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.
Want 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.