Can The NRA Sell Their Message To The Millennial Generation?

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.

evolve-badgeWant 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.

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Which Republican Will Win The Concealed-Carry Vote?

I haven’t yet had time to listen to the speeches delivered at the just-concluded NRA meeting in Indianapolis, but within the next few days they will probably be posted by the NRA.  I won’t bother to listen to Palin and Oliver North because they are just show up for a speaker’s fee, but I will pay attention to Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum, because this trio are prominently mentioned as potential Republican standard-bearers in 2016.  I did find a report on Rick Santorum’s speech on a CNN blog, which quoted him as saying that he was in complete agreement with the NRA as regards using guns to protect all of us from crime.  In fact, Santorum came up with a catchy little phrase which I suspect he’ll trot out a few more times before the election really begins to take shape.  At the NRA show and again on a Sunday television interview he said, “a well-armed family is a safe family, a well-armed America is a safer America.”

Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre

And if you want to know who all these well-armed Americans are protecting us from, a complete list was furnished the NRA audience by America’s chief crime-fighter, Wayne LaPierre, who painted this portrait of a society on the edge of chaos and collapse because the following people are running around: “terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, car jackers, ‘knock-out’ gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse as a society that sustains us all.”

I can’t think of a more effective way to stop chemical attacks or the spread of the plague than a loaded .38 on my night-table or an assault rifle propped up behind the front door.  Okay, so Wayne-o is given to a bit of hyperbole when he gets up in front of the faithful, and he knows he won’t get air-time unless he says something that’s just a little bit beyond belief.  The only problem is that the NRA is staking out such an extreme position that to wind up as the most pro-gun candidate in a field of pro-gun candidates is to push yourself so far to the edge that there’s no way to go but down.

At one point LaPierre rhetorically asked the audience whether they would trust the government to protect them and of course the answer was a resounding ‘no.’  But while the NRA only ramps up its anti-government rhetoric when the government happens to be controlled by the Democrats, the notion that we all have to walk around with guns because, as LaPierre says, “we’re on our own” in facing this terrible, crime-ridden world, cuts both ways.  The truth is that if you get elected President, the first thing you have to do before moving into the White House is to take an oath in which you promise to defend America against its enemies.  What’s Santorum going to do if he’s standing there with his hand on the Bible? Ask Wayne LaPierre to serve as Secretary of Defense?

The NRA’s been able to grow its membership and flex its political muscle for one reason and one reason only: there’s a very liberal, very progressive politician sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who doesn’t buy the argument that walking around with a concealed weapon makes you safe.  Even if the NRA could produce a legitimate study that showed this to be the case, which they haven’t, by the way, it probably wouldn’t change Obama’s mind anyway.  But Obama’s out of here in slightly more than 28 months, and we could wind up with a President who really does believe that the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center could have been shot out of the sky if someone in one of the twin towers had been armed with a gun.  Which will make it rather difficult for the NRA to pretend that we need to arm and protect ourselves because the government isn’t up to the job.

If The NRA Didn’t Exist, The Gun Control Crowd Would Have To Invent It

Today I received an email from the Violence Policy Center, a DC-based advocacy group that often partners with Brady and Bloomberg to push back against the legislative and legal initiatives of the NRA.  Like every organizational email I receive from both sides, the VPC wants dough.  But this particular message caught my eye because of what it said about the NRA’s upcoming Indianapolis show.

The VPC is upset not just in general about the NRA’s impending celebration of gun ownership, but in particular because the show is being held this year in a city that has an alarmingly high murder rate, many of these homicides, according to the VPC, committed with guns.  Here’s a quote from the email:  “Wayne LaPierre, Ted Nugent, and the rest of the NRA leadership will be in Indianapolis later this month for the NRA’s annual meeting which begins on April 25. We don’t expect they will mention the fact that Indianapolis has a murder rate higher than Chicago’s and that most of those killings are committed with guns.”

I’m not exactly sure what the connection is between the crime rate in Indianapolis and the fact that the Indiana Convention Center no doubt worked like hell to land the NRA show.  I also suspect that the decision to hold the show in Indianapolis was made years ago and who knows whether crime in Indianapolis has since gone up or down.  But if you think for one second that anyone who’s coming to Indianapolis to visit the NRA show gives a rat’s damn about crime in Indianapolis, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

feinsteinThe crowd at the NRA show is going to look just like the NRA membership everywhere else; mostly male, White, over the age of 50 and living in rural areas or smaller towns.  The NRA show is just a big gun show and these folks will do what they always do at those shows: play with the guns, eat a few treats, stand on line for a couple of hours to get Ted Nugent’s autograph, say hello to friends, then hop in their 4×4’s and drive back home.  They won’t spend a second in the city of Indianapolis, and if while they’re at the show a couple of more inner-city residents are gunned down, they won’t know about it and they won’t care.

