NPR came to a grim realization on Monday afternoon, just around the time local lawmakers were agreeing to the nation's strongest gun control bill in Connecticut: Despite a brief spike in interest after the Sandy Hook shootings, Americans care less about gun control than ever. Sounds like a great time for the National Rifle Association to stage another PR stunt! And that's exactly what the NRA is doing on Tuesday when its "less controversial" spokesperson Asa Hutchinson will pull back the curtain on the gun lobby's grand plan to boost school security in an effort to avoid future mass shootings. (Update, Tuesday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern: You can watch live here, if you are so interested.) (Update, Tuesday, 12:37 p.m. Eastern: Here's our report on the announcement.)
Few could argue with the goal of preventing mass shootings, but the NRA's school safety approach feels like a sneaky way around real gun violence reform. Well, that's no surprise. Sneaky, or at least secretly calculated, has been the NRA's modus operandi more than ever since this national debate renewed at the end of last year. The organization stayed conspicuously silent after the Newtown shooting, only to emerge a week later, when executive vice president Wayne LaPierre alluded (at a press conference with Hutchinson, right) to video game violence and focused on school safety in a press conference that infuriated gun control advocates. Guns aren't the problem, the NRA response suggested, school safety is. Put an armed guard in every school, the NRA said. In other words, the key to fixing gun violence is more guns. Then they disappeared again.
The NRA re-emerged earlier this year when it met with Joe Biden during his series of meetings with leaders from across the nation about how to combat the country's gun violence program. The meeting did not go well. The NRA's lobbying wing released a damning statement afterwards suggesting that the Obama administration didn't care about "keeping our children safe" and blamed "law-abiding gun owners … for the acts of criminals and madmen." It even coined a new phrase, calling the administration's efforts to address gun violence "an agenda to attack the Second Amendment."
Then, appearing only a few minutes after Gabrielle Giffords, in his testimony at a Senate hearing, LaPierre tried to explain how gun control doesn't work and that the NRA doesn't support background checks, before dropping off the face of the Earth again. LaPierre appeared a couple of times publicly over the course of the next couple of months and wrote a fear-mongering response to Obama's State of the Union address that suggested crime would run rampant if Obama's gun control measures made it through Congress. There were fewer old video games, but there were hurricanes!
It's unclear exactly what happened next, but it appears the NRA went behind the scenes. While it's no secret that the organization has perfected the art of lobbying over the years, they appear to have performed an opus of sorts on Capitol Hill in the past few weeks. Not only has the Senate bill been heavily diluted, but the NRA now has lawmakers parroting its points. Evidence actually suggests that the NRA might help kill the expanded background checks portion of the bill, despite the fact that it was one of the less controversial parts just a couple of months before. "We are in better shape now than our critics and even some within our ranks believed possible when this battle started," NRA president David Keene told The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman as this chapter was coming to a close late last month. All the while, folks like Hutchinson, who is also running for Governor in Arkansas, kept returning to this idea that the Obama administration and friends have a "hidden agenda" to take away everybody's guns.
So with public opinion suddenly back on its side, the NRA will launch its next stunt — just a day before Connecticut lawmakers are expected to pass the bill they agreed on Monday, and in the days leading up to a heavily diluted "compromise" on gun violence in the Senate, if that's even going anywhere. (The Washington Post cited Senate aides Monday night saying "there has been virtually no progress.") Despite something of a preview of his task force's "risk assessment guidelines" in February (and a lot of questions on how to pay for it), it's tough to tell exactly what Hutchinson and Co. will propose in the lobby's new National School Shield Program, but we're pretty sure that plan won't involve fewer guns. Remember, the NRA thinks the answer to rise in gun violence is more guns, and that hasn't changed: "There's nothing unusual about it, but if we're going to have an armed security guard at a shopping mall, should we not have an armed security guard at a school if needed?" asked Hutchinson in his most recent local interview, adding of his committee's conclusions on schools: "We believe that they need to have the tools to make those decisions, and we believe that obviously an armed officer is the best protection."
But as Hutchinson moans about Obama's conspiracy against the Second Amendment and Mike Bloomberg's campaign against freedom (or whatever), you should also remember that there was an armed guard at Columbine back in 1999. Twelve students and one teacher died of gun shot wounds that day and an additional 21 students were injured. After the mayhem, the two gunmen shot themselves at the high school. With guns. President Obama will be Colorado later this week.