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.

Ammo Hunting

I hope everyone had a satisfactory weekend. I spent part of it at Cabela’s teaching my dad how to buy ammo without looking like a newb. Several years ago he moved from the Delaware Valley to Bumfsck, Central Pennsylvania, and he’s been interacting with the local culture. Unfortunately, the rifle I lent him is chambered in .17HMR, which is about as rare as hen’s teeth these days, so I was growing concerned that we wouldn’t be able to feed it.

Fortunately he just called and told me he scored some at a local gun shop. I guess panicking suburbanites aren’t making their way out to the rural shops to clean the shelves of rimfire ammo just yet. A quick safety check shows he was learning good habits, so the people teaching him seem to be on top of that kind of thing. That’s not something I wanted to take for granted because some of the poorest gun handling I’ve seen has been on public ranges in rural areas where everyone grows up around it. Fortunately, my dad has access to a private range. As I’ve mentioned before, I did not grow up in a gun owning family. I didn’t really get into shooting until after I moved out and had a decent paying job where I could afford toys.

Attacking the Shooting Sports in Colorado

With so many major gun control legislative battles happening around the country in the spring, it was easy to miss the local level stories that reflect just how far gun control proponents really wanted to go in their crusade. Sebastian & I both missed the story recounted on this Friends of NRA committee page from Colorado Springs.

I don’t know how many of you heard about it on the news, but the Board of County Commissioners, every year, declares the banquet day to be ‘Friends of NRA Day’ in El Paso County.

Nobody has ever cared one way or the other … until this year. Someone decided to raise a stink and it made all the papers and the local news. Protestors showed up at the BoCC meeting and it took them several hours of testimony before they could vote. They UNANIMOUSLY agreed to declare it ‘Friends of NRA Day’ despite the opposition, misinformation, and general ugliness.

Keep in mind that this a resolution simply recognizing a single event for a non-profit organization that doesn’t engage in lobbying or politics and simply supports the shooting sports. Yet, that was still unacceptable to anti-gun leaders in Colorado. When they say that we can keep our shooting sports, it sounds a bit hollow when they turn around and try to banish all recognition of them, even when it’s not a political fight.

The good news is that not only did they win the resolution vote, but they managed to turn it into an opportunity to raise some more money for shooting programs in Colorado:

The original, signed Resolution was read by the sponsoring Commissioner and then donated to the committee for live auction. Before we sold it, Sheriff Terry Maketa (who received a HUGE standing ovation for all his efforts on our behalf) signed it at the bottom, and Congressman Doug Lamborn did the same. It went for $2000!!!!!!! Then the back up bidder asked for a second signed copy for $1200!!!!

I’m really glad to hear that this local group of activists managed to turn a nightmare battle into a positive for the cause.

Anti-Gunners: Go for Bans & Attack Concealed Carry Licensees

Continuing to look at the anti-gun communication strategy book making its way around the internet, there were more than a few tips that struck me as rather odd.

First, there’s a clear theme that they want the gun control groups to jump on board with a semi-automatic ban again. They really put a big focus on how they want anti-gun advocates to continually describe modern rifles as more dangerous than previous rifles owned by their grandparents.

By telling their supporters to stay away from facts and details, they keep them focused on the broader message so that they don’t end up in a Carolyn McCarthy moment.

She tries to follow the same kind of tactics they are endorsing, and she almost manages to get away with it twice. But the people who wrote this report know that their supporters will almost never be caught in a situation like this and hope that their followers will be able to get away from refusing to answer detailed questions.

However, this video is a great reminder that catching your opponents in moments like this can really hurt their credibility. If you’re ever at an event with a Q&A period with a gun ban supporter or if you yourself ever take one on in a debate, have a question like this in your mental file. Just ask what a specific part of a gun is and why it should be regulated. It’s such a simple question, and most of the antis, especially ones who read advice like in this report, will completely fall down on it.

As part of the AWB push, they also promote the idea that all “loopholes” must be closed with any proposed bills so that no supposedly “more deadly” guns can be sold again. Basically, they suggest to their supporters that they go BIG when it comes to promoting a gun ban. My assumption is that this is a way to try and inch the “compromise” line closer to their ultimate position. There’s a case to be made for that style of arguing, but those kinds of proposals are also what help us motivate more gun owners to act. So, for that reason, I really hope that all anti-gun groups follow this advice of being as extreme as possible.

One way they suggest getting people to buy into the messaging is through visuals. This is good advice for our side. But just so you know what you may be going up against, their advice to use visuals to scary looking rifles and guns to illustrate their call for gun control. Anti-gun advocates don’t want to talk specifics of bills at all, just find the scariest guns they can find and then claim that’s all they really want to ban. Don’t write it off, it works. That’s why I use eye-catching lists at gun shows targeted to my audience to highlight the kinds of things they want to regulate. It gets people who otherwise aren’t inclined to act to step up.

When Sebastian was reading the report, he noticed an interesting trend. While they warn off insulting NRA members, they actually embrace insulting concealed carry license holders. They refer to those who are licensed to carry their firearms outside of the home as “gun-toting vigilantes.” Even when they know that these folks have had the repeated background checks they hold in such high regard, they still argue that anti-gun advocates should frame the debate that these people licensed to carry in public are a danger to society.

I can’t fathom where this type of attack got the blessing of the report writers since they warned off similar individual attacks of NRA members. Consider the Pennsylvania numbers for concealed carry through the end of 2011 (the latest data available on the State Police website), there were 792,317 concealed carry licenses issued in between 2007-2011. In the 2010 census, there were only about 9.9 million people 18 and over in Pennsylvania. That means it’s safe to say that these folks suggest hurling personal insults to about 1 in 10 Pennsylvania voters. It’s no wonder they don’t want to talk politics since no politician would take the advice to piss off about 10% of the voting population with a few careless words.