Meanwhile, the NRA will treat them to a good dose of double-talk as to why they are really there.  They’ll remind the visitors that guns are the best line of defense against criminals and crime. There will be endless exhortations to fight back against a federal government that is out to grab their guns.  And if they need the ultimate proof that God is on their side, they can always line up for admission to the Prayer Breakfast before entering the exhibit hall.

lapierreWant the truth? Both sides in the gun debate mobilize their followers by appealing to fear.  In the case of the NRA, it’s a fear of losing your guns, a fear of the government, a fear of crime.  For the Violence Policy Center and like-minded organizations, it’s a fear of guns.  As long as the two sides continue to appeal to their followers on the basis of fear, there’s really no chance that we will have a reasonable and responsible discussion about how to stop the killings that occur in Indianapolis and other cities and towns.

If we ever had such a debate, maybe it would turn out that we as Americans would decide that 30,000 gun deaths every year is a small price to pay for the fun of attending the NRA show.  Or maybe we would decide that the violence has to stop right now and the 2nd Amendment notwithstanding, everyone has to turn in their guns.  I don’t really care which way such a debate works out; all I know is that neither pro-gun nor anti-gun advocates are interested in kicking one off.

 

There Is A Way To Keep Guns Out Of The Wrong Hands. Let Doctors Decide.

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we approach the Newtown anniversary everyone’s going to weigh in with their thoughts about gun control, so here’s mine.  I believe the NRA is more right than wrong in questioning the motives of many of the proponents of more gun control.  They are correct when they say that just about all gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens who don’t need to jump through yet more legal hoops in order to buy or own guns.

At the same time, the NRA should stop diluting the force of their argument and keep their nose out of places where it doesn’t belong.  And one place they don’t belong is challenging the right of physicians to talk to their patients about guns.  Their attempt to criminalize such efforts by physicians (‘Docs versus Glocks’) is both stupid and wrong.  And here are the reasons why.

Every day in Emergency Rooms all over the country, people wander in complaining of various degrees of mental distress.  Unless they present a “clear and present danger” to themselves or anyone else, they are free to leave and, if we follow the argument of the NRA, they can walk out into the street even if they walked into the ER with a gun.  Physicians can restrain a person in the ER who is drunk and might, if released, drive off in his car.  But unless an individual actually threatens someone with his gun, the physician who even asks the patient whether he has a gun is, according to the NRA, trampling on the guy’s 2nd Amendment rights, and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

In 2004 a woman in Indianapolis called the police and reported that her 24-year old son was exhibiting dangerous signs of mental distress.  The cops found the kid in possession of multiple guns and ammunition, briefly took the guns away but within several days let the young man reclaim ownership of his guns.  Eight months later the young man, Kenneth Anderson, shot and killed his mother, a police officer, and then was shot and killed by the police.

I don’t know whether in the intervening period this troubled young man ever saw a physician or other medical professional even though he was clearly at risk.  But I do know that even if he had been seen by a physician, the NRA’s position would be that the doctor would not have been able to ask him about his guns.  The NRA is trying to have it both ways.  On the one hand, they say that the mental health system needs to be ‘fixed.’  On the other hand, they don’t want physicians to be able to close a gap in mental health treatment simply through asking appropriate questions and using common sense.

If you walk into a doctor’s office and you’re obese, the physician would be violating the Hippocratic Oath if he or she didn’t tell you to lose some weight. Not everyone who weighs too much is going to live a shortened life, but the physician isn’t violating your privacy by telling you that your weight is putting you at risk.  If someone walks into an ER or a doctor’s office and exhibits symptoms of emotional distress, anyone who would deny that gun ownership by that individual constitutes a risk, has no business engaging in a rational discussion or debate about guns.

The 2nd Amendment gives us the right to arm and protect ourselves from the bad guys in our midst.  It doesn’t give anyone the right to prevent physicians from finding out whether someone’s behavior might turn them into a bad guy whether they meant to be bad or not.