Leadership

After Sandy Hook, Why a Newtown-Based Gun Group Stayed There

By / Nov 26, 2013 NSSF's president and CEO, Steve Sanetti, speaking at a Project ChildSafe event in June. (photo via NSSF's Flickr page)

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has called Newtown, Connecticut, home for two decades, says it considered moving its headquarters after last year’s school shooting, but staff members urged the leadership to stay in town. Here’s why.

The gun control debate hadn’t had a flash point quite like Newtown before.

More than two dozen people—20 of them children—died in the shooting at the Connecticut town’s Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. Based on a new report on the incident released Monday, investigators still aren’t sure of gunman Adam Lanza’s motive.

We have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. We didn’t do this. We’ve been fighting this sort of thing. Stay the course.

It’s been nearly a year since the shooting, and during that time the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) found itself at the center of the ensuing national debate and soul-searching about guns. The group, which focuses on hunting sports, safety issues, and gun owner rights, has been based in Newtown for the past two decades. According to a recent Associated Press report, NSSF seriously considered a move in the wake of the shooting, but after much internal debate, it stayed put. Here’s why:

Why Newtown? Many don’t associate the Northeast with gun culture, but NSSF President and CEO Steve Sanetti says the association’s headquarters are located near a traditional gun industry manufacturing base, including brand-name manufacturers such as Colt. (Some, such as assault rifle maker PRT Industries, decided to leave the state once tighter gun restrictions were instituted after the shooting.) Nothing could have prepared NSSF for what happened on December 14. “It’s just horrible,” Sanetti told the AP. “The idea that it would happen anywhere, let alone in the same town where we’ve been for 20 years, is incredible.”

Why they stayed: After the shooting at Sandy Hook, Sanetti and other association leaders considered whether having the town’s name associated with the organization would affect its mission. They talked to the association’s nearly 50 staff members about the possibility of leaving Newtown. Their response surprised him: “We had to consider whether a move was appropriate,” he told the AP. “But I polled all the employees here and, to a person, it was like, ‘Don’t move. We like it here. We’re part of the community. We have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. We didn’t do this. We’ve been fighting this sort of thing. Stay the course.’”

A measured approach: At the time of the shooting, NSSF took great care to remain officially silent. The staff were members of the community, and there were personal factors at play. “Being here in the community, we just didn’t think it was appropriate, frankly. It was respectful silence,” Sanetti said. “It was horrible in town here. The funerals going by and everything. It was, let’s just stay out of the way.” The association’s media outlets were quiet for more than a month after the shooting; once active again, the association used them to offer measured support for gun-safety policy initiatives that arose as a result of the incident. In one of its first public statements, dated January 16, the association came out in favor of expanded background checks for gun buyers.

NSSF since has worked to further promote its own gun-safety endeavors, such as its Project ChildSafe campaign.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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