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NRA “Freestyle” Attempt to Reach Younger Gun Owners

There’s been quite a bit of press attention over NRA’s new attempt to reach younger gun owners with “NRA Freestyle.” It turns out, I’m not too far off the target audience, except that I have a sense of civic duty and am actually engaged on the issue – something that doesn’t apply to the vast majority of the demographic they are targeting.

I’m technically a millennial and a woman. Only, unlike many people in my “generation,” I don’t believe the world exists to entertain me and I actually participate with the community around me. However, if you define me down by age and, to a lesser degree, gender, then I am close to who they want to reach.

So, with all the hubbub surrounding this, what’s my take? It’s ultimately, “eh.”

First, there’s the practical issue of the technology to access it. When I tried to access videos through the website, relying on Ackerman McQueen’s video system, it was completely unwatchable. The videos kept skipping as badly as an old, dirty record. I checked my internet connection, and it definitely was not on this end. I gave up in frustration. Only after things are posted to YouTube are they even accessible. So that’s a problem, and one that I’m sure NRA is paying extra for.

But, let’s face it, the content, when accessible by YouTube, is more important. So, let me start with my take on the show that is getting the most attention – Noir.

As others have noted, some of the attacks coming from the media and general left outlets are actually pretty racist. One piece compared Colion Noir using a stage/screen name to a porn actor, while never making such assertions about the many fairer skinned entertainers who use them, such as Brady Campaign celebrity supporters Anthony Dominick Benedetto and Eilleen Regina Edwards. When they have to resort to launching race-based attacks, I think that’s generally a good sign for our side. In fact, he had a little fun responding to pieces and how belittling they were to him as an individual capable of making informed decisions and living his life as he chooses on the second episode, which I think is a good thing.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m in love with the show. Colion Noir clearly built a following of gun people, many of whom trended much younger, on his own even before NRA ever reached out to him. He’s a bit more natural in the role, but his co-host is rather forced. Until her clearly scripted lines in the first episode, everything about her body language and facial expressions screamed discomfort. Sure, she successfully delivered her “pop culture” lines about topics like Lululemon (that I had to explain to Sebastian), and she does break up the action of just one man talking to a camera about a subject. It’s just that she doesn’t appear really comfortable with the gun topic in this format.

Here’s the thing that I would say about that. I am not a gun nut who can give you a detailed technical analysis of a favorite rifle. I am not the awesome font of gun knowledge that is a woman like Tam. I know that, and I don’t pretend to be that, so I’m perfectly comfortable in my level of involvement with and understanding of firearms. I freely admit that when I purchase a gun, the first thing that always pulls me in is when I think, “THAT’S SO PRETTY!” And, you know what? This method has worked for me and resulted in some guns that I really love, which is why I’m not afraid to own it. It is possible to not be a total gun nut, and be comfortable in your role in the gun community, and I think that’s what Amy Robbins is missing in these early episodes. I hope that will change.

There are several parts of the show that are a little awkward, specifically the segment on “Gun Pads” stands out on that front. It was just a clip show with cameras panning past guns and some airplanes. There was no context given, and it was entirely too long for nothing more than videos of guns in different places of a house and airplane hangar. If the same person owns those guns & airplanes, they are probably a pretty interesting person. Why not at least talk about them, even if they are a stereotype of old and white? If they have younger family members who share the passion for guns & planes, why not feature that family member as a spokesperson? I have an attention span longer than your average millennial, and I wanted to close it and watch something else.

While Reason criticizes the feature that reviews guns, they do seem to ignore that gun reviews and videos are some of the most popular features of any gun-related site or media venture no matter the age of their target audience. I suspect that they will never really say anything bad in any NRA Freestyle gun review, so it’s not a totall honest critique, but they can still highlight things they like about a gun without getting negative. Oh, and I might add that both Sebastian & I checked out the featured gun of the first episode at the NRA Annual Meeting and we both really liked the feel of it and because it would fit our carry/shooting lifestyle, which the Reason writer apparently believes to be a “cringe-inducing” feature in a gun review.

Funny enough, as a woman, the concept and content that appealed to me the most with NRA Freestyle is actually Dom Raso’s Media Lab that deconstructs and re-creates movie fight scenes. It has a clear purpose, and it’s fun. Given the body of work in all the big budget action movies that Hollywood has created, there’s really some potential to have some real fun critiquing movie fights and shoot outs.

Raso’s show kept a good pace in both episodes that have been released, and the fun he can have in the next episode (tomorrow) on “Dodging Full Auto” is something I’m actually looking forward to catching. The specific scene they will use as an example is from White House Down, a movie I haven’t seen. Though, let’s face it, with Roland Emmerich involved, I’m pretty sure I can sum it up as explosions, guns, and fights. The plot details aren’t important, and that’s why these things are purely entertainment.

