How the NRA Used Alternative Media to Save the Second Amendment

— Published with Permission of —

This is excerpt No. 31 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

The National Rifle Association is one of the most successful lobbies in the United States. And it is rather unique among lobbies in that it does not seek to help the elites and private interests prevail over the individual citizen. Rather, it protects the public interest—your rights under the Constitution—by defending the Second Amendment from the gun-grabbers and gun-controllers.

This is a conservative success story, and an alternative media success story. We interviewed their executive director to demonstrate what can be accomplished with determination and the right tools.

How the NRA Became Successful 

Gun control has become a political “third rail” for the Democrats – an issue that can kill them at the polls. It did that to Al Gore in 2000, when the presidential candidate said he wanted to license all new handguns bought by Americans. Pretty much everyone, including most Democrats, agrees that the resulting gun-owner revolt cost the Democrats Tennessee (Gore’s home state), Arkansas (former president Clinton’s home state), and West Virginia – more than enough to lose the election for Gore. No need to blame Ralph Nader and dangling chads.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the Big Bertha in the pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment lobby. To learn how they accomplished their success with this vital issue, we interviewed the NRA’s hard-driving executive director, Wayne LaPierre:

The NRA’s biggest problem is the bias of the big media conglomerates. There’s no doubt about that. They are the single most dominant political player in our political system today, and they spew out misleading and false propaganda on the gun issue and on the NRA in general. To get around that, the NRA has been one of the pioneers in using every new and alternative media technology out there.

In states like Tennessee, Arkansas, and West Virginia, gun ownership runs 60, 70, 80 percent. And the polls showed that up to 50 percent of union households that had a gun in it voted for President Bush as opposed to Al Gore based on the gun issue. But in order to create that level of activism, you’ve got to get the word out past the filter of ABC, NBC, and CBS. You have to go directly to the people.

Here’s how they did it.

Paid-for TV news documentaries

“Starting in 1999,” LaPierre told us, we put half-hour news documentaries on the air wherever we could buy time. They were moderated by Ginny Simone, our former NBC news anchor out of Albuquerque and Colorado Springs. Our own journalists, on the spot, reported on the gun ban in England, the gun ban in Australia, the gun ban in Canada, misleading Clinton propaganda.

Where on NBC, ABC, and CBS did you hear how the politicians in Great Britain broke their promise when they said, “If you register your guns we’ll never ban them”? That’s a big story – a huge story. Or how, since that gun ban, there’s been a 50 percent increase in gun crime on the streets of London. Yet somehow the so-called mainstream media didn’t see fit to report that at all.

The only way we can get this news out is to buy time and put it in our own news documentaries. And we spent $25 million on these half-hour documentaries, going straight to the American people. I don’t know of any other organization that has bought $25 million in airtime like this. And I believe that was one of the major factors in the election.

Confrontational TV spots

The Clinton administration was using all of the major media conglomerates against us. They basically ran the “Million Mom March” out of the White House, with the willing collaboration of the major media.

We had to buy airtime to present our side against the Clinton administration. Charlton Heston would go on and say, “Mr. Clinton, when you know it’s not the truth, it’s a lie” – about whether he was prosecuting violent criminals or not, and whether he was using this issue politically. And President Clinton – remember? – ran down to the Rose Garden and badmouthed me, shaking his finger and everything else. That was when the debate was joined, and the American public got a fair debate between the NRA and the Clinton administration. But that debate would not have happened without the NRA buying media time.

Talk radio

I would spend entire days totally committed to talk radio all over the country, ranging from small towns to big cities, local and syndicated. We did hundreds of talk radio shows; in fact, some days I would do 25 shows, starting at 5:00 in the morning and running through 10 o’clock at night. It was just back to back. Media consultants Craig Shirley and Diana Banister spent weeks doing nothing but lining up talk radio for us – because it reaches people.

Reaching NASCAR dads – and moms 

NRA Sports is one of the organization’s newer vehicles for bypassing the mainstream media and carrying the organization’s message directly to the American people. “NASCAR Nation is NRA Nation,” LaPierre proclaims. “This is a way for us to get around the negativity of NBC, ABC, and CBS as we race to meet our next goal of 5 million members. With 5 million members, we’ll have the political firepower we need to win the elections and keep your freedoms safe and secure.”

Through the NRA’s arrangement with Speedway Motorsports, Inc., LaPierre says, “every time America’s 70 million racing fans flip on the TV to watch Winston Cup races, we’ll be there with the drivers, in the pits, on racetrack billboards, in programs, at hospitality suites, and on the PA system. Most important, NRA will be heard on the Performance Racing Network’s 765-plus affiliate stations with more than 300 features for almost 230,000 minutes. That’s the equivalent of 3,800 hours – or 159 days – on the air!”

Guns, crime, and freedom

“The other thing we did,” says LaPierre, “is to put out a book. When I wrote Guns, Crime and Freedom in 1994, that was seen as another way to bypass the major media.”

