Wayne LaPierre was MIA from the National Rifle Association's press conference Tuesday offering what it calls "common ground" proposals to stop gun violence in schools. Instead, there was the moderate-sounding former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who did not offer any conspiracy theories about the government's plan to take all the guns, but instead humbly suggested that putting trained armed guards in schools was an important "element" in a wider plan to take on this troubling social problem. Unlike in LaPierre's spectacular press events, Hutchinson took questions from the press, making him look less defensive. The NRA's program has the pleasant name National School Shield. Mark Mattioli, the father of a boy killed at Sandy Hook, spoke briefly, and called for politics "to be sort of set aside here," without "name-calling." With major gun control legislation blocked, the NRA can shift from looking like a hardline lobby to embodying a reasonable compromiser whose compromise position just so happens to involve proposing nothing that in any way limits gun ownership.
Tuesday's event, of course, was not the NRA's first attempt to look more moderate of late. It's merely the latest in a wave of outward niceness to arise from its ocean of undulating strategy since Newtown. Earlier this month, NRA News posted a video introducing its new commentators — cool hip youth talking about how the media gets the AR-15 all wrong. Instead of the old southern white guys we usually associate with the NRA, there's a blonde lady, a black guy, and a white guy who's a former Navy SEAL. There is a slow-motion high-five. In another video, commentator Colion Noir talks about how the media isn't objective. It's Cool Youth vs. the Man: "We're not idiots, we're not stupid!" he says of the media's anti-gun "propaganda." That goes for politicians, too: "Obama didn't kill Osama bin Laden — Navy SEALs with guns did!"
Hutchinson, too, tried to sound like he was offering just good common horse sense. He said an armed guard — a "school resource officer" — "in every school building is important. Right now you have an SRO in every third building. I would say that is insufficient. Generally there should be at least one in every school campus to reduce the response time." The NRA report is meant to look like carefully thought out policy — it features annotated pictures showing vulnerable entry points in schools (left), calls for perimeter fences — and not a lobbying document that lacks any concrete proposals to make its ideas happen. But that's what it is. With its legislative victories all but secured, the NRA is moving on to repairing its image.