Rhetoric in the Gun Control Movement

While Sebastian was reading the anti-gun communication playbook that others have posted, he was rather shocked that making tiny distinctions in language was apparently tested and showed different results. The pollsters & marketing staff warn the gun control advocates:

DO advocate for “stronger” gun laws. DON’T use the term “stricter” gun laws.

He asked me if one word change like that while talking about the same policies would make a difference. Yes, it can to a low information voter.

Take away the topic at hand – gun control – and just think about how you think about the words “strict” and “strong.” If we played a word association game, you’d probably name pretty negative things with the word “strict,” but mostly attribute positive things with “strong.” They know that gun control isn’t a positive thing, so they want to candy coat it with positive words.

Related to that instruction is their explanation that women will likely to pay attention to them if they use the phrases “reducing gun violence” and “reducing gun crime” interchangeably. However, they found that men really only come around to their ideas when they are presented “reducing gun crime.”

I suspect that’s because lower information male voters are more likely to hear their policy proposals as something related to punishing criminals if you frame as a gun crime reducer. However, women seem to view the ideas as solutions for everything bad in the world. I do think this is related to the above issue of “stronger” versus “stricter.” It’s the similar process of candy coating something, but it’s also because being seen as standing up against crime is viewed as a good thing.

Now, we can learn from this, but you really should already know the lesson I’m about to mention. Where we really make inroads with fence sitters and low information gun voters is by talking about the ways that specific legislation will turn them or people they know into criminals. People want to stand up against criminals when they think it is some masked dude hiding in an alley, but they get pretty pissy when they find out the definition of criminal is simply being changed to include them and their buddies.

It’s a simple lesson in making the political personal, and it’s something you should all try to do in every discussion about the issue.

It is the same thing I do when I try to make signs and lists at gun shows that highlight the types of guns the attendees are likely to own or know people who own them that anti-gunners are currently trying to ban. I use the scarier language, but I also frame it in a way that people understand that it will impact their lives.

9 thoughts on “Rhetoric in the Gun Control Movement”

  1. Hey, it looks like that guy at proteinwisdom.com was on to something over the past several years as he has pointed out that the one defining the language of the argument often wins it.

  2. When I was in high school (lo, more than 50 years ago) we had one teacher who taught “Problems of Democracy” (POD) who would spend an entire marking period on sensitizing us about “propaganda.” I no longer can remember a lot of the specific content, but I do remember him teaching us to think about why every word in a “persuasion.” We would be assigned to take news and opinion articles out of newspapers and magazines and analyze them word by word, paying attention to what was a statement of something as a fact, versus language that only implied that, but could be taken as “fact” by a careless reader.

    I don’t know how much impact that teacher had on us, but I do know that when I run into old classmates, him and his propaganda unit are things everyone remembers. It is more interesting to reflect, that no one ever discerned what his own politics were.

    1. Make that “why every word in a ‘persuasion’ piece had been used.”

    2. I remember a junior high class that had a section on propaganda techniques. They focused on how they’re used in advertising, but didn’t neglect their use by politicians. I wonder if any such thing is still in the curriculum…

  3. “Where we really make inroads with fence sitters and low information gun voters is by talking about the ways that specific legislation will turn them or people they know into criminals.”

    I have some personal experience with this. I’m in my 40’s, and except for five years in the navy I spent my entire life in New York. I woke up one morning in January and saw the news that a gun law I didn’t even know was being debated had already been passed. Compared to most people reading this blog I’d wager that my gunsafe is pretty average, but if I kept it as-is and they enforced that law I’d be looking at 85 years behind bars. That’s right… 85 years for a perfectly normal assortment of rifles, pistols and magazines that had never been used in a crime, owned by a man who’s most serious trouble with the law has been a speeding ticket.

    So I did the only rational thing. I took my guns and tax dollars and moved to Nevada. When people ask me why I left, people I know support that law, I simply say “you made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome there”.

  4. Try on “Pro-Choice” for the big lie. I guarantee that one of the two people involved would not call their murder their “choice”. Words have meaning.

    The words liberal and progressive have lost all of their positive value now that they have been soiled by the socialist scum who use them to cloak their anti-freedom ideas and actions.

  5. It’s not hard to find examples of anti-gun tactics. I find multiple accounts on a daily basis, that clearly indicates that the movement is strong, and growing ever stronger. I wish that ALL firearms owners would wake up to the FACT that the anti folks fight & ply their trade on a daily basis, constantly chipping away & causing erosion to God given rights. We need to remain vigilant & in the fight,,, and it takes more than an annual membership check to the NRA!

    1. A typical news article on the political/lobbying side of guns will quickly attract hundreds or even thousands of public comments. An article about all the other common uses of guns (hunting, conservation, competitive marksmanship, granddaddy’s collection, home defense) barely attracts any attention. The public is naturally drawn to controversy and arguing back and forth. Encourage your like-minded friends to write, share and comment on the benign articles too. Demonstrate that we all live a mainstream type of life and are interested in more than just arguing.

  6. It works both ways. If you find yourself in a debate with an anti, and they propose “stronger” laws, always respond that we don’t need “stricter” or “harsher” laws that end up disarming and jailing the otherwise law-abiding, and ask why they’re such strong supporters of the thugs.

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