Initially, the only major bookstore chain that would even touch our book was Crown. So we went to some independent bookstores with the publisher, Regnery – and Regnery was great on this – and said, “Look, Wayne will come out there to do a book signing. Will you take several hundred copies of his book if he comes out?” And we went to Nickelby’s in Columbus, Ohio; then to the Tattered Cover in Denver. Well, suddenly, there were 600 people lined up in the streets of Denver to buy that book, 400 at Nickelby’s. Then we got Barnes & Noble to do it in a couple of their mall stores, and you would have 400 or 500 people lined up all the way down the mall. Well, you don’t have to do that too many times before you’ve got Books-a-Million, Walden, all of them on the phone saying “Give me that gun book!” Because ultimately those stores were making their entire month’s rent on one night – by selling that book. And it got on the New York Times best-seller list without a single national TV interview. Once again, we bypassed the filter of the major media, going straight to the people.

“How did those hundreds of people in line learn you were going to be there?” we asked. LaPierre responded,

They learned through publicity generated by press releases from our people and from our consultants, Craig Shirley and Diana Banister. And we let our members in each area know through our magazines and special mailings to them.

Mobilizing the Second Amendment militia

Ten years ago the membership of the NRA was about 2.4 million. Under Wayne LaPierre’s aggressive leadership it has grown to more than 4 million [Note: 6 million by 2018]. Ask him how they did it, and you get a typical LaPierre response:

I think the NRA proves that if you plant your flag and fight on principle, people will follow you. You don’t have to “go along.” You don’t have to compromise. We knew where the American public was – they were with us! – so we used every communication technique out there to reach the public. When we could get the mainstream media, we did it; when we could use alternative media, we did it; when we had to bypass the mass media, we did it.

Of course, there’s nothing like a good enemy to energize your troops, and President Clinton was perfect for that position. Rush Limbaugh, in an extensive interview with Wayne LaPierre in July 2002 (reprinted in LaPierre’s new book, Guns, Freedom, and Terrorism), asked:

I spoke to you soon after the so-called “Million Mom March” in the spring of 2000. At that time you said that you had gained over a million members in the previous 12 months, and you were the fastest growing association in the country at that time. Now we’ve got a Republican in the White House, and with that I think the threat to the Second Amendment is perceived, anyway, to be lessened. Has your membership growth kept up or has it slowed down a bit now with a Republican in power?

LaPierre replied:

Our membership is hanging right around 4 million members. I consider that a tremendous accomplishment. I was worried about a big drop-off because of apathy. I thank people all over the country for realizing it’s important to remain vigilant. Meanwhile, the last Million Mom March missed the mark by about 999,800 marchers. They’ve laid off 30 of their 35 employees. But the NRA is thriving because ultimately people in this country believe they have a right to own a firearm.

An army of 4.3 million concerned citizens is impressive in itself, but that figure represents only the core of the NRA universe – the people who pay individual membership dues to the NRA. The NRA offers only individual memberships, but it is also affiliated with some 30,000 clubs. Many people consider themselves to be “NRA” because they’re active with one of those clubs or because they join in activities with their buddies who are NRA members. “Some 28 million people tell the pollsters they’re affiliated with the NRA in some way,” LaPierre told us. “I mean, that’s a huge base! It’s as large as the Democratic Party or Republican Party in terms of sheer numbers that say they’re affiliated in some way.”

To reach this huge membership and keep it engaged and active, the NRA uses every tool it can think of. We asked: “How many pieces of direct mail will an average NRA member receive in the course of a year?”

LaPierre’s reply: “Probably 55 to 60 – fax alerts on legislative issues, membership mailings, marketing solicitations, legislative updates, the magazines … all of that.”

Multiply those 55 to 60 pieces of direct mail by 4,300,000 members and you have somewhere in the range of 236 million to 258 million mailings to members in a year’s time.

“Our own magazines are probably as large as Time or Newsweek,” LaPierre told us. “I don’t know whether they have 3 million circulation, but we pump out about 3.5 million magazines each month. And they’re news magazines, as legitimate as Time or Newsweek. In fact, I think they’re more legitimate because they tell the truth.”

(We checked the numbers. Time has a circulation of about 4.1 million. But the NRA’s magazine circulation is higher than those of Newsweek, Playboy, Prevention, Sports Illustrated, or Cosmopolitan. And the NRA magazines operate entirely under the radar of the Washington-New York media establishment.)

“We’re pumping out the truth on the gun issue every day,” LaPierre continued, “over the Internet, through fax alerts, through our own Web site newscasts. NRA Live is our Webcast, and it gets between 50,000 and 125,000 hits a day.”

We asked: “How much time do you spend personally on something related to alternative media?”

His reply: “At least 35, 40 percent of my time is spent coordinating all of that. I mean, these days you’re dead if you’re running an organization and you can’t communicate. You’re going to be overrun, swamped, and defeated. A big challenge to an organization like the NRA is to keep out there, keep on the cutting edge, and keep the message out there in front of people.”

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