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The HCI Papers, Part 1

The HCI Papers Part I
Why Brady’s Bunch Did What it Did in the 1990s

by Sean Oberle

Handgun Control Inc.’s public relations effort in the 1990s – to portray itself as representing youth and urban minorities – start to make more sense when you consider a confidential March 1990 report of an HCI member survey. Peter D Hart Research Associates Inc. conducted the survey. 

I have obtained a copy of Hart’s report to HCI, among other HCI papers. I plan to analyze those papers in the coming weeks.

Hart found that the typical 1990 HCI member was a white male of late middle age or older. He was likely to be wealthy and to have completed higher education. Furthermore, noted Hart, while less than half of 1990 Americans worked in white-collar jobs, 96% of HCI members identified themselves as such.

Completing this portrait of elitist grumpy old men who believe in “freedom for me but not for thee,” one in five HCI members in 1990 actually owned a firearm. Indeed, the proportion of HCI members who owned firearms had risen by 8% in the Reagan years.

However, I suspect that this ivory tower elitism worried HCI less than the aging of its members. Half were over 60, and over a quarter were over 70. About a third were retired. On the other hand, only one in ten was under 35, an 8% decline in the 1980s of younger members. Indeed, only 1% of HCI members were college age or younger.

Essentially, Sarah Brady was facing a die-off of her membership.

Compounding this questionable image of future support, Hart found that members did not have a particularly activist bent when it came to gun control. Only 9% deemed themselves “very active” in public policy issues. Worsening that weak overall activism even more, “focus group participants…tend to see gun control as less of an activist’s issue than is, for instance, the environment or abortion rights,” wrote Hart. 

Indeed, even among HCI members, gun grabbing fell low among political concerns. Hart identified “first tier” issues as drugs (34%), the budget deficit (27%), the environment (26%) and education (22%). “Second tier” issues were the economy (14%), abortion (11%), crime (11%), honesty in government (9%), foreign policy (9%) and homelessness (9%). Bringing up the rear – and remember this was among people who were anti-rights enough to actually join the authoritarian organization – was gun control (8%). 

Or looked at another way, a full 92% of HCI members thought the nation had other priorities more important than gun grabbing.

However, Hart found a “silver lining” of paranoia among HCI members – 42% thought it was “very or quite possible” that they or an immediate relative would be injured or killed by gunfire. Further, while only 8% considered restricting gun rights an issue of top importance for activism, nearly a third (32%) thought of gun control as an issue with which they felt personal involvement. 

In other words, while HCI members might not have been likely to take action beyond writing checks, they were emotional about the issue.

Combine this paranoia and emotionalism with some of the “first tier” issues that Hart found among typical HCI supporters, and the group’s 1990s member-building and public policy strategies make sense. 

For example, since drugs were the number one concern among likely HCI supporters, it makes sense how the organization exaggerated the use of purposely misnamed “assault weapons” in urban drug turf wars. HCI’s goal appears to have been less attacking guns per se and more to convince paranoid and emotional Americans to wrongly associate guns with causing something they already feared – thugs fighting over the government-caused narcotics black market.

Or, since education (in other words “children”) was another top tier issue among likely HCI supporters, the group worked hard to make paranoid and emotional Americans wrongly associate gun control with salvaging the failing educational environment. Indeed, the 1990s “for the kids” mantra and the eventual Million Mom dog and pony show probably have their roots in the survey’s finding that 90% of grabber-leaning people thought that it was important to “educate schoolchildren about the dangers of guns,” beating out such issues as wrongly convincing Americans that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual right or helping to sue gun manufacturers.

Even HCI members’ high concerns about government debt and spending found a place in the 1990s grabber propaganda arsenal – we saw numerous junk-science “studies” ascribing outrageously high monetary costs to gun-related violence, mostly by absurdly overestimating the likely lifetime economic contribution of victims.

Moving on to other parts of the survey, another 1990s gun-control propaganda technique seems to have roots in the finding that members placed police officers highest among the best spokesmen for gun control, beating out even the family members of murder victims. Thus we saw press conference after press conference at which Democratic-appointed politicians wearing police chief uniforms stood behind other Democrats to give the public the untrue appearance that police rank and file think gun control would help them do their jobs.

But most interesting to me is Hart’s findings about the NRA, and by association, other gun-rights advocates.

The polling group found that HCI members viewed the NRA as the chief obstacle to the gun control agenda, and while Hart expressed mixed feelings about whether HCI should focus on hurting the NRA as an organization (as opposed to attacking the NRA's agenda), Hart did conclude that “The NRA…makes as credible a ‘devil’ to cite when organizing and fundraising as we have seen.”

Got that? “Devil.” 

The orchestrated and concerted demonizing of the NRA and other RKBA supporters in the 1990s makes further sense in that light, don't they?

Hart’s report shows why HCI portrayed the NRA – and any RKBA activists by association – as standing in the way of stopping drug-war violence while working counter to the police needs, and more damagingly, as standing in the way of “protecting our children” while working counter to the needs of harried educators.

However, Hart’s warning that the NRA “card can be overplayed” combined with the finding that one in five HCI members (and growing) were gun owners in 1990 likely are the reasons the anti-rights group took pains to minimize its reputation of working towards outright bans of handguns.

Nonetheless, that ultimate goal was clear when HCI could transfer fears (of illicit drugs) to types of guns that relatively few people own (so called “assault weapons”). Then it sought a ban.

That technique clearly is involved in the current strategies of convincing people that handgun ownership is irresponsible and that handguns are unsafe from a product safety angle. The fewer HCI members and likely members who own handguns, the easier it is to split such guns off from “acceptably safe guns.” Then it’s green light to a ban.


Future parts of The HCI Papers will cover a phone-script used by HCI telemarketers during the AW ban fight, an analysis of a direct mail campaign conducted for HCI and the demographics of contributors targeted by the anti-rights group.


Sean Oberle is a featured writer with KeepAndBearArms.com whose archive is kept here: http://www.KeepAndBearArms.com/Oberle.  Distribution permitted and encouraged. Please say you saw it first on KeepAndBearArms.com.

 

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Reporters today are far removed from America's founding values and are alarmed and contemptuous of gun owners as dangerous lower classes. — HENRY ALLEN, WASHINGTON POST

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