- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2014

The National Rifle Association has unleashed a multimillion-dollar TV advertising campaign that its longtime leader says is aimed at messaging beyond gun rights and reaching middle-class mothers, minorities and other Americans “who believe our country is off the rails.”

The gun lobby’s campaign, launched in the last 10 days, uncharacteristically delves into issues far beyond the Second Amendment to explore the IRS scandal, media elitism and security vulnerabilities, with a call to return “good guys” to power.

“This campaign is a gathering of shared values that gives a sense of right and wrong,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told The Washington Times in an interview. The collection of issues the ads confront are representative of the conversations Mr. LaPierre said he has had throughout the country with NRA members and concerned citizens.

In Mr. LaPierre’s 36-year career as a policy activist, he feels the American public has never been more worried about this country’s future.

“They’re worried the character of the country is at risk. It’s all collapsing,” Mr. LaPierre said. “They care about their Second Amendment freedoms but understand that all freedoms are connected.”

The first ad in a 16-ad series lays out a simple question to the American public: “Do you still believe in the good guys?”

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It continues: “It takes courage to be free — a special kind of backbone to reject the world that surrounds you, to sign your name where everyone can see it, to believe that there is always a right choice and an honest consequence,” three narrators — an African-American man, a white man and a woman, who are all NRA members — explain.

“That’s what it means to believe in America,” the narration continues. “It’s time to believe in the good guys again. We are the 5 million men and women of the National Rifle Association of America,” the ad concludes, much like the others in the series. “Join us today.”

The campaign has been rolled out nationally in a seven-figure cable buy preceding this year’s congressional elections. Mr. LaPierre wouldn’t give the funding specifics but said it has been so well received he aims to air the series in every state. The NRA started televising the series Aug. 25.

“It’s been 90 percent positive,” Mr. LaPierre said. “We’ve received emails, letters, voicemails, all from people saying thank you, thank you for speaking up and giving us a voice.”

Those voices extend beyond the gun lobby’s traditional issues to energize the populace. The campaign targets moms and dads, teachers and coaches, who may or may not own a firearm but do share what the association considers to be universal values and concerns. Not one of the 16 ads mentions a firearm or references gun policy.

“We put it together to defend the comprehensive freedoms, values and heritage this country was founded on and are worth holding onto,” Mr. LaPierre explained. “If you listen to the American public, there’s a sense of vulnerability they see for the country — that no one is fighting back and that our freedoms are being diminished.”

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The campaign series takes on the IRS tax scandal, the National Security Agency’s intelligence-gathering revelations and questions political cronyism and the elite media.

“What kind of a country turns its tax collectors into secret police?” one NRA ad asks, concluding with: “Speak out. No government agency has the right to attack its citizens with fear.”

Another leads with the NSA’s spying charges by questioning: “What kind of government spies on its own people?” The ad wraps up with: “The right to a private life is one of freedom’s greatest blessings. That’s what the good guys believe.”

The campaign also calls out lawmakers for what it views as selective law enforcement, with a narrator asking in one ad: “We say we’re a nation of laws, not a nation of men, but do you still believe it? Too often the law doesn’t seem written honestly and enforced fairly, and we watch lawmakers escape their own rules with loopholes and vague language.”

In addition to politics, the NRA is taking on American pop culture, describing how many celebrities are put on pedestals by America’s youth, whereas an honest day’s work in a blue-collar field is often overlooked and underestimated.

“Our most valued citizens are entertainers,” a woman narrator laments in another ad. “School kids can name a hundred of them for every philanthropist, small business owner or soldier a thousand for every average parent on an assembly line or construction site.

“But there are still hundreds of millions of Americans working as hard as ever. Good guys who don’t seek the spotlight but deserve it. And for the future of our country, we should demand it,” the woman concludes.

The campaign is aimed to speak to the so-called silent majority, an unspecified large majority of people who may be afraid to express their opinions publicly for fear of condemnation or political correctness.

“Do you still believe in speaking your mind?” the narrator in one ad questions. “Because those who do are growing fewer and fewer, while too many people act as if disagreement means disrespect.”

• Kelly Riddell can be reached at kriddell@washingtontimes.com.

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