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NRA, gun control advocates claim orange as symbol

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NRA, gun control advocates claim orange as symbol

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Erik McGregor Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images file
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The duel began at dawn on social media.

In the early morning hours of Friday, a day when gun control advocates donned orange to honor victims and survivors of gun violence, the National Rifle Association attempted to stake claim to the color.

National Gun Violence Awareness Day, now in its fourth year, has become an annual call to action on June 1 meant to draw attention to shooting victims by wearing orange — a color traditionally used to evoke safety. The #WearOrange movement was originally started by friends of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed in Chicago in 2013.

However, the day that meant something much different to the NRA: a chance to fire back in the battle for public opinion.

"NRA SOCIAL GOING ORANGE: While Everytown for Gun Safety has devoted close to no resources to making citizens safer, the NRA continues to be the world's leading gun safety organization since 1871," the group tweeted early Friday.

The tweet came with a call to arms for its members to post pictures of themselves in orange hunting vests in response to the cascade of #WearOrange photos from the other side.

"The NRA is so tone-deaf after all the mass shootings that we have had in recent months that to not only ignore this day, but to actually try to exploit it, is beyond the pale," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, the grass-roots arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, told NBC News.

"They have attempted and failed to co-opt a day to honor gun violence victims and survivors and talk about our nation's gun crisis in a non-polarizing way."

But a spokeswoman for the NRA told NBC News that her organization and its six million members take exception to the attempts by advocates like Watts to "hijack" blaze orange — a hue used by hunters in safety vests for far longer than four years.

"For their side, this is a PR stunt, but for the NRA and its law-abiding members, gun safety and training is something we take seriously," said the spokeswoman.

The jockeying for position on social media mirrored a larger "culture war," in the words of Watts, over whether the personal liberties of gun owners guaranteed by the Second Amendment trumps a national crisis in which an average of 96 Americans are shot to death each day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When NRA members answered the original tweet with photos of themselves in orange hunting garb, the group replied with a "thank you" message that touted the "almost 120,000 NRA-certified instructors who teach more than one million law-abiding gun owners how to safely and responsibly use a firearm each year."

The idea that the group was trying to lay claim to "gun safety" particularly offended Watts, who cited opinion polls such as a March Gallup poll showing that a majority of Americans favor tougher gun laws.

"The NRA opposes mandatory gun safety training in bills, they oppose background checks on private gun sales, they oppose red flag laws, they oppose banning bump stocks, they oppose child access prevention laws," said Watts. "So what part of that is gun safety?"

Craig Moore
A hunter in camouflage with a blaze orange vest on a hunting trip in northwest Montana. Craig Moore

Some gun control advocates tried to turn the tables and troll what they saw as a trolling attempt by the NRA. "Hey @NRA thank you for your support of us!," tweeted David Hogg, a survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, with a smile emoji and a dose of sarcasm, "We must work together to promote sensible gun laws and behavioral intervention programs if we want to end this epidemic."