Anti-Gun Communication Strategies

Folks have been linking a document created by anti-gun communications firms and pollsters, and the short summary can really be described as using emotion in place of facts and discussion about political reality.

Sebastian and I read through it and had a few deeper observations about the document.

One of the main messages of the document is that gun control advocates should demonize NRA as much as possible to motivate their own base. However, they must be careful because the general public isn’t as frothing at the mouth as their base. In fact, they acknowledge that the fact that the public respects NRA and doesn’t see them as the force of evil that so many gun control advocates try to make them out to be.

A message they want communicated to their base is that the NRA is to blame for their unsafe cities. Their suggestion could essentially be described as telling gun control advocates to tell people that it’s not the neighborhood criminals who make their lives so dangerous, it’s the NRA. Interestingly, they suggest specifically blaming the NRA rather than using the broader term “gun lobby.”

This is kind of funny since gun owners tend take attacks on the NRA to be attacks on them personally. In fact, one strategy I use in my pro-Second Amendment outreach is framing attacks on NRA as attacks on individual members or on Second Amendment supporters. If a random group issues a statement that says “The NRA isn’t rational and can’t be trusted,” then the headline version of that for my reporting might be that they “claimed law abiding gun owners aren’t rational” or that “Second Amendment defenders can’t be trusted.” (I’ll still include the original quote and context, but the shortened version sums up the intent of the comment.)

They very specifically tackle the issue of saying things like, “I’m not trying to take away the Second Amendment.” I don’t think that’s because they are advocating for honesty, but rather because they realize that it raises questions in the listener’s head about what taking away the Second Amendment would look like and whether something like a ban on guns would violate it. They don’t want people thinking, only feeling. (That’s very clear in repeated instructions not to get caught up in trying to argue with facts or logic, but rather to emphasize emotion above all else.) A great example of this being counterproductive was the rant by Star Jones on Piers Morgan where she fell into this trap: “I support the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. But I’m telling you, the guns, we need to get them out.” She just made her audience think about the fact that while she’s claiming all her policies (some mandate to “reduce the volume of guns” and charging $5,000 per round of ammunition) were in line with the Second Amendment, yet she admits she wants to get rid of guns. Even a pretty low information viewer could recognize why this doesn’t seem very “support[ive]” of a constitutional right.

In terms of defining the concept of the Second Amendment, then encourage gun control advocates to be very confident in declarations that all Second Amendment cases have been settled, and they effectively allow them to pass all of the gun control they want.

There’s much more to discuss in this guide, but I think I should break those out into separate posts on specific policy communication strategies and why language matters to low information voters or those who simply don’t follow our issue.

26 thoughts on “Anti-Gun Communication Strategies”

  1. The fundamental flaw here is that the antis don’t really have a base. They’re pretty much all professional politicians and activists overseeing lots and lots of astroturf.

    1. But their non-base has been kicking your ass all up and down the Empire State. I would surrender that particular delusion. They do have a base. It’s not very large, I’ll grant you, but that doesn’t matter because of who their allies are.

      1. It’s a very location-dependent base, and even then, that “base” is mostly unengaged unless politicians there drum up support. Even in NY and CA, the anti-gun platform doesn’t really attract many voters; it’s more that politicians feel comfortable being anti-gun in an environment without many gun owners, and a mostly liberal electorate mildly supports it.

        In other words, their successes in places like NY are more about a lack of our base to oppose politicians with anti-gun tendencies rather than any real existence of their base.

      2. Both Cuomo and Obama tried getting people to come out for their agenda. They couldn’t pay people to show up. That isn’t the problem. The NYC Democrats want us to give them money and have come right out and said that.

  2. The basic problem I see with this strategy is that while emotion and feelings are a great hook, there has to be some substance behind them. You can’t keep people perpetually outraged. It gets exhausting and they drop out. That’s why they have no durable grassroots; there’s really nothing serious to latch onto.

