Last week the National Education Association posted a video by Billy Johnson, who does “news commentary” for the NRA. Despite the disclaimer that the video does not represent the “opinions of other organizations,” the content is the usual NRA-admixture of half-truths, sophomoric clichés and outright lies. THE NEA gave it front-page coverage because it promotes the idea of universal gun education as part of the normal school curriculum, kind of like driver’s ed and just as necessary as reading, writing and math.
What’s the justification for this nonsense? According to Johnson, we should be teaching shooting in schools because Americans “need” guns and guns are “good.” This polite rant reflects an emerging NRA strategy is to reach beyond the organization’s core membership with a broad-based message to drive home the idea of guns as just another, regular consumer product that everyone should own. After all, once we get past purchasing the absolute necessities each week, don’t our decisions about what else to buy usually reflect only the fact that it’s something we really want? What’s it going to be this week? New shoes? New clothes? A new gun? Let’s go shopping.
The NRA messaging is an effort to “normalize” gun ownership, but also reflects their awareness of how Americans increasingly educate themselves, communicate with each other, and thus make decisions about what to buy, own, and otherwise pony up the consumer bucks. Not only is the whole society moving towards digital and particularly video channels, but the Millennials, the only generation who have yet to decide whether or not they want to own guns, are twice as likely to use Facebook and other social media outlets to make contact and communicate with others.
A bit of recognition of this problem was recently voiced on Huffington Post by Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign, who talked about the importance of messaging gun safety by “taking the emotion out of a debate that has gotten all tangled up in the second amendment.” He cites as a successful effort the joint Brady-American Academy of Pediatrics ASK program that encourages parents to ask if there are unsafe guns in homes where their children visit. I’m not taking anything away from either organization, but this approach completely misunderstands the NRA whose cavalcade of video commentators not only talk the talk directly to potential gun owners, but also – and here’s the key element – talk specifically about guns.
Gun control advocates feel comfortable talking about things like safety, background checks, mental health, concealed-carry and the like. But to the average gun owner or the wannabe gun owner, that’s just so much noise. The real question the gun control crowd should be asking is simply this: Do you really want to walk around with something which, in an instant, can end a life or change your life in an unalterably terrible way? But somehow the advocates for more gun control always seem to gloss over the only thing that really makes a difference, and that one thing is the gun. Meanwhile, the NRA forges ahead on the video playing-field selling the idea that guns are natural and good. On this issue, the most important issue, the other side doesn’t even field a second-string team.
We have grown accustomed to believing that the size of the gun-owning population is decreasing as the public surveys continue to show a decline in the percentage of households which claim to have guns. There is also plenty of internet chatter about how the NRA membership claims are vastly over-stated. Even if this is all true, and I’m not sure it is, the NRA and the gun lobby in general aren’t rolling over and playing dead. They are out there with their videos, their Facebook pages, their Tweets and the other channels that comprise a new media environment which they completely own. Do you think the other side can catch up?