On other specific policy debates, the report suggests staying away from actual legal principles like “duty to retreat.” They acknowledge that it is a real legal principle that comes into play in self-defense laws, but they ask people not to talk about it. Once a duty to retreat is mentioned, it would seem that law-abiding folks don’t like that concept as much. These anti-gunners don’t want to have to defend the fundamental argument they are making – that innocent victims should be blamed for not retreating properly when attacked by criminals.

The report also asks gun control proponents to avoid talking about details of their background check policies. They suggest that being weighed down by details of their proposals is a bad thing. Well, yeah, it is a bad thing for them. When details start coming out about their background check proposals, that’s when they start losing all of the gun owner support they claim they have. So, in order to keep that perceived support, they ask anti-gunners to just stay away from all details of proposals and keep voters in the dark.

Overall, these concepts aren’t anything new to those of us who have watched the language of anti-gun groups over the years. However, it is handy to see that they have been packaged in a way that will likely make its way around their lower level activists. If they use these strategies, now our people can have a better understanding of the tactics and how to defeat them.

Are They Trying to Hold the Senate?

So when reader Adam Z sent me this article today about Harry Reid promising Moms Demand Action a vote on a gun control bill in 2014 before the midterm election, I started to wonder if it’s actually not a strategy to keep control of the Senate.

Here me out as I kind of walk through a possible strategy. It could be simply crazy talk or crazy like a fox. You decide.

For those of you who don’t have the list memorized, here are the red states with Democrats facing re-election or with an open seat currently held by Democrats in 2014: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Now, most people would think that after you already failed to garner enough votes right after Newtown, you definitely don’t want to force another vote that fires up the Second Amendment vote in an election year in these key states.

But, The Nation assumes way too much about the promise with its vague promise of timing.

Reid’s prediction now of a pre-midterm election vote on gun control is crucial, because it means senators who oppose background checks will have to declare their opposition in the heat of a campaign cycle.

They seem to assume that such a vote would happen when Democrats could be challenged on the issue. Not likely. Reid could be promising a vote after primary season and before the general election. By doing that, he can keep challenges from the left at bay, and he knows that even lefty voters who support gun control aren’t going to run into the arms of Republicans over it. Those same liberal voters will likely be motivated to turn out on other issues – preserving Obamacare or whatever the topic of the day is at the time. They may have an opinion on guns, but they don’t vote guns. Reid knows this.

In the meantime, by holding a vote closer to a general election, Reid now gives the Democrats cover to run on a platform of being a strong pro-gun vote. They can say that their presence in the Senate keeps the crazy wing of the party from running wild on gun control. There’s an element of truth in it. Gun owners would just have to decide if they trusted that specific candidate enough not to stray once re-elected, and lower information gun voters may not think far ahead when voting.

A gun control vote fight post-primary and pre-general would also mean that NRA’s human resources – staff and volunteers – will be tied up with drumming up opposition to the vote instead of focusing on the early stages of the general election. It means that endorsements to signal where volunteers should help out will likely be held until the last minute after the vote. It means less time to be on the air with commercials and less time to buy other advertisements and do mailings. Don’t even get me started on the magazine publishing deadline. That will be a nightmare in itself.

So, while a 2014 pre-election vote may get the pro-gun voters energized, Reid may be calculating that it may not hurt the Senate Democratic candidates in those key states. So while the left may be cheering this news, it may not be nearly as exciting for them as they hope it is.

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.

Balanced Article on Machine Gun Shoot

From Slate. I appreciate it when reporters legitimately make an attempt to step outside their comfort zone. Of course, at least one of the gun owners he interviewed shows why our own people are a bigger impediment to advancing gun rights than the gun control zealots. See here:

Darwin Edwards and his friend John Paskey left the Big Sandy Shoot early. The 4,000-mile round trip from Kentucky, Edwards says, was worth doing once. He says the machine gun community proves the efficacy of rigorous background checks: “Machine gun owners are one of the few groups of people who can prove they’re not felons.” Ammo remains “really just not available because of the feeding frenzy” fueled by the gun control legislation. But Edwards isn’t worried. He’s got enough ammo to last him the rest of his life. He’s deeply disappointed that the Senate didn’t pass gun control. “The majority of people in the country, including me, were in favor of that particular bill,” he says. “I don’t see how any thinking person would vote against it.”

He’s got his, so who cares, right? If only that attitude were rare as hens teeth. “Machine gun owners are one of the few groups of people who can prove they’re not felons.” And you know what? Despite that, they still banned them. Once they get the rest of us out of the game, we’re not going to be able to stop them when they come to confiscate your now ungrandfathered machine guns. This guy had the nerve to call other gun owners uneducated. He’s a world class fool, blind to the realities of this issue.

Gun Fun Across State Borders

The New York Rifle & Pistol Association is raising money for their legal fund to challenge the SAFE Act by raffling off a machine gun shoot for two in Pennsylvania that even includes a night at a local hotel. That’s a pretty good idea to look at surrounding states to have fun shooting events when it has been banned locally. They feature video of previous shoots by the company:

Rain and Drought

The beginning of this week looked like a promising news cycle from a gun blog standpoint, but it’s quickly dried up. I usually hold a few things in reserve for days when things aren’t as active, but now we find ourselves clean out of anything to put up. Hopefully something interesting will come across our in our sources. Well, but not too interesting. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.