This show has the most potential to reach a much broader audience. Everyone knows movies are fake, and everyone loves talking about how fake or unrealistic a scene was even as we chow down on our popcorn and pull the movie up on Netflix. Given the content, it’s also far more likely to be caught by people doing random searches for various movies who may be interested in the topic and also intrigued by the background NRA branding for something entertaining. It’s got the pop culture connections without being too over-the-top.

I guess my overall impressions with the two shows currently available is that Noir has potential, but if they continue try a little too hard to force the pop culture references, it risks coming off as the butchered version of Lelaina’s reality tv show from Reality Bites. (If I see floating faces on a pizza, I’m going to be very disturbed. For you youngsters responsible for Noir, that’s a Gen X movie reference – you know, the old people.) Media Lab needs a better name, but it has the best content, in my opinion. It flows a little more seamlessly right off the bat.

I think the best feature of both shows is that they don’t do a hard sell to connect with the organization. However, that also leaves me concerned about whether or not the target audience for the network will ever be told that they need to give enough of a shit about their guns to join NRA or join the actual grassroots movement instead of sitting around watching the videos all day.

16 Responses to “NRA “Freestyle” Attempt to Reach Younger Gun Owners”

  1. beatbox says:

    I actually think it was a mistake for Collion to join with the NRA. He could say nice think about him, speak at the annual meeting, but I thought it was more powerful to have him as a voice without organizational attachment. Showed that the issue was our rights and not about the NRA. Of course, he is good for the NRA, and I guess he is getting greater visibility because of them…

  2. RP says:

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on NRAWomen.tv. I think that site has more potential than Freestyle.

    • Bitter says:

      I’ll be honest. I haven’t kept up much with the NRA Women effort because in the beginning, it all really came off as little more than Susan LaPierre selfies at political events. I have nothing against her or presenting that side of female involvement in the two very traditionally male dominated worlds of politics and guns, but I felt that was a very poor representation of the many interests that female NRA members have. I stopped following on Twitter for a while and then never clicked on any other attempts to promote it because I assumed it would be more of the same. I’m sure it’s not now, but it takes a lot more effort to win back folks you’ve turned off than to get them the first time. Maybe I will check it out again and offer a review and/or start following things again now that you’ve given me the excuse in the form of a reader request. :)

      • RP says:

        To expand my thoughts a bit… I doubt Freestyle can do anything existing YouTube channels and the like don’t already do better. But NRA Women could be a pretty good asset I think.

        I bet must of us male gun people like to introduce women to shooting. I also be most of us suck at getting them past the initial stage of acceptance and having fun into getting involved themselves. That’s consistently been my experience at least. If NRA Women can help get a few more ladies over the hump, that would be awesome. From what little I’ve seen, I think it looks good. I like Julie Golob as an outreach personality. It would be interesting to see if you think its a good tool.

  3. Echo says:

    Been thinking about the parallels between the gun and game communities when it comes to “noobs and casuals”, and what it might do to discourage new shooters.
    It’s good that community standards for safety, practice, knowledge, and political awareness have gone up in recent years, but it’s easy to slip from that to an exclusionary attitude of “bro, do you even dot torture?”

  4. Gunz says:

    Good post, and fair. I’m a woman, older than Bitter, and I liked the shows a lot. I thought the co-host Amy was a good match for Noir. She’s known as a casual shooter so she has credibility (plus she’s very attractive – especially her beautiful legs).

    There’s no need for all these new shows to pitch NRA membership. If people feel like joining, fine. If they just want to watch videos for free for the next two+ years, also fine. The shows will still be influencing their opinions and possibly their votes.

    • Bitter says:

      Uh, if the viewers never join, then we’re screwed. You can say that’s just fine, but I disagree with you. If they never join, then they will never hear about pro-gun candidates on the ballot. If they never join, they will never contribute to fund projects like NRA Freestyle. If they never join, they will not get emails about the local Friends events that raise money to support the next generation of shooters. If they sit back and simply consume the benefits of this movement that so many have given so much for, then they aren’t helping anything. They are simply sucking away at the resources without contributing anything back to the community that provides them with their entertainment.

      Again, I’m not opposed to a soft sell, but I promise you that watching Noir is not going to tell some millennial sitting in his basement watching gun videos all night long who the ratings for their state senate district. The front of the magazines or orange postcards will tell them that. There is a point where they need to be told that they need to be contributing to our movement if they really give a damn, whether it’s financially or with actual grassroots support. The sell, when its made in whatever form, doesn’t have to be a “buy an NRA membership today,” but something that encourages these viewers to get up and do something for the cause. Just showing up (or, in this case, tuning in) isn’t enough to earn these kiddies in a gold star in class. After showing up for class, they need to be taught to contribute – and hopefully in a more useful manner than we’ve seen with the rifle OC crowd lately.

      I don’t know anything about Amy Robbins or whether she’s a casual shooter, but I stand by my observation that her entire demeanor came off as extremely uncomfortable, especially in that first show. She needs more confidence if she’s going to come off as credible to people who don’t know her, which, presumably, most of the viewers who might catch an episode are not fanboys/girls who know every little detail. This is a case where it’s a matter of presentation, and her body language that screamed “uncomfortable” helps contribute to the number of “cringe-inducing” moments that Reason highlighted (at least the ones that were legitimately awkward and forced).

