The Tell All Memo That Didn’t

The National Rifle Association posted a video an online video prior to the State of the Union regarding gun control. It claimed that a memo from the administration which proved that measures supported by President Obama to reduce gun violence, will eventually result in the federal government confiscating arms that are lawfully owned.



While the document does exist, and the video quotes directly from it, the conclusions it draws are not those that have been supported by the administration: “The ad claims that in order for our proposals to work, we would have to confiscate guns and create a national gun registry,” said an administration official. “That is simply not true.”[1]


The uncovering of an “internal” Justice Department’s memo by the NRA, according to Cox, reveals ideas that were supposedly never meant to get out, but the document is a research on gun violence and did not represent the position of the Department of Justice or the administration. In addition, the Justice Department Official told the website Talking Points Memo that the document is not an official memo nor was it used as part of the gun violence task force that created the White House plan.


The video claims the quotes cited prove that President Obama is out to create a national registry of gun owners and use the power of the federal government to confiscate firearms [2]. Thus, in this video, the NRA is framing Obama’s policy as a veiled attempt at confiscation.

Wayne LaPierra

Now that we have an understanding of the message of video – that the Obama is considering gun confiscation – let’s review the rhetorical tactics used:


–       The video features Chris Cox, the Executive Director the NRA which adds a new face to the NRA’s videos which have been led by Wayne LaPierre since the Newtown, Conn shootings. This allows the NRA to distance itself from its association with Newtown, an event that caused significant discomfort among the general population and within the NRA.





–       By revealing an “Internal” Justice Department Memo, Cox attempts to give Americans little-known insight to the administration’s workings.

–       Cox also uses rhetorical questions that he answers to define the terms and phrases found in the memo for the viewer. He

  • “Requiring gun registration?” is defined as “An illegal abuse of privacy and freedom unprecedented in our history”
  • “Mandatory Gun Buyback?” is defined as “Government confiscation of legal firearms owned by honest citizens”

–       Throughout, Cox also uses charged language to anger the viewer such as, “illegal abuse, government confiscation, honest citizen, prosecuting criminals”

–       Ends by deflecting the issue of gun control to other issues. Cox says, “Get serious about protecting our kids, prosecuting criminals, and fixing our broken mental health system.”


These tactics are used to convey that the memo, shows, without a doubt, that the administration plans to confiscate guns and create a gun registry, which is inaccurate.




In fact, the administration has repeated it’s support for the right of citizens to bear arms. In a Mayor’s meeting in Washington, Biden says, “The first foundational principle is that there is a second amendment. The president and I support the second amendment, and it comes with the right for law-abiding, responsible citizens to own guns – use it for their protection and for recreation.” [3]



Robert Spitzer, chair of the political science department at State University of New York – Cortland and the author of four books on gun policy says that the NRA was factually wrong in the video. “The ad is less hysterical and foreboding than the previous one, but is actually less factually accurate than the one about Obama’s daughters (after all, it was factually true that they have bodyguards),” he said in an email Wednesday. “So, the NRA has traded anger for factual inaccuracy.”[4]




[1] Johnson, Eliana. “DOJ Memo: Assault-Weapons Ban ‘Unlikely to Have an Impact on Gun Violence.’ “ The National Review Online. Feb 18, 2013.

[2] McMorris-Santoro, Evan. “LaPierre: They’re Coming for Our Guns No matter What they Say. Talking Points Memo.

[3] US Conference of Mayors’s Meeting. Washington DC. Via Youtube.

[4] McMorris-Santoro, Evan. “Obama Administration Hits Back at Latest NRA Video.” Talking Points Memo. Feb 13, 2013.