The nation’s most powerful gun lobbying group spent much of National School Walkout Day doing what it does best: trolling.
During the day on Wednesday, students across the country walked out of their schools to protest gun violence and call for increased gun control, spurred on by last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. Holding signs with slogans like “Protect kids, not guns” and “We will not be silenced,” students from elementary through high school took to the streets in Washington, D.C. and around the country.
“If politicians are not going to make the change, then we will be changing them, and only by doing that, we will be able to get what we want,” one young man told ABC News.
In contrast, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which wields considerable power on the Hill and is criticized for obstructing meaningful progress on anti-gun violence efforts through outside lobbying, spent much of the day tweeting its own slogans and memes — at least one of which was mocking in nature.
“I’ll control my own guns, thank you,” read one post on the organization’s official Twitter account. The tweet featured a photo of an AR-15 style rifle — the kind of gun used at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — emblazoned with an American flag sticker.
The gun lobbying group also retweeted a post by Olympic double trap and skeet shooter Kim Rhode, celebrating the Scholastic Action Shooting Program, which teaches students of all ages a variety of shooting sports.
Additionally, the NRA posted a video of political lobbying executive Chris Cox shutting down the notion of tighter gun restrictions in the wake of the mass tragedies like the one in Parkland.
“All of us, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, want to live in safe communities and send our kids to safe schools,” he said. “But the question is, how do we do it? Blaming good, honest people for the acts of murderers is wrong, divisive, and not the answer. Passing new gun control laws won’t protect our kids, because criminals willing to commit murder won’t obey the law. Does that mean we just do nothing? Absolutely not. … There are meaningful steps we can take right now.”
Cox endorsed the STOP School Violence Prevention Act, which authorizes $100 million in Justice Department-administered grants per year to schools seeking training on how to identify potential threats, as well as for deterrent systems like metal detectors. It does not address the topic of gun control.
Let's work together to secure our schools and stop school violence. We protect our banks, our sports stadiums and our government buildings better than we protect our schools. That must change. #StopSchoolViolenceAct #DefendTheSecond #NRA pic.twitter.com/98dWIv0giM
— NRA (@NRA) March 14, 2018
A few NRA-affiliated staffers took a more aggressive tone, mocking the students participating in the walkout directly.
Gun control activists: We don’t want to ban guns
Also gun control activists: Ban guns pic.twitter.com/oiRoj09jqs
— Cameron Gray (@Cameron_Gray) March 14, 2018
"The Second Amendment Isn’t Meant To Protect Our Citizens"
"De-Militarize The Police"
— Cameron Gray (@Cameron_Gray) March 14, 2018
The NRA has come under heavy criticism in recent days for its knee-jerk reaction to the Parkland shooting, and to the young survivors who have since come forward to lobby for tighter gun restrictions like raising the minimum age for assault-style weapon purchases to 21 and regulating their sale.
At a CNN town hall event last month, spokeswoman Dana Loesch told the crowd that it would be unfair to ask young men and women who are “old enough to vote…old enough to drive a car…[and] old enough to serve [their] country” to wait to purchase long guns (the minimum age for handgun purchases is already set at 21). Loesch spent the remainder of the evening pinning the blame for the Parkland shooting on law enforcement, criticizing the media, and arguing that “crazy” people shouldn’t have weapons (Loesch did not specify how authorities should determine whether someone is “crazy,” and the NRA continues to oppose any effort to strengthen or expand background checks before gun purchases).
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) later that week, Loesch also claimed at that audience members — many of them survivors and victims’ family members — had threatened her life, although video footage posted on Twitter by event attendees cast doubt on that claim.
The NRA itself has thrown its full power into the gun debate in Washington in recent weeks, demanding face time with President Trump several times.
Those efforts have apparently paid off: after the Parkland shooting, Trump, who claimed that the NRA has “less power over [him]” than it does over Congress, stated that he would like to see age limits raised for long gun purchases, something supported by both gun owners and gun control activists alike. Following meetings with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and executive Cox, however, Trump changed his tone, stating that there was “not much political support” for the idea.
“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly),” he tweeted.
Recent surveys have revealed broad support for the idea among the public: a Rasmussen poll published on March 6 found that approximately 67 percent of American adults are in favor of increasing the age limit from 18 to 21, with only 26 percent opposed. A Politico/Morning Consult poll published on February 28 yielded an even clearer consensus, with 82 percent of respondents in favor of raising the minimum age for purchasing an assault-style weapon to 21.