Anti-gun groups in the culture at large, along with significant voices in the major media, were awfully quick to join in a single message after the criminal tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
Most conservatives likely put down the uniformity of the demands for a reprise of the so-called “assault weapons” ban of 1994 (which was allowed to expire a decade later) and various other remedies (that would have had absolutely no effect on the murders at that community’s elementary school) to the collective hive-mindedness of left-wingers in general.
But now we know that a group of three Democratic political operatives had plowed the ground for such a campaign beforehand, laying out a detailed plan of action to be put into effect when such an event occurred.
As reported by Paul Bedard of The Washington Examiner, the activists created an 80-page blueprint called “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging” that was intended not to advance a rational argument but to “incite a moral panic” by the use of arguments deliberately designed to create an emotional climate hostile to Second Amendment rights.
As Bedard noted in his Aug. 8 report, headlined “Democratic anti-gun ‘guide’ urged using Trayvon Martin’s death to hit NRA, guns,” the blueprint “urged gun foes to speak out when a shooting ‘creates a unique climate’ to shout down the National Rifle Association.”
IN A PLAN OF ACTION that by all appearances directly inspired President Obama and other anti-gun agents, the activists advised their readers that “The most powerful time to communicate is when concern and emotions are running at their peak,” when fewer people are open to letting their minds, and not their feelings, rule their reactions to such horrible events.
The monograph, which was created in 2012 prior to the Newtown shootings for a campaign in Washington State, clearly has had a wider readership. Its talking points include this advice:
“A high-profile gun violence incident temporarily draws more people into the conversation about gun violence. We should rely on emotionally powerful language, feelings and images to bring home the terrible impact of gun violence.”
The guide also urged activists to use images of “scary-looking” guns and shooting scenes to make their point, Bedard said.
The report says there are three basic themes that gun-control activists should emphasize:
1) “The serious personal toll that gun violence takes on people’s lives.”
2) “People’s right to be free from violence in their communities.”
3) “The changing nature of weapons towards more powerful, military-style ones that make us less safe.”
In addition, the guide said, “The notion that today’s weapons are different in kind from what was available in the past is an especially powerful idea and helps make the case for new levels of concern and scrutiny around access to weapons.”
THE FACT THAT Second Amendment advocates have substantial factual arguments to counter all those points — including the rate of defensive gun use in preventing crime, which is enormous; the fact that firearms help people be free from both violence itself and the threat of violence; and the truth that there is nothing new about semi-automatic weapons that merely mimic military weapons in their appearance — isn’t considered germane by the guide’s authors, who, remember, are more interested in creating feelings than arguing facts.
Among the “Key Messaging Principles” listed by the guide are these:
— “Always focus on emotional and value-driven arguments about gun violence, not the political food fight in Washington or wonky statistics.”
— “Tell stories with images and feelings.”
— “Claim moral authority and the mantle of freedom.”
— “Emphasize that extraordinarily dangerous, military-style weapons are now within easy reach all across America.”
— “Emphasize that America has weak gun laws and don’t assume that people know that.”
— Finally, “Challenge the NRA on your terms, not theirs” — which the guide says will require saying one thing to “our base,” which apparently hates and fears the group, and something different to ordinary Americans, who do not.
Interestingly enough, that is a direct admission that the anti-gunners’ main supporters are not in the American mainstream, something well worth noting by those who value their Second Amendment rights.
In that context, one admission in the guide is very revealing: In a discussion of the “Stand Your Ground” laws now found in 31 states (which say honest people do not have “a duty to retreat” to cede either their own property or public spaces to criminals), the guide advises:
“Their proponents call these statutes Stand Your Ground laws. But, ‘Shoot First’ and ‘Kill At Will’ (labels for such) laws are far more accurate and persuasive. If a phrase such as ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws gains broad usage among both proponents and the media, we may need to use it as a reference point. But, we should quickly shift to language that positions our argument more persuasively.”
And then the authors add, “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.”
Hmm. Could that possibly be because it is “weak and hard to defend”?
INDEED, THAT WEASEL-WORDING in the face of established public opinion goes a long way to explain something that the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, complier of the popular feature, “Best of the Web Today,” noted in his Aug. 8 column in a segment appropriately titled, “Shot to the Heart.”
After describing the report’s focus on emotional appeals at the expense of facts, Taranto said this about anti-gunners’ efforts after Newtown: “There’s no question that the (guide) describes with great accuracy the approach Obama and his fellow antigun zealots took … (but) the campaign proved remarkably ineffective.”
As he noted, “A few states — Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New York — enacted new antigun laws amid the post-Newtown panic. But it was hardly a national trend: Democratic Party dominance of state government was a necessary condition. On Capitol Hill, the big gun-control effort ended with a whimper in April, as even the mildest measures failed to win approval in the Democratic Senate.”
Taranto concluded, “Obama was genuinely furious when he appeared in the Rose Garden in April and raged impotently against the Senate for thwarting his efforts. No doubt the president was, as the monograph advises, trying to manipulate others by playing on their emotional weakness. He ended up playing on his own weakness instead.”
So when the authors of this guide caution their readers that most Americans will disagree with them in a factual debate, it looks like that’s the one part of their paper that everyone can agree is accurate.
IN A FINAL NOTE, the weakness of the anti-gunners’ effort was displayed recently in a couple of places.
The first was a column by Charles Cooke on National Review Online on Aug. 13. Headlined “Mayors Against Bloomberg’s Bombast,” the column says that the group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to press for more restrictions on gun rights, named “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” has lost about 50 mayors from its list of backers who found its aims went far beyond controlling unlawful weapons.
Typical of them is Lawrence Morrissey, mayor of Rockford, Ill., who left because “I took the name for what it said — against illegal guns. But as the original meaning swayed, it was no longer in line with my beliefs.”
Mayor Bob Scott of Sioux City, Iowa, said he left because “They’re not just against illegal guns, they’re against all guns.” And Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said she told Bloomberg, “You’re Mayors Against Illegal Guns; you’re not Mayors for Gun Control!”
But they are, and people are beginning to realize that the name was chosen for emotional impact, not factual accuracy, exactly as the Democratic activists’ report suggested.
As the Manchester Union Leader suggested in an editorial, calling the group “Liberal Mayors Against the Second Amendment” would be a far more accurate title.
And its campaigns, linked as they are to a mayor known as “Nanny Bloomberg” and who is widely considered an interfering killjoy due to his anti-soft-drink and anti-fast-food campaigns, have been known to backfire.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who was criticized by the group for voting against his own party to defeat the Senate gun-control measure, responded with a defiant ad defending his “no” vote and saying, “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do.”
SECOND, CONSIDER THE following poll result: On Aug. 8, the same day Bedard’s column appeared in the Examiner, Rasmussen reported that a poll conducted on Aug. 4-5 disclosed that “62 percent (of Americans) would feel safer if their child attended school with an armed guard.”
And whose idea was it, after Newtown, to mandate such guards for schools? Wayne LaPierre took immense media and political grief for making such a proposal, saying it was the one useful step that would make a difference in protecting our children.
By the way, LaPierre is the executive director of the NRA. And two-thirds of Americans think he was right.
It certainly seems as though those who would follow the activists’ agenda have a considerable uphill battle to fight.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org