One modest suggestion for our society: Think of someone with a big gun collection the way we think of someone with a big porn collection. It’s their constitutional right, but not something we admire. It’s not patriotic. It’s certainly not the sort of thing you’d see conservative candidates for office splashing all over their advertising the way they now use gun imagery.
One example of a product’s transformation from cool to repellent is cigarettes, which once cut a dashing image and enjoyed formidable support from Big Tobacco and its political henchmen. We can say with clarity that too many guns leads to shootings just like too many cigarettes leads to lung cancer.
It would be smart to study the years of public service messaging that helped transform smoking from a part of every meal, meeting and silver screen romance, into something one ashamedly sneaks outside the back door of the restaurant.
These analogies seem unkind to law abiding gun owners, which is why the focus should be about the industry more than the people who fall prey to its aggressive marketing. And make no mistake, the gun industry is engaged in a highly profitable effort to make Americans fearful while glamorizing weapons of war. As The New York Times recently reported after examining industry records, court records and online archives, the industry “spent the last two decades scrutinizing their market and refocusing their message away from hunting toward selling handguns for personal safety, as well as military-style weapons attractive to mostly young men. The sales pitch — rooted in self-defense, machismo and an overarching sense of fear — has been remarkably successful.”
Gun opponents should heed the industry’s approach: The best messages are emotional. So make them personal. Here’s the dismal accounting of guns in my life: The mother of the kids I played with when I was young, one of the first friends I made when I started high school, the bright young man I watched grow up in the house next store, the fun uncle who used to drive up from California on July 4th with a trunk full of fireworks. All lives taken by guns. Guns do not make me safer, or more free. #WhatsYourStory strikes me as a beginning to some effective storytelling for all you social media experts out there.
The central message is that a gun is not an (sic) tool for safety. It’s an instrument of death.
— Sheldon Clay in Do to Guns What We Did to Cigarettes — Make Them Culturally Repellent