No matter how upset people are after mass shootings (the latest of which occurred in Parkland, Fla. killing 17 people), eventually everyone’s attention will wane. This of course leaves the country with a lot of angry finger pointing, and no actual gun control legislation. Gun control advocates will shake their heads yet again at what they see as gun owners extreme obsession with their second amendment rights.
I am not a gun owner. I am a gun control advocate that interprets the second amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) to mean if the state of Oregon was to invade California that the citizens of California have the right to defend their state. As opposed to gun advocates that interpret this statement as their constitutional right to own a gun. But while my beliefs are firm, I also believe that gun control advocates are failing miserably at communicating their messages, and marketing a truly gun free culture.
Lets take a look at the competition, the National Rifle Association (NRA) founded in 1871. The NRA is a powerful advocacy organization in the United States, and some feel it is to blame for the lack of gun control legislation. However, it is important to note that the NRA membership is 5 million, which only accounts for 19 percent of gun owners. The NRA does have financial influence over the government, but its not just the money. In 2016, the NRA gave $54.4 million in campaign contributions, but $30 million went to President Trump, and most of the rest went to six republican Senate candidates. The rest of the campaign contributions were distributed through Congress in smaller amounts, which means the NRA doesn’t have the ENTIRE government in its pocket.
So if the NRA is not as influential in numbers or cash (an in fact many gun owners do not agree with NRA positions) why do we keep finding ourselves having the same conversations after awful tragedies and deaths? Because the NRA has created a gun culture that communicates a life of freedom, patriotism and strength. The NRA messaging is cohesive and pervasive. It has its own TV, (yes NRATV). It has created a brand for gun owners, as well as messaging and culture that goes beyond its membership. NRA members and gun owners in general are more likely to contact their public representative regarding gun policy ( 21 percent of gun owners compared to 12 percent of gun control advocates). When people think of gun advocates they think of the NRA. When people think gun control they think…. ?
Gun Free culture
Where is the brand for a gun free culture? There is no one group advocating for stricter gun laws. In fact, efforts to change legislation often fizzle out as time passes and the tragedy of gun violence is no longer in your face. Where are the marketing strategies to change the way Americans think and feel about guns? The marketing strategy that is pro gun has been, and will continue to be loud; louder it seems than any gun shot that kills a human being.
Communication professionals can make a huge difference in creating a gun free culture campaign, look for example at the Truth Campaign, which changed the way youth look at smoking tobacco. Communication is key in changing minds, behaviors and public policy. One-third of American households have a gun, but not every gun owner is against gun control. A marketing campaign is needed to ban together these gun control advocates from all political affiliations, and figure out how to market to each group the benefits of a gun free culture. Gun control advocates are not speaking to people clearly or effectively, and its time for that to change.