    Our side does a great job of this, actually. We hook people with a range of emotions from empowerment (never be a victim again!) to fear (they want to take away your freedom!) to pleasure (hunting and shooting are fun!), and then we keep them with the very serious and meaty substance of the hobby and sport of gun ownership and the community of gun owners.

    By contrast, the anti-gunners have no hobby and no community; how could they? Despite their attempt to de-emphasize the political side, all they could ever be is a political interest group. If they ever achieve all their goals, their movement dies.

    1. I actually think your point about the variety of emotions that our side can use with the deeper side of the various parts of the issue ready and available as new members of the base decide to get involved is a really good one.

      One of the issues I plan to mention in a next post on this book is how they are trying to reclaim the emotional reaction to freedom. They want to emphasize the freedom from fear, the freedom to always be safe. That’s the emotional language they recommend using to those who aren’t part of their base, but aren’t against them, either. However, they suggest that when talking to their base, they should take it a step further and blame the NRA for getting in the way of this so-called freedom – that NRA is the reason why criminals are allowed in their neighborhoods and keep them fearful.

    2. This. Very good point.

      The only empowerment an anti gets is when they get the state to do their dirty work. Which is why they can’t be against all guns. They have to support carve outs for the Police and other Agents of the State. Which bleeds over into supporting “the right” people to have guns.

      Their stance is inherently unequal.

      And if we gunnies, somehow, got our goals. We’d still have and carry our guns. (Though then complacency becomes a bigger risk).

  3. “You can’t keep people perpetually outraged. It gets exhausting and they drop out.”

    I would say that for our side, it has been working ever since the Clinton Administration. That’s a pretty decent run for any tactic.

    1. I think you missed the entire second paragraph where he outlined the variety of emotional arguments that our issue has to offer, and then the more serious, non-emotional aspects to back it all up when people get tired of the various emotions.

  4. One of the things I learned early on is that substance is more important than style. My kids have learned that … and I truly hope other kids are being taught that as well. It is amazing to me how many folks (like these communications firms-for-hire) make a living polishing turds.

    1. You don’t even really need to be taught this explicitly; it all works out in the wash IMHO. This is because style is a marketing technique, while substance is the product itself. You can’t sell the marketing technique! You use it to sell the product. If there’s no product, there’s nothing to sell!

      So even people who are not familiar with this marketing ploy and are taken in by “style over substance” need for there to actually be some substance there. Otherwise they make very weak consumers who are highly vulnerable to losing interest or attracted by products with both style [i]and[/i] substance.

      That’s why this document really doesn’t worry me. It’s an implicit admission that there’s no product to sell, no real substance. Even if they’re successful, their success will be inherently short-lived because they have absolutely nothing to keep together any movement or coalition they might build.

      1. Nathaniel stated the message well. Also, it can be said that the mainstream movement (the good guys, i.e. our side) is defined by what we are and what we do, while the protest movement (the anti-gunners) are only united by their opposition to the good guys. In practical terms, this means we get together on a regular basis to enjoy shooting events and collecting/museum/.mil/LEO stuff with like-minded families; the other folks have no reason to gather, no shared hobbies. They find each other on whiny internet sites but that only goes so far. “Freedom” conjures up very literal images in our minds. It’s tied to the actual practicing of those liberties.

        1. They don’t even meet up on the internet. What would there be to discuss?

          “I don’t like guns!”

          “Yeah, me neither!”

          “I knew someone whose brother was shot.”

          “How sad!”

          Most of their blogs are astroturf with comments disabled or deluged by pro-gun commenters. They have no forums. Their social media presence is totally top-down.

          They have no community and no possible means to build one. All they have is a weak political movement that derives all its energy from the exploitation of tragedy. That’s why the document repeatedly talks about trying to de-emphasize how political they actually are. It’s all they’ve really got!

          1. To be fair they also have a plank in one of the two major political parties, and senior party leadership that is willing to push the issue. Chuck Schumer is one heartbeat away from being the Senate Majority Leader.

