I listen to AM Talk Radio because the programs help me get to sleep. But the other night as I was dozing off to the local shock jock Rush wannabe, I was jolted awake by a 30-second public service announcement about gun safety presented by the Ad Council. Now when the Ad Council runs a PSA on gun safety, you know that gun safety has become a mainstream issue. After all, we’re not talking about just another group that says nice things about worthwhile projects. We’re talking about the outfit which started off selling War Bonds in 1941, then created Smokey the Bear, the March of Dimes, McGruff the Crime Dog and Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No among hundreds of other public service campaigns. Wow!
The gun-safety messages, which are hitting television and radio stations around the country (I heard the radio spot on a local Fox-affiliate station)were funded by a million-dollar grant from the Department of Justice that was awarded in 2013. The radio script has a no-nonsense voice stating that guns have to be kept away from “curious children, troubled teens, thieves, or anyone else who might misuse your gun.” The television ads are just as direct, and there are also graphics and digital ads, along with additional information on safe storage provided by the National Crime Prevention Council, another blue-ribbon advocacy group that partnered with the Ad Council to create and sponsor this campaign.
A couple of years ago the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s lobbying group which runs the SHOT show, put together a little gun-safety video featuring the National Crime Prevention Council’s mascot, McGruff the Crime Dog, which could be sent out to school and community organizations, along with a Teacher’s Guide and a pledge for students to sign. The pledge, of course, was the NRA’s Eddie Eagle stop – don’t touch – find an adult mantra, which has been floating around since God knows when and is still considered the gun-safety gospel by an industry which until now had the safety playing-field all to itself.
What I like about the Ad Council’s message, like the message being delivered by Melissa Joan Hart for Everytown, is not just the no-nonsense tone of the narration, but the degree to which both campaigns cut through the usual bromides about gun safety to really tell it like it is, specifically mentioning groups that are particularly vulnerable to unsafe guns, like young children and depressed teens. And even more important, the Ad Council message is very simple: an unlocked gun is an unsafe gun. Period. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Contrast this PSA with the latest effort by the NSSF to pretend that gun safety is of paramount concern. It’s a video that runs more than 5 minutes featuring a competitive shooter, Julie Golob, who goes on and on about the “importance” of talking to your kids about guns. After several lengthy sermons about the difference between communicating with young children and teens, Julie actually mentions in 5 whole seconds that adults should set an example through “safe handling and proper storage” of their guns. Nowhere is the word ‘lock’ mentioned, nowhere is anyone identified as being particularly vulnerable if guns are in the home. I’m not casting aspersions at Ms. Golob for narrating a video so devoid of any reality about gun safety at all; it’s not her fault that she’s working for an organization for whom safety is secondary to selling guns.
All of a sudden the NRA and the NSSF are no longer controlling the game when it comes to discussions about gun safety; in fact they may find themselves on the sidelines while the Ad Council and other non-gun owning groups redefine how the game is played. The gun industry’s going to have a problem trying to get everyone to walk around with a gun while trying at the same time to figure out how to keep the guns locked up or locked away. Given the power, reach and authority of the Ad Council, this could be an interesting state of affairs.