about

the lack of information around who donates to the organization—which is

notoriously tight-lipped about its funding streams.147 Some links between

the gun rights organization and foreign entities were exposed through the

indictment of Maria Butina in 2018, who pled guilty to conspiring to act as

an unregistered agent of Russia.148 Butina established a relationship with

members of NRA leadership, helping NRA leaders travel to Moscow, as well

as meet with prominent Republican political figures.149 Given Russia’s

desires to destabilize the United States, the connections between Butina,

Russian officials, and NRA leadership are troubling. It brings into question

whether the organization that brands itself as “freedom’s safest place”

could be associated with efforts to destabilize American democratic

principles and norms.150

Conclusion

“Americans all over this country are so sick of the lies and the sanctimonious

hypocrisy that has pushed good citizens in this country to the edge of fear,

fear for the future of their country, fear of an increasingly unstable

society.”151

– Wayne LaPierre, National Rifle Association Annual Meeting, 2018

While the strategy of the National Rifle Association has been remarkably

effective thus far, the United States has recently experienced a shift around

gun culture. In 2018, following the murder of 14 students and three staff

members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by

a shooter armed with an assault rifle, several corporations severed ties with

the gun rights organization.152 Gun violence prevention has become a

priority policy for many people in the United States, with many candidates

campaigning on gun violence prevention legislation during the 2018

midterm elections and winning their seats—including in Virginia’s 10th

congressional district, where the NRA is headquartered.153 Cracks are being

exposed in the group’s façade, and it is not responding well.

The vitriol in the group’s messaging has become so pronounced that it has

caused long-standing members of the organization to question its strategy.

Prominent members such as Marion Hammer, one of the NRA’s most

revered lobbyists, have questioned whether NRATV’s expanded messaging

and inflammatory language are actually necessary to fulfill the group’s

stated goals. Jeff Knox, NRA member and director of The Firearms Coalition,

a prominent grassroots gun rights organization, even noted that the

programming seems to be more focused on providing “red meat for the

hard right” than elevating the Second Amendment.154 The internal debates

on the value of NRATV and whether the organization needs to engage in

fearmongering and demonizing rhetoric expose the truth behind the NRA’s

messaging strategy: The goal is not to protect gun rights but to secure

power.

The NRA has established a narrative that frames the organization as the

protector of freedom while combating the passage of legislation that would

make communities safer from gun violence. Yet the group is not driven by a

desire to protect fundamental freedoms. Much like a nondemocratic leader,

its goal is centered around a desire to secure and sustain political power.

While authoritarian regimes use the demagogue’s playbook to suppress civil

liberties and political rights, the NRA’s playbook protects the gun industry

and allows the epidemic of gun violence to continue ravaging the nation.

  • https://www.americanprogress.org/article/guns-lies-fear/ Guns, Lies, and Fear
  • Exposing the NRA’s Messaging Playbook

    AUTHORS

    MEDIA CONTACT

    Tricia Woodcome

    GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS

    Peter Gordon

    Jerry Parshall

    DOWNLOAD

    IN THIS ARTICLE

    Introduction and summary

    InProgress Stay updated on our work on the most pressing issues of our time

    InProgress Stay updated on our work on the most pressing issues of our time

    Glossary of key terms

    How the NRA mutated from supporting gun safety to advocating gun rights

    Leveraging the demagogue’s playbook

    Construct a political identity

    Craft a political narrative of crisis

    Control the narrative

    Vilify, discredit, and malign the opposition

    Consequences of the playbook

    The NRA’s core messaging pillars

    How the NRA spreads and engrains its message

    Exploiting xenophobia on issues of border security

    Manipulating gender stereotypes

    How the NRA quashes opposition

    Perpetuating myths and undermining facts

    Whataboutism

    Vilification of opposition

    Consequences and implications of the NRA’s illiberal messaging

    The NRA and Russia

    Conclusion

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