The publicity onslaught against the National Rifle Association has been aggressive to say the least. Clearly someone somewhere decided that the key to winning the gun control debate was to concentrate negative sentiment on the nation’s leading 2nd Amendment advocacy group. Rallies, placards, social media and townhall talking points have gone beyond policy disagreement and tried to label the NRA a terrorist organization. What to social media data show about the effect of these efforts? In a word, ‘recruitment’. Look at the data below and you’ll see that after an initial spike in searches about the Florida shooting, after a week that search declined and searches about the NRA increased. Here’s the data:
The attention could be a delayed reaction to the shooting, and not driven by the rhetorical war against the NRA. It could be that, but it probably is not. The data below show that the initial take off in NRA searching coincided very well with the CNN Townhall event which featured the whole spectrum of counter-NRA messaging. However, not long after, interest in the CNN Townhall tailed off while NRA Membership interest continued upwards. The data also show, that it is NRA membership interest, not just generic NRA interest that followed this pattern.
In other words, as Americans saw mass media attempting to delegitimize an organization focused on defense of a key provision of the Bill of Rights, they responded by researching how to join that organization.
The data below show NRA membership persisting and even growing after interest declined in some of the key advocates of gun control who were getting heavy play in the press.
The order of magnitude of interest in the topic is rather extraordinary. The recent spike in interest in NRA membership is larger than anything which has ever appeared in the data. The only spike which even comes close occurred in 2013 in response to wide calls for gun control in response to a combination of the reelection of President Obama and an announcement of an aggressive push by the new administration to advance a wide-ranging package of gun control proposals. The theory is cross supported by the fact that the searches in regard to NRA membership correlated closely with search terms about buying a gun.
The American people are a surprisingly stubborn lot. We don’t like to be told what to do, and being suspicious by nature, we prize liberties in direct proportion to the intensity of attempts to undermine those particular liberties. This suggests that if such proposals ever broke through and showed real signs of passing gun control, that interest both NRA membership and gun purchases would likely rise dramatically.