Secret NRA Tapes in Wake of Columbine Show Decision to Attack Critics for "Politicizing" Mass ShootingsBreaking News
tags: Second Amendment, guns, NRA, school shootings, Gun Violence, Columbine, National Rifle Association
Soon after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, senior leaders of the National Rifle Association huddled on a conference call to consider canceling their annual convention, scheduled just days later and a few miles away.
Thirteen people lay dead at a high school in Colorado. More than 20 were injured. Images of students running from the school were looped on TV. The NRA strategists on the call sounded shaken and panicked as they pondered their next step into what would become an era of routine and horrific mass school shootings.
And in those private moments, the NRA considered a strikingly more sympathetic posture toward mass shootings than the uncompromising stance it has taken publicly in the decades since, even considering a $1 million fund to care for the victims.
NPR has obtained more than 2 1/2 hours of recordings of those private meetings after the Columbine shooting, which offer unique insight into the NRA's deliberations in the wake of this crisis — and how it has struggled to develop what has become its standard response to school shootings ever since.
"Everything we do here has a downside," NRA official Kayne Robinson says on the tapes. "Don't anybody kid yourself about this great macho thing of going down there and showing our chest and showing how damn tough we are. ... We are in deep s*** on this deal. ... And so anything we do here is going to be a matter of trying to decide the best of a whole bunch of very, very bad choices."
The tapes of the NRA discussions were recorded secretly by a participant and shared on the condition that the participant's name not be divulged. NPR has taken steps to verify the tapes' authenticity, including by confirming the identities of those speaking on the tapes with two sources and comparing the voices on the calls with publicly available audio.
In addition to mapping out their national strategy, NRA leaders can also be heard describing the organization's more activist members in surprisingly harsh terms, deriding them as "hillbillies" and "fruitcakes" who might go off script after Columbine and embarrass them.