If, as the old newsroom truism holds, it takes three to make a trend, then the National Rifle Association's much talked-about video, which juxtaposes a mention of President Barack Obama's daughters against a backdrop of menacing images of high-powered guns and people toting them, appears to be the latest manifestation of a bizarre new way that the gun lobby is choosing to engage its critics: by targeting their children.
School-age progeny of America's first families have generally been verboten topics in press coverage or political debate because of their age, vulnerability and the fact that — unlike their parents — they had no choice about being in the public eye. In bringing the Obama girls into the gun debate, the NRA appears to be adopting a tactic pioneered by more fringe elements of the gun rights movement.
The most recent example came in suburban New York, where threats to reporters and editors of the Journal News included the online posting of information about where their children attend school following the newspaper's publication of a map that allowed readers to locate gunowners by address.
But a similar effort to intimidate cropped up last summer, when Raleigh, N.C. television station WRAL published a similar map of concealed carry permit holders. According to a story in the Raleigh News & Observer, that prompted a local gun rights group to launch a campaign against the reporter who compiled the map, including posting photos of the reporter's spouse and children online.
It's not clear whether the NRA's video, released a day ahead of new policy proposals from the Obama administration intended to rein in gun violence, is intended for broadcast. So far it has not shown up on Political Ad Sleuth, a Sunlight tracker that captures political advertising in major television markets. Sunlight has called the NRA for comment on the ad and will update this post if we receive more information.
Gun rights groups already have a huge money advantage in the policy arena, as Influence Explorer data on the NRA's budget for lobbying and campaign contributions amply demonstrates.