After Tucson Shootings, Sarah Palin Isn't Retreating, She's Reloading

Article excerpt

In many ways, Sarah Palin mirrors the ethos of the gun-rights movement she promotes: never back down. Criticized for her rhetoric in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, she's since posted a combative defense on Facebook and signed up to speak at a hunting and gun convention.

Say one thing for Sarah Palin: She heeds her own advice.

Coming only days after Ms. Palin was drawn into the Arizona shooting drama, news that the former Alaska governor and potential presidential aspirant will headline a gun-friendly hunting convention Jan. 29 fits her famous stump phrase: "Don't retreat, reload."

It is a philosophy that defines Palin as a political figure and also points to how closely her own public persona echoes that of the American gun culture she promotes. Just as the gun-rights community has prided itself on not backing down from any challenge but rather thriving on adversity to win broader victories, Palin has once again answered her critics with confrontation this week.

To critics, it is one of the traits that makes Palin unlikely to succeed as a presidential candidate. To backers, however, it sets her apart.

For Palin, perhaps, it was only natural to envision 20 congressional districts ripe for a tea party takeover last November as targets marked by cross hairs. The fact that one of those targets was Arizona's Eighth District, and the fact that the district's Democratic representative, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in an apparent assassination attempt Saturday, made Palin and her map a topic of debate only minutes after the shooting.

Palin acknowledged she had prayed about what happened in Tucson. But in taped remarks issued Wednesday on her Facebook account, she also lambasted her media critics for committing "blood libel" by making a "reprehensible" insinuation.

She might as well have taken a page from how the gun-rights movement has reacted to challenges against it during the past 20 years.

The gun lobby's relentless campaign

Despite mass-shooting tragedies like the one at Columbine High School in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007, for instance, the gun lobby and gun owners never paused in a concerted campaign to expand so-called "shall-carry" gun regulations, which mandate that states automatically have to approve a gun license if a person clears a background check.

In 1980, nine states had "shall-carry" laws; today, 37 do.

Moreover, Palin's use of Facebook to carve out her own narrative apart from the mainstream press is reminiscent of the strategy used by gun-rights advocates to turn the national momentum against gun control during the past two decades.

In the 1990s, gun-rights activists were among the early adopters and pioneers of blogs, online bulletin boards, and listservs, says Brian Anse Patrick, a gun-culture expert and author of "Rise of the Anti-Media." Often ignored or ridiculed mainstream journalists, gun owners - not always in lockstep with the National Rifle Association - spread news, analysis, and philosophy across the Internet, posting items like "Gun news the media didn't report today. …