The NRA better watch out. There’s a new gun in town and it’s called, well, actually it doesn’t have a name but it’s a combination of two gun control groups – Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense which, according to their merger announcement, will “soon be stronger than any gun lobby.” And who can argue with that claim when you put together Mike Bloomberg’s gazillions with the tireless energy of Shannon Watts and other moms, right?
The Moms claim they have more than 130,000 members and Bloomberg has enrolled more than 1,000 mayors in his club. But who knows what those numbers really mean? Moms also has 130,000 Likes on its Facebook page and when I went to their website it appeared that if I sent them an email with my name and address, that this made me a member. As for Bloomberg’s membership, I took a quick look at the list for Massachusetts, my state, and guess what? I couldn’t find a single Massachuetts Mayor who’s a Republican, but I did find Dominic Sarno, the Mayor of Springfield, where the gun homicide rate this year will probably top out at four times higher than the national average. Way to go, big Dom!
And since this new combination will soon be bigger than any gun lobby, let me tell you a little about that other lobby. There’s been a lot of back and forth over the size of the NRA membership, with the gun organization claiming 4.5 million and various critics scaling this down to 3 million or a bit more. I’m willing to cut both estimates in half and assume that they have somewhere above 3.5 million, even though even they admit that their recent increase was partially due to a one-year cut in dues paid by new members and it remains to be seen whether all these folks will re-enlist when they have to pay a higher price.
But the fact that Moms doesn’t have any dues not only makes me wary of their membership claims, but also raises the more important question of exactly how effective they can be. Because it’s not very hard to use today’s social media to create the image of an organization whether something really exists or not. The Moms group garnered lots of publicity when they showed up at Starbucks and sent a letter to Howard Schultz demanding that the company ban guns from all their stores. But the company sidestepped the issue by issuing a statement ‘asking’ but not requiring gun owners to keep their guns outside, but even as strident (and usually stupid) a pro-gun outlet as the Washington Times covered the issue in very timid terms because it turns out that lots of gun owners didn’t want to risk the possibility that Starbucks might eventually get a little backbone and ban them permanently. After all, would anyone elevate the 2nd Amendment above that steamy latte?
Of course an advocacy organization can play an important role in any public debate regardless of its size. But the trick is to figure out who you’re really talking to and whether or not they will listen to what you have to say. If the Moms want to have a real impact in the argument over guns, why don’t they talk to gun owners and stop wasting their energy on convincing people who don’t need to be convinced? And you don’t talk to gun people by throwing up a website or a Facebook page and just ‘invite’ them to post a comment or engage in a chat. Sometimes that strategy works when you’re selling a product, but it’s rank arrogance or simply stupid to confuse marketing a product with marketing an idea.
Every weekend there are dozens of gun shows all over the United States. Each of these shows, on average, count 10,000 admissions. So do the math: if you went to one gun show every weekend, set up a booth, gave out a flyer and shot your mouth off, by the end of the year you would have talked to 500,000 gun guys (and gals.) And don’t think for one second that nobody would talk to you. Gun folks love to talk – that’s why they go to those shows.
I’d love to walk into a gun show or some other gun-friendly place and see those Moms promoting their point of view. Would they get an argument from gun folks? Sure. Would the argument sometimes get nasty or offensive? It might. But if Moms or any other gun-control group believes they will make a difference by not going out and meeting the other side, they’re barking up the wrong tree.