            You don’t necessarily need grassroots if you have significant high level horsepower and can piggy back on other issues.

          2. Internet community? Where’s their ARfcom? Where’s their THR? Firing line? Any one of these has more eyeballs per day than the anti-gun crowd gets in a month.

  5. Interestingly, they suggest specifically blaming the NRA rather than using the broader term “gun lobby.”

    That’s pure Alinsky: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, etc.

  6. The NRA is really the boogeyman to a lot of people, including a growing number of companies. My new contract assignment is at an engineering design firm, working for a major aerospace company. When I interviewed over the phone, some of the non-technical questions were on firearms ownership and the NRA. No other gun rights group was mentioned.
    I was honest and told them that I am a NRA member, and that I own guns. I was hired on as a contractor, but was told that the contract will not last past the end of the year without dropping the NRA membership, and that being hired as a permanent employee will not occur without destroying all firearms and related material, per the direction of their major clients.
    This is getting to be the direction of the gun control movement. I have encountered this on my last few assignments, but I have not owned any firearms in 15 years until last August, when my father died and left me his collection.
    Come January, I will probably drop my NRA membership and have the guns destroyed, as long as I get the permanent position promised. Most of my co-workers have gone along with this, as jobs are few and far between.
    Most major aerospace companies are emphatically anti-gun these days; I would say that out of the top aerospace companies as rated by Aviation Week, fully 90% are at least somewhat anti-gun, and over half are strongly anti-gun. The primes are pushing gun control down the chain; my last client, another aerospace company, dropped a long standing vendor because of their doing machining for a gun maker. There was no conflict of interest; people and equipment were separated(different technologies). The young MBAs are overwhelmingly anti-gun, and a lot of the new engineers just out of school are as well.

    1. They going to ask about your political affiliations and sexual orientation next? Unless the job revolves around the activities you perform outside of employment hours, employers aren’t supposed to be asking such questions and you have every right to lie to them. Unless they are putting it in a contract (and you hope they would) as a condition of employment, your private, legal activities and associations are none of their f*cking business.

      No HR department in their right mind would put requests such as those you mention in writing. Especially after permanent hire. Making you limit private associations that have nothing to do with aerospace engineering and condition your employment on the destruction or disposal of legal, private, valuable property? That is a lawsuit dream waiting to happen.

      I have *never* been asked about gun ownership, political views or anything else. I have worked at deeply liberal companies (media) and conservative ones (finance) and plenty in the middle (telecom, contracting, consulting, insurance). If I sensed that gun ownership was an issue, I simply didn’t come out with it. Kind of like religion and politics. Keep those topics close until you know who you are dealing with.

      My employer is the exact opposite to what you describe. I go to the range with my bosses and almost all of my colleagues are gun owners. Several of whom I introduced to shooting and they bought their own guns.

      1. This has been my experience as well working at outwardly liberal companies. HR didn’t talk about it, and a lot of the employees themselves are enthusiastic gun owners. What Don describes is indeed an employment lawyer’s dream, and both of their meal ticket for the next decade or more if handled correctly.

    2. Don, that’s a serious accusation you’ve made. I’ve never heard of anything like it, and I have several friends in the aerospace industry who are gun owners. I’ll ask them if they were asked questions like you describe. Please, if you have any specifics or evidence, share with us. Or better yet, talk to a lawyer.

    3. Well I’d be happy to help you out there, send the guns to me and I will destroy them for you. Of course my method of destruction will be shooting them until they fall apart!
      Win-Win in my opinion!

  7. The link to the document at Temple Beth-El is faulty — or they removed it because it was getting too much traffic from the “wrong” people.

    1. See the comments above – they removed it. I still have it since they made it available for the public to download, and I will still post about some more aspects of the playbook. In those, I’ll quote them more (in the context of fair use) since readers are no longer able to read their own words for themselves.

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