Unveiled: Gun ban extremists' secret playbook: Part 2
by Chad D. Baus
A friend sent a very interesting document to me recently - one that is making its rounds through the gun rights community after having been leaked online.
Entitled "Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging," it is an 80-page playbook designed to help anti-gun rights extremists learn why they continue to get beat, and how to change their message so as to fool the general public into thinking their mainstream views are actually supported by these anti-gun rights extremist groups.
"Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging" is based on a 2011 study conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and was prepared by three Washington D.C.-based political consultants - Frank O'Brien of OMP, a direct marketing firm whose client list includes leftist organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the National Resources Defense Council, John Neffinger and Matthew Hut of KNP Communications, and Al Quinlan of the aforementioned Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, whose client list is a virtual who's who of anti-gun politicians including Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Rahm Emanuel, and Gabrielle Giffords, as well as anti-gun rights and leftist groups including Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Joyce Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, National Public Radio and the Sierra Club.
According to the introduction, the playbook was prepared in order 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."
In Part 1 of this series, I documented the weakness of what they believe is their three best arguments, their attempts to fool people by using code words to refer to their gun control agenda, their admission that the NRA is a mainstream group with broad public support, and their focus on using emotional scare-tactics, rather than facts, as a means of changing public opinion.
There is more - far more.
Exploiting active killer attacks
The playbook devotes an entire chapter to exploiting active killer incidents, coldly advocating using "pain and anguish," "death, injury and heartache" to advance their gun control agenda.
ALWAYS START WITH THE PAIN AND ANGUISH THAT GUN VIOLENCE BRINGS INTO PEOPLE'S LIVES.
The death, injury and heartache caused by gun violence are devastating – and that's what makes people care about it and want to do something to end it.
ASK HARD QUESTIONS
One way to link our arguments to an event without being trapped by shifting circumstances is to ask questions – ones that point to approaches and policies that we favor, but that resonate with special emotional power at the time of a high-profile shooting.
I pray that the chilling way in which these gun control extremists discuss using "pain and anguish," "death, injury and heartache" and that "special emotional power at the time of a high-profile shooting" disturbs everyone reading this as much as it does me.
We have long-observed on this website that, every time a mentally-ill person attacks unarmed victims in another gun free zone, these extremists run to the microphone to dance in the blood, suggesting "solutions" before even knowing the circumstances of the incident.
Now we know they're just following the playbook:
DON'T HESITATE TO SPEAK OUT.
There can be a tendency to adopt a quiet "wait and see" attitude when a high-profile gun violence incident happens. The truth is, the most powerful time to communicate is when concern and emotions are running at their peak. While we always want to be respectful of the situation, a self-imposed period of silence is never necessary.
DON'T ASSUME THE FACTS - AND DON'T WAIT FOR THEM
We shouldn't assume the facts.
But, we also shouldn't argue ourselves into inaction while we await clarity about details.
The clearest course is to advance our core message about preventing gun violence independent of facts that may shift on us over time. ("While we don't know the specifics of this tragedy, we know far too many people are killed by weak gun laws in this country.")
Of course, once a fact is clearly established, it makes sense to rely on it to advance your case.
Even when the established facts don't support their case, of course they just continue to advance the notion that their gun control initiatives should be passed anyways.
It bears noting that the playbook also makes special note of the NRA's common practice of remaining silent in the days after these types of attacks. The NRA's stated reason for this silence is to give respect to the grieving families and to have all the facts before commenting. But the authors of the playbook see this as the NRA giving them a wide open door:
CHALLENGE THE NRA'S SILENCE.
The NRA's communications stance during high-profile gun violence incidents is easy to describe: They go silent.
That's because they know they have nothing to gain from being dragged into a conversation where both the facts and the emotional energy work against them.
We should freely and openly challenge their silent treatment approach.
"It's no accident that, at times like this, the NRA disappears into the woodwork. That's because they know that their reckless agenda is indefensible especially in the face of this kind of tragedy. That's why they've gone into hiding."
