“Where Adventure, Style And Culture Collide” – Welcome To The New NRA.

noirNow that the NRA has figured out that the next generation of consumers may not be as interested in buying guns as previous generations, they have started their own television and  internet network  known as “NRA Freestyle, ” which will be a place where “adventure, style, culture and firearms collide.”  It will be interesting to see whether an organization whose rank-and-file membership is overwhelmingly White, male, rural, blue-collar and over 50 can re-orient itself to capture the hearts and minds of a population that is increasingly non-White, college educated, urban-suburban and pro-gay lifestyle. And most of all, it’s a population, according to Pew and other surveys, that has little, if any loyalty or even interest in the ideology of either political party.

So it was with these thoughts in mind that I tuned into the premiere of Noir, the first show to be aired on the Freestyle network. The show stars Colion Noir, an African-American from Texas who has been part of the NRA commentator’s stable for the past year and is considered the “proof” that one can be hip, cool, minority and everything else non-mainstream and still like guns.  Actually, the videos he does for the NRA are contrived, aimless and basically do nothing except repeat the usual anti-Obama Administration bromides wrapped in a BET-accented script.

In the new show Colion is joined by a woman commentator, Amy Robbins, the two of them sitting in a bare-bones studio set whose main decoration is a large, white logo for the NRA.  The show, running slightly longer than 15 minutes, is a series of dialogues between Noir and Robbins, she both by her presence and her comments reminding everyone of the importance of the female gun market even though, in fact, women continue to have little interest in guns.

But despite the hip and cool verbal pitter-patter between a Black guy and a White girl, let’s not forget what the show’s really all about.  It takes Noir and Robbins about 5 minutes to deliver a snarky and totally-irrelevant rant against Hillary Clinton, with a reminder that a Clinton presidency would mark a new chapter in the attack on citizen-owned guns. And then at about the ten-minute mark, after our two hosts are joined by Billy Johnson who regularly delivers conservative tirades against  gun control on NRA webcasts, the show becomes just another vehicle for attacking Mike Bloomberg and his attempts to use “government” to tell us all “how to run our own lives.”

Up until the anti-Bloomberg rant, I thought the show was making some headway into changing the image of the NRA from a hard-core, politicized advocacy organization into something that a younger, less politically-committed generation might find easier to accept.  But if the producers of Noir really believe they have figured out a way to blend the NRA message into the Mellennial lifestyle, then all I can say is ‘good luck.’   I don’t know how much the shows’s sponsors, Daniel Defense and Mossberg, anted up to get their logos splashed onto the screen, but I can’t imagine that this show will gain them much of a following among the consumer population that is just coming of age.

One last point: the show also contained a segment called ‘Gun Pads’ in which guns, mostly assault-style rifles, are stacked like furnishings on pianos, tables, and other locations within a swankily-furnished home.  Colion refers to this as a new kind of ‘decor’ that gun owners should present to people who visit their homes, but what was interesting about the display was that not a single one of the firearms had either a lock or any other kind of safety device.  You would think that after after a major rant against Bloomberg and other gun-control advocates for always “telling gun owners how to behave,” that this NRA show would have had the good sense to at least promote gun safety to an audience that might not feel that comfortable around guns. You would think….

Can The NRA Sell Their Message To The Millennial Generation?

Even though violent crime has declined by more than 50% over the last twenty years, it’s not surprising that Wayne LaPierre and other promoters continue to justify gun ownership as our first, last and most sacred form of personal defense.  After all, guns are found most frequently on farms, rural communities and smaller towns.  Bye-bye farms and rural living, bye-bye guns. Thirty years ago a majority of small arms manufactured in the United States were rifles and shotguns; now more than 60% are handguns and the percentage would be even higher were it not for a surge in assault-style rifles which are often sold as weapons that can be used by the ‘good guys’ to keep the ‘bad guys’ out of sight.

Going forward the news for the gun industry and its advocacy organizations like the NRA doesn’t hold any silver linings, at least any that can be found in a very detailed poll conducted by the Pew Foundation on the outlook of the Millennial generation, aka, persons aged 18 to 29.  The Pew poll summed up Millennials as follows: “They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. Their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.”

Wow.  That’s hardly the profile of the NRA stalwarts who gathered last week in Indianapolis to hear Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, Oliver North and the other harbingers of doom tell them that the country was quickly going to hell in a handbasket and that only a gun and a good dose of patriotism would keep the criminal hordes away from knocking down their doors.  In the first four minutes of her speech, Sarah Palin referred to the anti-gun threat sixteen times and made it clear that only a Republican sweep in November would guarantee American freedom and basic rights.  And what did the audience look like that whooped and hollered as these well-worn bromides were being served?  Mostly male, mostly 50 or older and totally White.

The NRA and the gun industry have done a really great job making that kind of audience feel like they are under attack. They’ve done an equally good job pushing the idea that modern life is fearful and fear can be overcome if you own a gun.  The problem is, that even after a prolonged recession when many younger people had great difficulty finding jobs, the Millennials are the most optimistic and the least fearful of all population groups, and remain the most convinced that their future dreams will come true.  They aren’t tying these thoughts to a Republican win in November; they see the world through their own eyes, and those eyes aren’t focused on the NRA.

If Millennials maintain this very distinct world view as they get older, the problem of gun violence may take care of itself.  Because even though many younger people think that guns are “cool,” (after all, they were raised on video-games,) they don’t see the world as a dark or forbidding place.  And it’s that dark and dangerous world that the gun industry and the NRA has been using to sell more guns since everyone started leaving the farm.

evolve-badgeWant to see the kind of gun message that Millennials will like?  Take a look at this video produced by my friends Jon and Rebecca Bond for their organization called Evolve.  It’s, hip, it’s cool, it delivers a serious point about guns but makes it in a clever and sophisticated way.  I have never seen a message like this coming from the gun industry because they haven’t figured out how to speak to the generation that will either become or not become their customers and supporters in the years ahead.  And if  they don’t figure out how to do it the Bonds and other Millennial-conscious organizations will end up owning the debate.