In the days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec. 14, executives with a half-dozen major U.S. gun manufacturers contacted the National Rifle Association. The firearm industry representatives didn’t call the NRA, which they support with millions of dollars each year, to issue directives. On the contrary, they sought guidance on how to handle the public-relations crisis, according to people familiar with the situation who agreed to interviews on the condition they remain anonymous.
While the Obama administration had reacted meekly to mass shootings in Tucson and Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook would be different. Twenty first-graders were dead. The president, a gun control supporter who previously had avoided the radioactive issue, wiped away tears when talking on television about the “beautiful little kids.” As a nation, the normally stoic president added, “We have been through this too many times.” In crass political terms, he was newly reelected and had less to lose in confronting pro-gun forces. The NRA’s leadership faced a choice: Go to the mattresses as usual, or acknowledge the special horror of Sandy Hook and offer an olive branch.