A number of years ago, Buckeye Firearms Association leaders recognized that "going silent" was synonymous with giving these extremists the floor after every one of these terrible attacks, and we decided "no more." We adopted a policy of responding when the situation warranted. We will not sit by and let these extremists follow the playbook for days or weeks on end with no response, and I believe it is time the NRA adopt the same policy.
Stressing emotional arguments over fact-based ones is repeatedly stressed throughout the chapter advising the exploitation of active killer attacks:
RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR AUDIENCE HAS BROADENED.
A high-profile gun violence incident temporarily draws more people into the conversation about gun violence. It opens the eyes and ears of folks who, in more "normal" circumstances, don't pay much attention to the issue of gun violence prevention.
...[W]when talking to broader audiences, we want to make sure we meet them where they are. That means emphasizing emotion over policy prescriptions...
DON'T LET POLICYSPEAK DRAIN THE EMOTION FROM THE MOMENT.
There is often a compelling case to be made for immediate action, pivoting from the emotion of a high-profile incident to calls for legislative action or specific policy changes. Those who seek to make that pivot have to be careful not to drain the emotional power out of the moment.
An emotionally-driven conversation about what can be done to prevent incidents such as the one at hand is engaging. A dry conversation about legislative process and policy is far less engaging.
The playbook also offers advice that anti-gun rights extremist groups followed in the wake of the school shooting in Chardon, Ohio:
SEEK A LONGER-TERM RELATIONSHIP IN A PERIOD OF HIGH ATTENTION.
In terms of building support, our goal at moments such as this should be to make a connection with someone that will be sustainable after the individual incident fades from memory. Among other things, that means framing our calls to action more broadly than a response to the individual situation at hand.
If we convince someone to act quickly in response to what has happened, we need to move just as quickly to broaden the conversation and pivot to a longer-term commitment to ending gun violence.
Regular readers of this website will recall how Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence (OCAGV), Center for American Progress (CAP), Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), and ProgressOhio created RememberingChardon.com to gather contacts for future campaigns – but advertised the site merely as a way to share kind thoughts for victims of the shooting.
Speaking of victims, the playbook recommends "speak[ing] in a victim's voice," noting:
Many of the most active advocates and voices in the gun violence prevention movement are people who have personally lived through a life-changing gun violence experience. That painful reality gives such spokespeople special moral authority.
This page from the playbook was carried out just this week in Ohio. It is exactly why we saw the sister of a victim from the Sandy Hook Elementary attack in Ohio this week as part of Mayor Bloomberg's "No More Names" bus tour. How cold and calloused does one have to be to openly advise that anti-gun rights extremists use victims in this way, just to gain what they perceive as "special moral authority?"
Finally, the chapter offers advice on how to respond if they are called on the fact that they are politicizing a tragedy:
The worst thing to do in a situation like this is to apologize or disclaim an unworthy motivation. ("The last thing I want to do is politicize this situation" . . . "I'm not trying to take anyone's gun away" . . . "I know this is a time for mourning and reflection, but")
Your audience can't be comfortable with what you're saying if you signal your own discomfort.
Exploiting racial tension
According to the authors, "the clearest divide in the research is between white and nonwhite respondents." Non-white respondents were much more likely to be susceptible to their anti-gun rights message than whites.
• A majority of non-white audiences report being or personally knowing someone who was a victim of gun violence. (39% for white and 51% for non-white respondents.)
• Non-white audiences are more than twice as likely to say they are likely to take action on reducing gun violence. (20% for white and 48% for non-white respondents.)
• Support for making gun laws stronger is substantially higher among non-white audiences. (44% for white and 71% for non-white respondents.)
• Non-whites are more likely to consider the NRA extreme. (32% for white and 45% for nonwhite respondents.)
The playbook even encourages readers to profile a person before engaging them on the subject. When talking to a minority...
Be alert that it is more likely than not you are talking to someone who has personal experience with gun violence.
Know that you go into the conversation with a strong presumption that the person not only favors stronger gun laws, but may be interested in acting against gun violence.
