A few years ago I was at a gun show in York, PA, a farm town about 60 miles west of Philadelphia. Talk about a gun show ‘loophole,’ the entire show was a loophole because all the 200 or so tables were taken by guys who proudly displayed their junky, old guns along with other slightly rusted bric-a-brac. But I can tell you there wasn’t a single person walking around the armory who had the slightest intention of doing anything illegal with a gun.
About a week before the show, Pennsylvania had changed its CCW law, moving from being a discretionary, ‘may issue’ to a non-discretionary ‘shall issue’ state. The Sheriff in York was so inundated by applicants that he had to bring in additional help. I happened to be standing next to a guy who had just come from the Sheriff and was being interviewed by a reporter from Philadelphia who heard about the long delays and came out to see what was up. The interview went as follows:
Reporter: How long did you have to wait to get processed?
Gun Guy: Oh, three or four hours. Was a mess.
Reporter: Why do you want a concealed-carry license?
Gun Guy: Well, I’m worried about all the crime around here.
Reporter: You know, I checked before coming out and York hasn’t had a serious crime in the last two years.
Gun Guy: Yea, but they’ll come out from Philadelphia.
Now leaving aside the identification of the “they’ from Philadelphia, the bottom line is that the gentleman who waited for hours to apply for CCW did it for God knows what reason, but when he was asked to explain his behavior to a reporter (representing the ‘main-stream’ media no less) he fell back on the same rationale for CCW that Gun Nation has been promoting for the last thirty years. And a majority of Americans who are asked why they own guns and whether guns make them safer buy that same argument, hook, line and sinker. It turns out, of course, that most legal gun owners tend to live in low-crime areas and the number of people who actually use guns to defend themselves from criminal attacks are an infinitesimally tiny proportion of the population who claim that the benefit of gun ownership outweighs the risk.
So why do so many Americans believe a story about guns that runs contrary to what gun violence research shows again and again to be true? Because to the extent that people who own guns spend any time thinking about why they own guns beyond the fact that they enjoy owning and playing around with guns, they are going to repeat what they hear, and what they hear is what the NRA tells them again and again.
I am a member both of the NRA and the AARP. I get three times as much mail and emails from the NRA as I get from AARP. And the NRA makes me feel special and unique because I own guns. The only thing that makes me special to the AARP is that I have lived past their minimum membership age. And the idea that guns are a risk? Hell, I never shot myself or anyone else.
The problem faced by the GVP community is that, like it or not, most of their proposals for reducing gun violence are sensible and realistic, but they still require me to change my behavior in some way or another in order to enjoy my guns. And frankly, I don’t want to be told about changing my behavior by someone who doesn’t own guns. Why should I change my behavior? I haven’t done anything wrong with my guns.
The GVP uses evidence-based research to compete against a slick marketing campaign. Maybe they should take on the NRA by selling, not just explaining their message. You think an outfit like Saatchi & Saatchi couldn’t take forty million from Mayor Mike and figure out how to change hearts and minds?