High Performance Writing
TO: Gun Enthusiasts
FROM: David Preston
RE: Dealing with Proposed Gun Control Legislation
Presented here is a pro bono analysis of the negative attention directed at gun enthusiasts from governmental, social media, and other anti-gun groups that presents workable solutions.
The problem is determined to be not a legislative or social issue but an image and marketing issue.
I am not a gun enthusiast, but as a motorcyclist I can understand the appeal. The technology, the art, the thrill of operating high performance equipment, the need for training and care in use – all of that resonates with me. My parents were NRA members, and in the early days of their marriage, competitive shooters. As a child I gawked at the jackets that hung in the closet, festooned with pads and sewn on badges from various local and state contests they had entered. I read the NRA magazine each month.
My first experience with a real gun was hilarious in hindsight. A girl friend in college lived in a small town, and when I visited for a Sunday afternoon meal I was invited out to the back yard for some target shooting. I was given an enormous hand gun that seemed to weigh about ten pounds and directed toward a target nailed to a tree 50 yards away. I could barely hold the gun straight and worried that I would miss not just the target but the entire tree. Instead, I hit the bulls-eye; evidently rarely done. Pure random chance and chaos theory. The girl’s father took an instant disliking to me that was intense.
All over this country there are calls for restrictions on the ownership and usage of guns of all kinds. These range from proposed legislative action to social media campaigns and media blitzes whenever someone uses a gun inappropriately. The position of the NRA has been that no changes of any kind are acceptable, and that anyone who wishes to own a gun should be able to do so. The 2nd Amendment to the US constitution is usually cited as the rationale for this position.
The problem gun that enthusiasts face is not at all what it appears. The problem is not with legislation, social media, or protests by non-gun enthusiasts. The problem lies with image and marketing.
I worked in the motorsports industry for 14 years in a position of “soft” marketing that entailed newsletters, e-mails, customer support, and customer and dealership events.
More importantly, I attempted to teach writing to teens for over 30 years, and that is where most of my expertise in marketing was gained.
When you attempt to teach English, you’re trying to sell a product to a demographic that does not want it. You deal with that by offering it for free. Even at that, the product is hard to use, and requires a lot of study and practice. Assigned practice tasks are not easy, and most of the feedback you receive for your efforts will be perceived as negative, even if the intent is helpful. You will not be skilled in the use of the product for many years, and will in all likelihood never reach a position of professional status. The odds are that you will not enjoy using the product – ever. This is ironic because the ability to use the English language will affect your life positively several times a day. In your teen years this is often impossible to comprehend.
In both retail marketing and teaching the ultimate truth is that perception often trumps reality. All products are marketed to create a positive perception, and sold with the intent by the purchaser that the perception will become reality. This is why middle-aged men purchase red convertibles, with the perception that this purchase will rekindle their youth and power. The reality of life rarely intrudes on the purchase decision, and this can be applied to almost any product area you wish. When I get all togged up in my motorcycle gear and go out for a ride, my perception is that I look cool. There is no evidence to corroborate this, and I yet hold on to the perception because it is more comfortable than reality.
Gun enthusiasts need to understand the role of perception and how it differs from reality to move their sport forward. In fact, they need to understand this to help gun enthusiasm survive. Perception is important both as applied to gun enthusiasts and to those in opposition.
The gun enthusiast perception is that the problem lies with those opposed to gun ownership and use. The reality is that the problem is being created, and perpetuated, by… gun enthusiasts.
Here are some of the perceptions of those opposed. Most of these are not true, at least not in their entirety. Others are open to interpretation. None of this makes any difference at all, because the perceptions of society are what drive change.
Murders are out of control. In fact, the rate of murders committed in this country has been declining for years. Many of them are committed without the use of a gun. Neither of these facts makes the slightest difference.
Gun enthusiasts are careless. In our area, a gun owner strolling with his pistol in a Costco store (a danger zone?) took it out of the holster and dropped it on the floor. What is the perception of others in the store that day? How will they react from now on to the phrase “careful and reasonable gun owner”?
A recent report by the TSA pointed out that 2200 guns are confiscated at airport terminals by passengers checking in every year. 83% of them are loaded. The usual response is that the gun owner “forgot.” To the public, any gun owner who is capable of forgetting that he or she has packed a gun before a flight, loaded or not, is a person who should not own a gun. If this many people forget they have a gun, how many also forget to leave the safety on, or make sure the gun is not operable? How many of them forget to clean and otherwise maintain their weapon? The gun enthusiast response to this is that most gun owners are careful. The public doesn’t care, as 6 guns a day confiscated, every day of the year, offers a powerful rebuttal.
To conclude, the line that most gun owners are careful and responsible, which is certainly true, should be dropped and never used again
School massacres committed with guns happen far too often. Easily defended, as even one is far too many. The perception is that there have been hundreds of them since Columbine. Makes no difference if that is correct or not, or even what the actual number is.
School massacres are not new. In the early years of the last century a school principal in Maine was upset because the teacher he was having an affair with was breaking up with him. He loaded the basement of the school with dynamite, chained the doors shut, and then watched as he blew up and burned to death virtually the entire population of children in the town, as well as the teacher. Due to the relative lack of media presence over a century ago, most people never heard of this atrocity.
These days every incident is reported in excessive death by a media that lives on the expression “if it bleeds, it leads.” Railing against this is useless, as that is the reality.
It is also counter-productive to stick to the party line that each school massacre is an “isolated” event. There have simply been too many of them in the last decade for that description to have any credibility.
There are too many guns. The actor Liam Neeson made the news recently decrying the “fact” that there are over 300 million guns in America. There is no possible way to estimate the number of guns in this country, no matter what sort of statistical analysis you use.
