How the NRA’s ad agency turned guns into a symbol of American freedom

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A growing list of American businesses are severing ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA). But among its partners, arguably the most valuable is still by their side: Oklahoma-based Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s longterm advertising and PR agency. For decades, this firm has honed the pro-gun narrative, establishing gun rights as a core value for conservative voters and as a pillar of America’s identity.

Ackerman McQueen has held the NRA account for over 30 years. The agency explains its strategy for promoting the powerful gun lobby’s missionon its website:

Today, our leading voice for motivation comes from a shoe brand. Independence is owned by a computer company. Extreme adventure is presented by an energy drink. Freedom is the territory of a gun rights organization.

To create a place for the NRA within the country’s decades-long national debate over mass shootings and gun violence, Ackerman McQueen helped transform it into a “news” organization. Creating its own content would give the advocacy group unlimited opportunities to insist that gun control was a question of freedom, more than safety. It would also help the NRA evade legal restrictions on political advertising.

Since 1999, years ahead the creation of YouTube, Ackerman McQueen adopted a strategy of opening dedicated media channels for its clients, first for its Williams Energy account (a natural gas company), and then for the NRA in 2004, opening NRA News. Brand-focused media channels were met with skepticism, according to the agency:
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