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Anti-Gunners' Message Guide Emphasizes Emotion Over Logic

Friday, August 9, 2013

Stung by years of the public's rejection of their gun control and anti-freedom agenda, the gun control movement has resorted to paid consultants to develop a new playbook they hope with will be able to shift the debate in their favor. Completed in 2012, and titled, Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging, the guide is the result of opinion research done by the firms OMB, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and KNP Communications. The authors portray the document as a manual for gun control activists on how to better frame their positions for legislative success, by providing the reader with anti-gun talking points, language guidance, and "back of the envelope facts."  Furthermore, there is evidence that it has seen some use in recent antigun efforts.

One area in which the document's advice has been followed is the near complete reliance on emotional arguments by anti-gun activists in recent gun control campaigns.   While in years past, gun controllers would often cite dubious and debunked studies and statistics to further their argument, the debate culminating in the vote on the Manchin-Toomey-Schumer amendment was largely devoid of anti-gun junk science. We'll take some credit for this development, in that we helped cut off the Center for Disease Control's funding of purposefully anti-gun research, but this complete abandonment of any attempt at empirical persuasion may also have been by design.

Under a section labeled "Overall Messaging Guidance," the guide lists as its number one "Key Messaging Principle," to "[a]lways focus on emotional and value-driven arguments about gun violence, not the political food fight in Washington or wonky statistics." This is further explained with, "It's critical that you ground your messaging around gun violence in prevention by making that emotional connection." Following in this appeal is key principle number two, "Tell stories with images and feelings," which informs activists that, "Our first task is to draw a vivid portrait and make an emotional connection. We should rely on emotionally powerful language, feelings and images to bring home the terrible impact of gun violence."

This plea to emotion over facts and logic was evident throughout the recent debate, as well-meaning victims of tragedy were shuttled throughout the country, Congressional office buildings and even into the Senate gallery, to push legislation irrelevant to their experience. Similarly, in a widely derided spectacle, the White House saw fit to exploit the emotional pull of children, when, in January, President Obama recited excerpts from letters from a group of children that were invited to be on stage with the president during a speech in favor of sweeping new gun controls.

Some members of Congress also seem to be following the guide's advice. On the topic of semi-auto rifles, the guide urges reader to emphasize that "Powerful assault weapons have only one use--to kill as many people as possible in as short a period of time as possible." In a March 14 press release, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is quoted as saying, "Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines have a single purpose--to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible." Sen. Harry Reid echoed this sentiment in an April 17 press release that claimed, "Assault weapons have one purpose and one purpose only: to kill a large number of people in a short amount of time."

Similarly, in a section on how to combat a federal Right-to-Carry reciprocity law, the guide recommends using an example of where a person could carry under the proposed law, explicitly citing "Times Square." When a Right-to-Carry reciprocity amendment was put forward for the gun control bill voted on in April, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) exclaimed, "This legislation could change Times Square into the OK Corral."

To the extent the guide's advice recognizes the validity of statistics at all, it is only to "reinforce the emotional argument, not replace it." 

While the guide is evidence that the gun prohibition movement is not ready to give up, its determined emphasis on emotion on demonstrable facts seems to acknowledge that it cannot win on the merits.   Yet if the authors of the guide think they can shame or browbeat the American people into surrendering their hard-fought rights, the funders of this project should have saved their money.  High-handed, self-serving platitudes may help those pursuing an anti-rights agenda feel better about their goals and emotionally exploitative tactics, but this approach failed them in their latest effort, and it underestimates the resolve and intelligence of the American people.  Emotions rise and fall.  Reality, however, is reality.

As for the NRA, the guide asserts its "uniquely destructive role," but once again acknowledges that the views it espouses are outside the mainstream.  "The fact is," it admits, "our base supporters and the general public have fundamentally different views of the organization and its role in American life.  …  When we are communicating with the general public, we need to be aware of the fact that, beyond our base, people have a positive impression of the organization and its role."  On that, at least, we can agree.

Emotional exploitation of everyone and the bashing of NRA with "base audiences" … this is the gun control playbook.  Watching the increasingly desperate and debased tactics of the gun prohibition movement is never pleasant, but the contrast to the responsible, level-headed, and cleared-eye demeanor of the average, law-abiding gun owner is instructive.  As the prohibition movement becomes ever more shrill and self-righteous, the rolls of the NRA grow, and guns and ammunition fly off the shelves.  History, and the public, are rendering their verdicts day by day. 

Rest assured, however, that NRA is firmly committed to the value of facts and logic in the ongoing debate over Americans' rights, and we are pleased to provide an alternative to the sensationalism and hysteria suggested by the guide.  While the "Summary of Research Findings" notes that "advocates for gun violence prevention win the logical debate, but lose on more emotional terms" (emphasis in original), we'd suggest anti-gun advocates have that backwards.

Stay tuned to this page for more information that contributes to reality-based decision making.

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