National Rifle Association senior leaders considered creating a $1 million fund for victims of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, NPR reported Tuesday.
The NPR report was based on more than 2½ hours of phone calls recorded secretly by a participant and shared on the condition the participant's name not be divulged.
NPR said it had taken steps to verify the tapes' authenticity, including by confirming the identities of those speaking on the tapes with two sources and comparing the voices on the calls with publicly available audio.
The Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, left 13 people dead and more than 20 injured.
The recordings offered insight into how the NRA has struggled to develop what has become its standard response to school shootings since Columbine.
NPR said the group's overall tone on the call notably was more sympathetic than its public stances regarding mass shootings.
"Everything we do here has a downside," NRA official Kayne Robinson, who would later become president of the group, said in the 1999 meeting, per NPR.
"Is there something concrete that we can offer? Not because guns are responsible, but because we care about these people?" Robinson asked.
"Like a victims fund," PR consultant Tony Makris responded.
Robinson then questioned if giving "the victims a million dollars or something like that" would "look bad."
"Well, I mean, that can be twisted too. I mean, why ... why are you giving money? You feel responsible?” Makris said.
The NRA's leaders also described some of their more activist members as "hillbillies" and "fruitcakes" and feared they would embarrass the organization in the wake of Columbine.
The organization's annual convention had been scheduled for Denver shortly after the Columbine shooting. Leaders considered canceling the event.
Ultimately, it was decided canceling the convention would deny the NRA a platform to respond to criticism.
"Everything we do here has a downside," Robinson says on the tapes. "Don't anybody kid yourself about this great macho thing of going down there and showing our chest and showing how damn tough we are. ... We are in deep s**t on this deal. ... And so anything we do here is going to be a matter of trying to decide the best of a whole bunch of very, very bad choices."
A current NRA spokesperson told NPR that it was "disappointing that anyone would promote an editorial agenda against the NRA by using shadowy sources and 'mystery tapes' in order to conjure up the tragic events of over 20 years ago."
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