      • RP says:

        Amy Robbins is smokin’ hot in that short dress. I don’t think most viewers care if she’s bit awkward, regardless of what some biased media outlet thinks. Tons of young gun owners associate the NRA with the National Republican Association, prayer breakfasts, orange vests, and country music concerts. Even if Freestyle doesn’t directly recruit a lot of members, shifting perception of the organization is worthwhile I think.

        • Bitter says:

          The “biased media outlet” is this blog then since most actual media outlets focused their attacks on Colion. I’m the one who said her body language is very awkward. I connected it to what Reason, a publication that supports the RKBA, said about a number of her pop culture references felt extremely forced because I recognized that the way they scripted her to chime in with such things came off as more awkward due to her body language and facial expressions.

          It may well be that her attractiveness will let her get away with it a little more awkwardness than most entertainment hosts would be allowed to get away with, but I’m noting that it is contributing to some of the fake feeling that even people on our own side perceived in the show’s debut. As much as I hate to admit it, the (painting with a very broad brush here, I know) urban hipsters at Reason are actually even closer to the “target demographic” that this is meant to reach than even I am. They are sympathetic to the freedom cause even though many of them are not involved in the community beyond a casual trip to the range once, so not all of their criticisms of a woman’s performance in reaching that group should be written off as simply coming from “some biased media outlet.”

          • Gunz says:

            Women writers (also including the Reason writer) sometimes unintentionally come across as harsher to other women in the public eye. You seem like the kind of person who would be a great part of the NRA’s women’s leadership thing. Maybe look into it and consider helping to shape/guide from within. Granted, their event in Indianapolis was the same day as the law seminar so you wouldn’t have been able to attend both.

  5. Jim Jones says:

    Don’t worry Bitter, I am man, and the THAT’S SO PRETTY!!! factor is just as powerful for me. A lot of guys won’t admit it, but I am a sucker for superior aesthetics.

    • Kirk Parker says:

      You’re right, Jim, but (and it’s a HUGE ‘but’) we don’t USE the word “pretty” we say “elegant” or “beautifully engineered”, etc.

  6. Matthew Carberry says:

    Haven’t watched Freestyle but Noir had very smooth and well-produced videos on his youtube channel. Nothing awkward about them.

    Like beatbox, I’d prefer the NRA to learn to live with and mutually support allies, not coopt them or ignore them.

    I realize the “brand” is “defender of gun rights”, but that doesn’t have to mean “only defender we regularly and enthusiastically acknowledge”, which is how NRA plays it all too often.

    In fact, the minute you are formally associated with NRA the anti’s gain the ability to throw out the dismissive “NRA hack” claim. Since many low-information but not really anti-gun voters don’t grasp how grassroots NRA is, they tend to buy that label due to the constant media repetition of the meme.

    Being able to say, “How is “X” associated with the NRA?” is a simple and powerful way to break them out of their unthinking knee-jerk opposition to the message based on the messenger and illustrate gun rights isn’t “NRA versus anti-NRA” but pro-gun, -independent-, grassroots versus the few anti-gun astro-turf orgs.

    • Bitter says:

      Yup, and I totally agree with you and beatbox on the validity of that argument for keeping personalities who were clearly successful at building a following and spreading the message on their own. Unfortunately, we can’t really re-write history on that front.

      As for Colion being awkward, it really wasn’t him. Some critics felt he dropped a few too many pop culture references that seemed a bit too much trying to be hip, but his delivery was much better, in my opinion.

  7. Drifter says:

    Disclaimer: I am NOT a member of the desired target audience.

    I haven’t seen the second one, but my comments on the first episode largely mirrored Bitter’s, except that I was harsher on the co-host. Yeah, she’s pretty, but who IS she? We all know Colion, but nobody bothered to introduce her. Is she an accomplished shooter? Is she one of his girlfriends? A groupie? An interactive decoration on the set? I appreciate pretty women, but pretty AND smart trumps pretty any day of the week.

    I had the exact same reaction to the “Cribs” section. I love guns and airplanes, but introduce me to the people. (Do you see a pattern yet?)

    Overall, it wasn’t Colion’s best outing, and I sincerely hope this isn’t the beginning of the end for him. I have long feared the NRA would wreck him. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

    I haven’t seen the SEAL guy. Straying from “Freestyle” and going to NRA commentators, the guy with the glasses comes across as annoying and whiny. Plus, he throws out stas with no source. The blond gal? There are many women in the gun community who are smart and articulate. Why don’t we ask one of them to do her segment instead?

    That said, we MUST reach out to the next generation, but this comes off as WLP trying to be the cool dad from “Modern Family.” Am I wrong? Is this the coolest thing ever and I’m just too uncool to realize it?

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