The Right to Reason

with Robert Stanley

NRA Propaganda Methods

Propaganda Campaign Analysis

NRA Advertisements: 1920’s to Present

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (2nd Amendment to the Constitution of United States of America 1789)

According to Jowett and O’Donnell, propaganda is defined as “the deliberate, systematic, attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.” (Jowett, O’Donnell, 2019) Recently the National Rifle Association has started a video hub named NRATV.  Its bellicose videos are spreading quickly throughout social media.  Gun rights counterpropaganda is prevalent in modern media as well with messages that attempt to refute the implications made by the NRA.  Left-leaning streaming sources have been removing some pro-gun vlogs and many right-wing subscribers claim social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter appear to promote memes and posts that are anti-gun more often than those that are pro-gun.  Main-stream news outlets such as MSNBC and CNN often promote negative journalism concerning gun ownership.

Founded in 1871, the NRA is a non-profit organization that advocates for gun rights.  The association began its political influence in 1975 by lobbying through a PAC’s named “The Political Victory Fund” and “The Institute for Legislative Action” and is now one of the top three most influential lobbying groups in Washington D.C.  Initially, the NRA supported gun regulations: it backed the National Firearms act of 1934, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, and the Gun Control Act of 1968.  In fact, the NRA President in 1934 (Karl Frederik), during congressional NFA hearings testified "I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. ... I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” (Zaid, 2015) The goals of the NRA changed during the Carter administration when the NRA supported Ronald Regan’s presidential campaign.  The NRA has come under recent criticisms in the media because of current investigations by the FBI that resulted in indictments of Russian agents on charges of developing and exploiting ties with the NRA to influence US politics.  Maria Butina was arrested on July 15, 2018 and charged with conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation and funneling money from the Central Bank of Russia, through the NRA, and to the 2016 Trump Campaign.  The NRA has acknowledged it had accepted contributions from 23 Russian nationals since 2015

The ideology of the NRA campaign over the years has transitioned from integration propaganda to agitation propaganda.  The target audiences are conservative males which are old enough to join and donate to the organization.  Its techniques are the repeated use of unifying slogans such as “we the people” and emotional arousal techniques like these questioned asked in pro-concealed carry ads from the 1980’s: “What does a convenience store clerk think before he is attacked?” and “Should you shoot a rapist before he cuts your throat?”  It uses specific techniques to maximize the campaigns effect such as targeting the predisposition of the audience as in a 1920’s ad asking, “Do you belong to a rifle club?” beside a cartoon of smiling men which offers a sense of comradery and the benefit of being part of a group of like-minded peers.

Source credibility is also a useful tool of propaganda.  In the next two examples, we’ll see the value of utilizing the image of the hero to promote an agenda.  In a 2017 NRA advertisement, a marine veteran says, “I didn’t hold dying Marines in my arms, defending freedom, so that corrupt politicians could disgrace their heroic sacrifice.”  In another ad that immediately followed a tragic shooting event that took the lives of 27 people, Stephen Wilford, the hero that shot the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooter, is introduced with the description “NRA Member” and tells the audience, “He had an AR-15 and so did I… It’s not the gun, it’s the heart.”  We see the tactic presented of utilizing the influential power of opinion leaders to promote the message as well.  In a 1950’s NRA Safety Comic Book (clearly directed at children) a Catholic Priest offers condolences for the accidental firing of a weapon that injured a boy and then encourages the mother to buy the boy a gun and have an instructor of the NRA over to teach him how to use it.  Appealing to group norms and traditions is helpful for propaganda as well.  For example, in a 1982 magazine ad, the NRA uses the image of an 8-year-old boy wearing a Christmas sweater.  He is accompanied by the slogan, “I’m the NRA.”  Once again in 1986, the NRA released a commercial targeting the traditional American sentiment by showing a carpenter using classical tools to create a rifle butt while the American Flag waves in the background. In a 1920’s Remington NRA ad that was placed in The Boy Scouts of America “Boy’s Life” magazine we see the image of a boy and his father and the message, “Your Dad Will Help You,” providing the young reader with the sense of the reward of getting the opportunity to spend time with his father. 

Verbal symbolization can create fear while simultaneously inspiring action.  In one 2017 NRA ad Dana Loesch uses triggering language by saying that liberals “assassinate real news,” your schools are telling your children that “your President is another Hitler,” “they” (liberals) are “bullying and terrorizing the law-abiding [citizens],” and concludes with the statement “fight this violence of lies with the clinched fist of truth” while violent images of ANTIFA riots flash on the screen.  This conflates the citizens that may disagree with the viewer about gun regulation with violent mobs coming for their 2nd Amendment rights.  In another recent ad she attacks any media that negatively reports mass shootings.  She utilizes the arousal of emotions method combined with hyperbolic language and aggressive metaphors when she utters phrases such as “democrat overlords,” consider this the shot across your proverbial bow,” “we’re going to laser-focus on your so-called honest pursuit of truth,” and finishes by saying, “In short, we’re coming for you.”  The most recent of these NRATV video releases shows a man using a sledge hammer to smash a television playing anti-gun media.  His shirt reads, “Socialist Fear.”  In the NRA Hunting channel, you hear pulsating, dark music accompanied by a dramatic narrator who says, “Death is an undeniable fuel of life.”  NRATV has recently started targeting women with their campaign.  It promotes a woman’s channel named “NRA Women” that airs shows such as “Armed & Fabulous” and “Love at First Shot.”  The channel’s executive producer said that her marketing tactic was, “If you get the woman, you get the family.” 

Since the Parkland shooting of February 14, 2018, where a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing seventeen students and staff members and injuring seventeen others, the following companies have cut revenue ties with the NRA: Avis, Delta, SimpliSafe, United, Allied, First National Banks, Paramount, TRUE Car, Budget, Hertz, MetLife, Lockton, Starkey, National, Symantec, north American, and Alamo.  Apple, Amazon, and Roku continue to offer streaming services to NRATV.



Jilani, Zaid. (2015) "For Most of Its History, The NRA Actually Backed Sensible Gun Regulation". McGregor, New York, NY.

Jowett, Garth S., O’Donnell, Victoria (2019). “Propaganda & Persuasion,” 7th Edition, Sage Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA.

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