Marketing experts preach that redefining a market is the best way to win it over.
This is why gun control politicos are now making an effort to change their messages, targets and tactics.
Over the last twenty years or so, gun control has lost. They lost the constitutional argument. They lost the criminological debate. They lost the support of the general public. My hope was that they would continue doing exactly what they have been doing, because they would continue their losing streak and might eventually become a historical footnote.
But they are getting shrewder, as evidenced by a new publication Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging, (herein “the book”). It’s a 70+ page book that a marketing pal of mine reviewed and called “a classic market redefinition and repositioning strategy.”
The book is a field guide for gun control activists, and is intended to coach them on how to change the political tide by redefining the terms of the debate. I assume some gun control money – namely from the Joyce Foundation, Barack Obama’s old haunt and a frequent advocate in the gun-control debate – was scrapped together and invested in having Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research work on the book. Indeed the name “Joyce Foundation” litters the GQRR web site and Joyce reciprocates. Some of the suspect cash was also likely tossed to KNP Communications, a K Street communications company that divines how best to pitch political concepts. They were also involved in the book.
In other words, the book is propaganda by professional spin masters designed to charge their public message, manipulate public opinion, and reverse the gun control movement’s failures.
Though the scope of its initial distribution is unknown, the words, phrases and concepts in this 2012 publication are already dripping off the lips of anti-gun politicians. No doubt circulated through the left side of Capital Hill, the same points of persuasion are now in the skulls of every staffer and copywriter, statist politicians and “progressive” think tanks.
For this article, I’m going to focus on what are the goals of this book. Subsequent articles will dive deeper into the muck being raked and how you, an advocate for freedom, can defeat gun control politicians and their well-financed spin campaign yet again.
The goals of the not-gun-control publication
Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging is a frank admission to the failure of gun control as a political movement – so much so that in its introductory pages the book acknowledges that “The gun violence prevention movement is dormant in the public imagination.” In fact, gun control’s marketers instruct their readers to “DO talk about preventing gun violence” but “DON’T talk about gun control.” Even the term gun control now has such a negative public connotation that the gun control movement no longer uses the phrase. The book even admits that the NRA, the gun control movement’s perpetual bogyman, is considered by the public as “a mainstream organization that protects our Second Amendment rights and provides information about gun safety.”
When your core position has eroded, and despite concerted efforts at demonizing your opposition they still receive high positive marks from the public, then you have no choice but to change the game. And that is what the book and its campaign is designed to accomplish. The gun control movement is disposing of their old memes, their old tactics, even their name.
It will be readdressing voters with new language designed to:
- Make the gun control movement appear to have greater moral authority
- Appeal to people’s emotions over their reason
- Drive wedges between undecided voters by exploiting police
- Drive a wedge between NRA members and NRA leadership
Sound familiar? If you think you’ve seen some of this in action already, you’re right.
Here are the main tactical areas that the book instructs gun control advocates to take.
CLAIM MORAL AUTHORITY AND THE MANTLE OF FREEDOM
The perceived moral superiority of a messenger reflects on the perceived morality of their message. If you don’t believe that, try questioning the beliefs of a preacher or rabbi. Odds are you won’t have the stomach for it.
The book notes that gun rights forces have held the moral high ground by basing their position on freedom – the freedom to choose to own a gun and to use it for self-defense. The book seeks to commandeer the freedom-focus to … well … deny people the freedom to own the guns they prefer (so I guess they are not pro-choice after all). My marketing buddy says that attacking a competitor’s strength is better than attacking their weakness. But I suspect the gun ban lobby is now recognizing that attacking freedom is a bad strategy. So instead gun control marketers are attempting to gain the same strength by hijacking the mantle of freedom to their cause.
Their messaging, however, is odd and weak, as I’ll discuss in future articles.
ALWAYS FOCUS ON EMOTIONAL AND VALUE-DRIVEN ARGUMENTS ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE
Marketing experts and trial lawyers know that emotional pitches work better than logical ones. I know this first hand from training in how to influence juries. In the gun control debate, logic has never helped the other side. Despite their efforts to generate and manipulate them, statistics have never been Sarah Brady’s friend … or acquaintance. So the gun control movement benefits greatly by manipulating emotions rather than relying on facts because it is a better marketing strategy and it avoids entering into rational arguments that they will lose … again.
The ugly bit of their strategy is the follow-through. Once a person’s emotions are heightened and the politicos who raised them appear to have moral authority, humans tend to accept any sympathetic fiction as a fact. So the book advises that, “Compelling facts should be used to back up that emotional narrative.” But the ‘facts’ that are strewn throughout the book are often not facts, or are so cherry-picked and obfuscatory that the real danger is in the one-two punch. Their game plan is to first open hearts by telling stories with emotions, images and feelings, then lob their non-facts to a softened up, receptive and uncritical public.
CHALLENGE THE NRA ON YOUR TERMS
The gun control movement now recognizes what we have known for years – that voters likely know somebody who is an NRA member, and thus don’t think badly of the NRA. So gun control marketers are now trying to drive a wedge between the NRA membership and the NRA’s leadership.
“It’s effective to emphasize that the vast majority of NRA members are law-abiding gun owners,” the book starts “who agree with common sense laws to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people — the NRA’s officials and lobbyists are the problem.” The gun control spin book goes on to describe NRA policies as “exposing people to needless violence.” The goal is then not to demonize the NRA, which has been a losing proposition, but to demonize NRA leadership and thus cast doubt in the minds of members and swing voters.
This part is already in play. A relative of mine recently echoed some MSNBC agitprop that, in effect, tried to force me to denounce the policy of the “NRA’s boss.” It combined the tactics of division and fake moral authority. It didn’t work on me, but it will on somebody, somewhere. Sadly, you can, at a minimum, fool some of the people some of the time.
Marketers segment their markets. This means they divide the populace into groups, and then communicate to these groups differently. A breakfast cereal company communicates the same product differently to your five year old than it does to you.
The book’s propagandists do the same. They note difference between “our base” (e.g., people on the political left and pre-disposed gun control advocates), genders, age groups and minorities. Their core market messages remain the same, but the books’ authors instruct their minions to either conceal some memes or amplify others, depending on the audience (part of your job is to be in each audience and disrupt their flow). They particularly plan on:
- Appealing to minorities, since minorities are more often victimized by thugs (who occasionally use guns)
- Appealing to women who are receptive to reducing gun violence whereas men are more responsive to reducing gun crime
- Using linguistic judo when confronted by a gun rights advocate to create affinity, swipe the freedom mantle, then pimp for gun bans
“This guide,” the book begins, “ is intended to help organizations and individuals choose effective arguments and language when communicating with the public on behalf of stronger public policies to prevent gun violence.” But tellingly, the book only discusses guns, never violence. It doesn’t discuss gang warfare, where most gun homicides occur. It doesn’t expose that 60% of the “gun violence deaths” it seeks to prevent are actually suicides (an entirely different discussion) or how banning a “high capacity” magazine would slow the suicide process (one bullet is usually enough). It doesn’t relate how the freedom to own guns deters and prevents violence, though it harps endlessly on how people must have the “freedom to be safe in our homes and neighborhoods.” Not true as a matter of law, but truth is a rare commodity in gun control groups.
But they never say a word about violence as it is practiced. That is an odd outcome from a “violence prevention” playbook.
In the next installment I’ll dig deeper into the book and identify where its misinformation is already being inserted into the public’s mind.