The first election of the millennium has delivered mixed results and some
hard lessons to gun owners. The NRA was able to generate modest influence in the
presidential and congressional races, but ballot measures that further restrict
legal firearms commerce at gun shows easily passed in Oregon and Colorado. In
both states the margin of victory was so large that many gun owners must have
voted in favor. This represents a failure of the gun rights community to present
a compelling message to the voters.
These ballot measures passed largely due to the ingenious use of the sound
bite: "gun show loophole". It only takes ten minutes on the internet
to realize that this term is grossly misleading. Unfortunately for gun owners,
the typical voter doesn't care enough about the issue to look beyond the shallow
veneer of media coverage.
The gun rights movement can turn out the vote among its own members, but is
completely outclassed when it comes to influencing overall public opinion. The
truth is that most people have more immediate things to worry about than the
debate over gun rights. The average person who keeps a firearm in the home for
protection does not understand how the slow erosion of rights will effect her,
since gun rights advocates have not presented their message in a way that makes
most people care.
Pro-rights groups point out that gun laws have never reduced crime. They
offer statistics that show the importance of civilian gun ownership in crime
prevention. They explain that criminals rarely obtain guns from gun shows and
they discuss the disturbing history of gun control. They are absolutely right,
but it makes no difference if most voters aren't listening.
Sound bites and superficial arguments are the most effective way to mold
public opinion. Who is going to take the time to investigate the facts when
frightening television commercials say that their children's lives are in danger
right now? A real understanding of the gun control debate requires time and
energy that most people don't have.
Those who voted yes on the gun show measures were mislead by the false, but
skillful portrayal of gun shows as illegal arms bazaars where normal laws don't
apply and sinister arms smugglers distribute machine guns to children. Since few
voters have ever seen a gun show first hand, they naturally believe the
frightening images and absorb the subliminal messages they see on television.
Fear is a powerful propaganda weapon and will almost always override logic.
Handgun Control Inc. is already using the passage of the Oregon and Colorado
measures to claim that there is support for more federal gun laws. We can expect
a renewed offensive from the gun control lobby soon. Judging by their past
efforts, they will not hesitate to use lies and distortions to manipulate public
emotions. Their clever sound bites will be repeated without question by the
media. They can't lose as long as pro-rights groups try to fight them with facts
or vague appeals to patriotism like: "Vote freedom first".
The lesson for gun rights organizations is clear. They must tailor their
message to break through to the voter who is busy, unpatriotic and has no
interest in history. They must use simple slogans that counteract the fear of
guns created by the gun haters, while promoting the ideas that self defense is a
basic human right and guns are a good defensive tool. They must organize their
own street demonstrations and rallies to gain media attention.
The NRA has already taken a big step forward with their successful
infomercials that expose the frightening progression of gun control in other
countries. This has proven to be an excellent way of reaching gun owners who
have a fear of government oppression. They should now use that technique to
convince a wider cross section of society that civilian gun ownership is a
critical part of crime prevention.
It is time for the "Armed Citizen" column to make an appearance on
television. These new infomercials could be partially financed by the sale of
gun safety and personal defense courses on videotape along with NRA memberships.
The gun rights community must emulate and surpass the marketing techniques of
the opposition. Only when equality has been achieved in the emotion-based
propaganda wars can facts and logic be used to tip the balance.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws: http://www.keepandbeararms.com/dsgl.
He may be reached at email@example.com. His archive on
our site is available at http://www.KeepAndBearArms.com/Brown.