A rifle in one hand, a laptop in the other. Behind the scene with pro-gun bloggers
"Cowboy Blob" and other online commentators fill the press box at the National Rifle Association convention.
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“If I can help make gun owners safer and more informed, I feel like I’ve done my job and contributed something to society,” says the 20-something Philadelphia computer programmer.Skip to next paragraph
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Critics are troubled. They say the NRA is pushing to supplant traditional media with their own Internet TV network and industry blogs, fueling what they say is an increasingly under-informed and misinformed public that reacts within an echo chamber. Some pro-gun blogging networks, like the online-only Examiner, are even getting traction on Google News, which has increasingly become the nation’s digital Page One.
Mr. Sugarmann points to the NRA’s efforts at anti-media, such as NRAtv, an Internet station.
“This is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen,” he says. “It claims that it’s replacing mainstream media and that this is all the news you need. I think it’s a very clear recognition on the part of the NRA that this works with their supporters, they want to be told what they want to hear. You wouldn’t think it would work, but I think it does.”
NRA board of directors member Tim Pawol says the NRA appreciates the role of the gun-bloggers, saying they can tackle especially local issues that the NRA doesn’t have the resources to focus on. But some say the bloggers are even more influential than that, often pulling the NRA into fights or stances -- not the other way around.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon in a political science sense,” says Dave Kopel, research director at the conservative Independence Institute in Golden, Colo. “You wouldn’t know it from reading the New York Times, but the communicative message of the pro-gun side is not nearly as much something that is under NRA control as it used to be.”
The NRA’s early hands-off stance on the Supreme Court’s Heller case, which last year affirmed the right of citizens to protect themselves with firearms, infuriated Kevin Baker, the proprietor of “The Smallest Minority blog”, a story he has detailed at length.
“They wanted to derail it because they were scared it would fail,” says Mr. Baker.
Mr. Flyzik has criticized the NRA for its stance against a partial concealed carry law in a Midwestern state. “Better to get the camel’s nose under the tent flap,” he says. “Yes, I want to show the NRA in the best light I can, but I’m not swallowing the hook.”
The Phoenix blog bash may be all about the Second Amendment, but the First Amendment figures just as much into their growing firepower, says Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville.
“We’re beginning to see bloggers gain credentials to cover federal trials, and we’re beginning to see bloggers seated in media areas so they can cover public meetings and hearings,” says Mr. Policinski. “Of course, many of the blogs are coming from a specific point of view rather than a mantle of objectivity … but there’s no requirement in the First Amendment to be objective. [In essence], we’ve gone from the village green to the village screen, and I think you’re seeing that phenomenon at the NRA.”