With those stereotypes in mind, then, what better way to push for their gun control agenda than to combine it with a fight over race?
Indeed, after reading the playbook, the media and gun ban extremists' behavior over the past two years involving Florida resident George Zimmerman's self-defense case are much more understandable.
The playbook contains an entire chapter devoted to Stand Your Ground laws. (While expressing a desire to rebrand SYG as "Shoot First" or "Kill at Will" laws, the authors acknowledge that SYG has gained broad usage and thus advise "we may need to use it as a reference point. But, we should quickly shift to language that positions our argument more persuasively.")
The trouble for these gun ban extremists is that these laws actually make sense to the mainstream when they are accurately explained as establishing the self-defense standard that no person should have to overcome some legal "duty to retreat" when they are attacked. Indeed, as the playbook notes:
Another phrase that we should avoid whenever possible is "duty to retreat." It may be an established legal principle, but in the public square, it sounds weak and hard to defend.
So since they've lost the battle to rebrand Stand Your Ground, and can't be honest about what the laws do by mentioning the legal "duty to retreat," these groups appear to have shifted their tactic to claiming the laws have something to do with race in order to attract people whom their research shows are likely to be a more sympathetic audience, and one more likely to become involved in the fight.
Hiding the anti-gun rights agenda for mainstream audiences
The chapter entitled "COMMUNICATING TO AUDIENCES THAT DISAGREE" might as well have been titled "making President Obama's talking points work for you." The authors admit that the desire to protect the Second Amendment rights is a mainstream position:
There are a lot of hostile audiences out there. Some regard any discussion of gun violence prevention as merely a pretext to infringe on their Second Amendment freedoms and/or way of life. Even mainstream audiences may have deep sympathies for these arguments.
As such, they have developed talking points to attempt to fool the mainstream into complacency:
There are a number of things you can do when confronted by an audience that may be unfriendly or even hostile to your arguments.
1. Remember, your goal is not to convince hostile audiences that you are right; your goal is to establish that you are a reasonable person who understands their point of view. Time spent demonstrating that you understand and sympathize with their concerns is time well spent.
2. When fielding a hostile question, always begin your answer by identifying a point (or points) of agreement with your audience. Examples of connecting language might include:
• We all deserve the right to be safe and free.
• For lots of Americans, when they were growing up, their dad had a hunting rifle. There's a tradition of gun ownership in this country that we can all respect.
• Our Constitution and our laws are what keep us safe and free.
• We can all agree that military-style weapons should not be in the hands of criminals, terrorists, or people who are dangerously mentally ill.
3. Keep in mind the previous guidance about separating NRA members from their officials and lobbyists.
4. Remember that protecting people from gun crime is more appealing to male audiences than preventing gun violence.
Anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to the debate over gun rights in this country since the attack at Sandy Hook (and beyond) will have heard these passive-sounding talking points repeated ad nauseum by everyone from the local gun ban extremist to the President of the United States. Recognize them for what they are - lies designed to fool you into putting your guard down.
The goal line
As I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, the playbook answers the question many have asked as to why the anti-gun rights extremists began floating proposals that would have done nothing to prevent the attack they claimed they were trying to prevent from happened again. In the sick attempt to take advantage of the deaths of little children, the extremists were simply floating up every gun control proposal they knew had tested well in polls - regardless of whether or not it could do a thing to stop someone from carrying out another such attack.
According to the playbook, the main gun control initiatives for which polling indicated people could be fooled into supporting are:
- "Shoot First" Laws
- Background Checks
- "Assault Weapons"
The playbook also offered talking points on how to defend against efforts to pass nationwide concealed-carry reciprocity, and, interestingly, on the Fast & Furious gun-running scandal (apparently since they offer a section on how to fool people into supporting gun control as a means of addressing gun trafficking, they needed to provide a few defenses for the government's own gun trafficking program).
"Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging" is a must-read, not only for the grassroots gun rights advocate, but for any consumer of news media. This 80-page playbook should open the eyes of the country to the wool that is being pulled over them.
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.