Throughout the last few months in America, a great debate has waged on the topic of guns. The politicians and special interest groups in Washington know that the battle will not be won on the Senate floor, but in the hearts and minds of Americans. They have launched an all out public relations blitz on the United States populous to form the future of the country to their mold of thinking.
One of the best lessons I have learned in my young PR career was from former Partner & Elasticity founder, Dan Callahan. What Dan taught me was that in an argument such as this, it isn’t necessarily proving your side to be right, it is proving you are the most reasonable person in the argument. This is especially true for the gun debate.
When gun advocate Alex Jones appeared on the Piers Morgan show, he was the exact opposite of reasonable – precisely why Piers Morgan invited him to the show. He screamed, he got off track, he spout off seemingly crazy talking points, refused to answer questions, and attacked Morgan personally. Meanwhile, Morgan remained calm, asked his questions, stated how Jones was being unruly, and was portrayed as the figure viewers should trust.
The opposite was true when St. Louis’ own Dana Loesch had a chat with Mr. Morgan. He asked leading questions, assumed answers, and shouted. He got away from all of the things he did well during his argument with Alex Jones. Loesch came armed with reasonable talking points, backed them up with constitutional precedent, remained calm, and disarmed his agenda with articulate answers. She portrayed herself as an expert in the use of arms and Morgan a novice. Using these tactics and remaining reasonable, Dana won the day.
National Rife Association
The NRA has deployed a very interesting, and sometimes questionable, public relations strategy in the latest round of gun debates. Following the Newtown tragedy, the National Rifle Association hid their branded social properties from view–a move I agree with. While they lost an opportunity to turn badvocates to advocates through a reasonable and articulate response, they really were in a no-win situation. They were losing the PR battle to the anti-gun advocates who had swiftly blamed them for the actions of deranged gunmen. Limiting negative exposure, opportunity for mistakes, and doing so out of respect for the victims was a good call.
There are two heads of the NRA: President, David Keene and CEO, Wayne LaPiere. Keene has remained very reasonable, calculated, and articulate in all public appearances, even winning over firearm opponent acquaintances of mine. Meanwhile, LaPiere has been a fiery figure fighting for the cause, rallying NRA members to action, but also appearing unreasonable at times. It is an effective strategy, but one that has had issues along they way.
The National Rifle Association held a press conference outlining a plan for the future and a new program funded by the NRA to, in their words, “protect our greatest national asset, our children.” Instead of asking for the media’s help in the endeavor, LaPiere lashed out at the press for pushing an unfounded association of 2nd Amendment advocates to murderers and crazy people. Instead of seizing an incredible opportunity to be reasonable, he came off as a partisan blinded by anger.
The Boulder Airlift
Colorado-based Magpul has some of the best branding of any business in the firearms space. It is unique, provocative, and speaks to their market. They are one of the largest producers of the 30-round magazines for the AR-15. Colorado is on the verge of signing a bill into law that bans high-capacity magazines.
During the fight against the bill, Magpul had a great PR effort. They made a plan to leave the state if the bill was passed, to take all of their jobs with them, and they made it very public. Once it became evident their efforts were in vain, they launched the Boulder Airlift, an initiative to make sure residents of Colorado could get Magpul’s product before the ban went into effect and the company left the state for redder, firearm-friendly pastures.
The campaign portrayed Magpul as more than just a company lobbying to keep a market open, but a principled collective of Americans who would not tolerate tyranny. They become a symbol of freedom.
Blatant rebranding has been evident in this round of 2nd Amendment discussion. Gun control is no longer called Gun Control; it is “mass shooting prevention”. The anti-gun folks realized that some people have actually read the constitution and are of the opinion that gun control is quite simply un-American. What isn’t un-American is trying to stop tragedies like Newtown & Aurora, hence the new name.
Before the threat of losing their guns, firearms companies and enthusiast had no problem calling an AR-15 or AK-47 an assault rifle. The assault rifle title sold more guns and portrayed them as the best option for defending your home against intruders and tyrannical government. But now the classification of assault rifle has become a dirty word. The pro-gun folks are walking it back and ARs are now likened to any other hunting rifle. (The AR in AR-15 stands for ArmaLite Rifle, not assault rifle).
The fight for or against firearms still wages. The two sides will battle as long as the Star-Spangled Banner flies. When the smoke clears and the dust settles its anyone’s guess what side will come out on top, but may the best public relations strategy win.