This makes no difference. 300 million is as good a number as any. Could be more, could be less.
To the non-enthusiast public, that means that you could destroy one million guns a year and not run out for 300 years, even if no more guns were produced. Whether or not there are “too many” guns is a matter of perception, but that we will never be without them is a fact.
The NRA is corrupt. The perception is that the Board of Directors of the NRA is dominated by powerful executives who are employed in the arms industry. This is a clear conflict of interest, as your goal in such a career is to maintain and increase sales of guns. Whether or not the NRA is in fact dominated by such people is moot, because that is the perception.
The NRA owns many members of congress. Whether or not this is true, it is now being used by opponents who are willing to take on the NRA and its political muscle at the ballot box. A candidate can now receive funding from multiple sources based on a pledge to oppose the NRA. The NRA is now transitioning from a political influence to a political issue, and that is extremely dangerous.
Guns are too easy to get ahold of. You cannot legally go out and purchase and airplane and fly it without proof of successful completion of a course of instruction. It is difficult these days to do the same thing with a motorcycle. Or a car. The difference is that while an airplane, motorcycle, or car can injure and kill others if used inappropriately, none of them is designed to do so. You can argue that not all guns are designed to kill, but that would be an exercise is nit-picking and a waste of time. And yet there are very few constraints on gun ownership, and any that are proposed are denigrated viciously by gun enthusiasts. Why?
I confess I’m stumped on this one. I’ve heard the argument that requiring education, licensing, and registration of gun owners is an intrusion on freedom, but can this be taken seriously? In a society where most money changes hands electronically, and most communication happens by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever other mass social communication device was invented this week, the concept of “freedom” is becoming quaint. There pretty much is no thing. Unless, of course, you choose to live totally off the grid, and if you do that you are no longer participating in the cultural debate, and thus, your “side” will lose, whether you are there to see it or not.
The phrase used so often is “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” For those opposed to guns, this is easily turned around to be a good idea. Why not ban all guns so that all who own them are criminals? Not feasible, surely, and yet history shows that in a democratic society where people elect representatives to enact laws in their interest, literally anything is possible.
Early attempts to limit smoking were also mocked as impossible. Initially, smokers stood up for their rights to smoke on planes. A few flicks of ash later, someone smoking a cigarette, even in public and outdoors is becoming a rare sight.
And yet, there are still smokers who enjoy their cigarettes, or pipe in my case, and their ranks you will find the solution.
In order to win a war, you must be willing to lose a battle or two. To win the hearts and minds of the people, you must create the perception of being a reasonable group with ideas that support and bolster society.
To do this gun enthusiasts will need to embrace limited change. Through the creation of proposals for change comes control of those changes, or at least valuable influence. By making small steps toward control, massive and destructive changes out of the control of gun enthusiasts can be avoided.
Let’s start with automatic weapons. Just as nobody needs a motorcycle, nobody needs an automatic weapon. Not for home defense, and not for hunting. However, they have an attraction and I am told they are thrilling to use. Why not propose that automatic weapons can only be sold to licensed shooting ranges and the like, and only used on the premises? Not eliminate them, but ensure they are used in a controlled environment. A fallback position would allow private ownership, but only if the weapons are stored at a registered facility. There are electronic and other ways to ensure the weapon would be deactivated if carried away from the register facility. Gun enthusiasts should go beyond supporting this concept to be the ones proposing it.
Gun enthusiasts need to be in favor of mandatory education and registration of guns. As motorcyclists did decades ago, gun enthusiasts could be the ones who create the classes. In motorcycles, this was so successful that most states have now ceded both the education and testing of motorcyclists to private firms owned by motorcycle enthusiasts.
Gun enthusiasts need to be in agreement that school shootings are a problem. They do not need to provide the solution, but admitting there is a problem would ramp up perception that gun enthusiasts are willing to confront reality.
Over time these changes would result in fewer people with guns, and fewer gun enthusiasts. This would actually work for the better for gun enthusiasts. I have seen this work with motorcycles. Back in the 1960s and 1970s motorcycles became very popular in this country, and for a while everyone who was anyone had to have one.
In retrospect, this was not good, as many of the people who got into it were ill-equipped in temperament or ability or intelligence to operate a motorcycle. In those days I had people refer to me as a “Hell’s Angel.” A principal of the school wanted me kicked out of the student teaching program because I rode a motorcycle. People often asked me about my “murdercycle.” On one occasion a man tried to run me off the road as a “fun” way to impress his date. All of these incidents had nothing to do with the reality of me, and everything to do with the perceptions of motorcyclists at the time.
In short, an inclusive approach that places all gun owners in the same tent is a mistake that will, prove disastrous in the long run. By allowing and assisting in the efforts of social and government forces to weed out those who are never going to be able to come up to the standard of “reasonable and careful,” gun enthusiasts will be able to preserve gun ownership and use for a smaller percentage of the population. That population will disappear from an almost daily appearance in the mass media.
When was the last time you read a newspaper article or heard a politician railing at the dangers and destruction to our society wrought by motorcyclists?
Will this hurt the NRA, manufacturers, and gun shop owners? In the short term, absolutely. That happened in the motorcycle industry as well, but over time we have seen that dealerships that were not well run disappeared. Manufacturers re-thought and re-tolled their offerings, and they are still here and still profitable. Motorcyclists today are fewer in number, but better educated and better customers. And to the perception of the public, no longer a threat.
In fewer numbers lies the salvation of the gun owner, as opposed to a large and uncontrollable mob that, much like lemmings, will march off a legislative cliff they do not see coming.
I’m off to smoke my pipe or ride my motorcycle.
It’s all about the perception, boss.
Copyright 2015 David Preston