Guns Don’t Sell Guns, People Do. How the NRA Turns Death Into a Sales Tool and How to Stop Them.
–Walla Walla Washington Union-Bulletin
Right now the NRA is primarily a marketing and sales organization. Sure they do other things like offer gun safety training programs and threaten politicians to push some laws and crush others. But I believe a lot of their power comes from the development and training of their members in communication skills and providing them with the right words, phrases and concepts to achieve their current goal: guns everywhere.
If you have become pro-public safety, like I have, you’ll want to figure out ways to convince others of your views and then develop ways to reach your goals. Also, when you see the NRA for what it really is, how they make the public less safe, and can work on ways to increase public safety.
The NRA has a $300 million budget, a large portion of that goes to “education and communications.” And they are good. Very good. Tobacco industry good. In a recent LA Times Op-Ed there is a story from a former NRA trainer about the psychological and linguistic techniques used on NRA members.
Ever since reading, the brilliant and funny book by Christopher Buckley, “Thank you for Smoking.” I’ve been impressed with the tobacco industry’s communications strategies. Those of a certain age can complete this line, while singing the melody. “You can take Salem out of the country but…” If you sang the rest of the line in your head, their marketing worked. In the book the guns, alcohol and tobacco lobbyists all meet and talk about their work as “MODs” (Merchants of Death.) The tobacco industry’s savvy communications, PR, advertising and lobbying led to their primary goal. Sell more tobacco.
The NRA didn’t just “take a page from the tobacco industries book” they went deep into the hearts and minds of men (and women) and so they could keep answering the same question of their actions, “How will this help sell more guns?”
The methods of the NRA-trained operatives vary from the subtle–like ALEC bill authoring and strategic lobbying/threatening of politicians; to the crass –“Cold Dead Hands” bumper stickers and rhyming “logic” for the masses. The New York Times says they also have “virtually unmatched ferocity in advancing [their] political and legislative interests.”
Anyone who has ever engaged someone on this issue knows they can expect debate techniques ranging from aggressive, threatening logic that blames the victims for not carrying a weapon, to well-thought-out positions. I’ve seen how they use clever parsing of words in laws they create and how they attack terms or definitions to defeat laws they hate. “It’s not an automatic, it’s a semi-automatic. There is no such thing as an assault rifle! You have no credibility with me! (unless you use the terms exactly as we have defined them…)”
Bringing Words to a Word Fight
Over the years the NRA has gone from selling ideas like the importance of gun safety to selling the idea that your identity is tied to your possession of a gun. Linking your identity to a product is a very powerful thing to do, and marketers try to do this all the time. “We say the product is cool, when you own it you become cool –and women will want to have sex with you.” (I just added that last part because it usually goes unspoken, but it’s implied.) Because of this linking of identity to product, people are willing to pay more for a product, as well as create multiple reasons why they must have this product. But the marketers at the NRA also recognize that it’s childish for people to say, “I want it because I want it!” Therefore, they suggest quoting parts of the 2nd Amendment and hypothetical life or death scenarios where the gun owner is the hero to prove their case to anyone who questions them.
But what happens when the thing that makes you cool or defines you is taken away? That will make them angry. And when they are angry they stop using polite words and turn to threats. I sometimes wonder if the reason pro-public safety people don’t like to engage gun enthusiasts is because of this unstated (or stated) threat. For every responsible gun owner who will explain to me, “I’m not threatening you with my gun, I’m just having a discussion.” there are two who will tell me about their “2nd Amendment solutions” to “anti-gunners.”
Will You Become Ferocious in Advancing Your Political, Cultural and Legislative Interests?
Now let’s say that people have finally had enough with the way the NRA leadership is driving “the discussion”. Let’s also say that words like mine and the new pro-public safety public starts having a cognitive impact on the public at large. What can you, (insert your own name here) do, to make a difference? Well to begin, start thinking of what you are for, as well as what you are against.
I’m pro-public safety so when the details about the latest shooting comes out, I apply that view to the problem. In some cases the shooter will have a mental health problem. A pro-public safety person can push the states to have better laws that get violent mentally ill into the National Instant Criminal background check System. My doctor hunting friends in the midwest could easily get behind that action. If their buddies, who are extremists in the NRA, call them “anti-gunners” they can make it clear you want to protect people from those who are violently mentally ill, even if they also were going to kill someone with a knife, hammer or car, (since they love to bring up those examples of other “killing tools.”)
If the shooter obtained weapons though a gun show loophole you could support state and federal efforts to ban specific items as well as support the need for better tracking in general.
Every shooting is an opportunity for change for a safer future, if we act.
Here are some specific actions you can take to match your personality:
Like to march? Go to the January 26th March on Washington.
Want to help pass better laws and close loopholes? Donate or volunteer for my friends at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. I worked with them when I was trying to figure out how to get NRA board member Ted Nugent busted for bringing guns to the Pima County Fair, right outside the town Gabby Gifford was shot.
Want to help convince corporations, other than gun manufacturers, to get in the game? Try my friends at The National Gun Victims Action Council. Personally I always thought that Mars Corporation should be donating big corporate dollars to end gun violence, after all, there were Skittles in the hands of Trayvon Martin when he was shot. They might want more kids to grow up to eat candy rather than a bullet.
Want to help change some of the “Shoot First” laws that got Trayvon Martin killed? Try the The Second Chance on Shoot First campaign.
Want to know what your city is doing? Check out Mayors Against Illegal Guns. See if your city’s mayor is a member, (list) If not, drop your mayor a line. My friends at MAIG would love more member mayors. That’s a four minute doable action. Go!
Want to get educated on issues and on policy? Go look at the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Get on their mailing list, they provide great information if you want to engage a gun enthusiasts. If you want to simply go over the gun enthusiasts heads they have easy ways to help you go directly to people who can change laws.
I try to help a lot of non-profit groups in this area beyond the Brady Campaign because I believe in multiple strategies to reach difference audiences. Donate or volunteer depending on your interests and how active you want to be. Remember, if you don’t do anything the terrorists NRA wins.