Recently, an acquaintance encountered a church member in the Washington, D.C. area handing out material advocating the need to end “straw purchases” of firearms – the term that describes when someone who is not prohibited buys a firearm on behalf of someone who is. He struck up a conversation with the person, who went on about the need to stop this practice. The church member turned activist was flabbergasted to learn that the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) agrees with the need to stop straw purchases and has a more than decade-old program devoted to helping prevent such sales. You can’t blame this well intentioned person for being misinformed.
Here’s one example why. Last week, Michael Bloomberg re-launched his ongoing anti-gun effort, this time calling it Everytown for Gun Safety. The group claims to support a platform of issues for which the firearms industry has consistently been an advocate including reducing illegal gun trafficking and educating parents about the safe storage of guns. Essentially, this organization and others like it misleadingly try to claim the leadership mantle for issues that the firearms industry well understands and to which it has long devoted substantial resources. The anti-gun groups, Bloomberg’s being led by a former corporate public relations executive, know how to appeal to a largely gun-illiterate news media.
The former New York City mayor’s intent is to demonize guns, the firearms industry and gun owners in pursuit of a broad gun-control agenda. Other groups also use communications tactics to this end. On the other hand, our intent is to conduct genuinely effective programs that prevent guns from getting into the hands of those who should not have them. We find that the news media often ignore or downplay our programs. Why? Our programs run contrary to the narrative they choose to accept with little question.
Let’s start with straw purchasing. In 2000, NSSF launched “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy”, a program we developed in cooperation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The program works to reduce straw purchases by educating people about the illegality of this act and the stiff penalties involved while helping firearm retailers detect and deter potential straw purchasers. We recently brought this public awareness program to Chicago, Detroit and Flint.
NSSF’s safety and advocacy efforts do not stop there. The paid anti-gun staffers know, but will not publicly recognize, that NSSF and the industry have been making progress on the safe storage of firearms for more than a decade.
In 2003, NSSF launched Project ChildSafe to educate gun owners about how to safely handle and store firearms. The project distributes educational materials as well as Safety Kits, which includes a cable-style gun-locking device. Project Child Safe has an effective partnership with local law enforcement in all 50 states as well as five territories and has distributed over 36 million Safety Kits. Meanwhile, 70 million gun locks have been included with new firearms sold in the last 15 years.
Finally, on its website, Everytown for Gun Safety claims that “the single most important thing we can do to reduce gun violence is to require a criminal background check for every gun sale.” What they gloss over is that the vast majority of firearms transfers already receive background checks. The system needs fixing, not expansion. NSSF has been making progress through our FixNICS initiative to help correct large information gaps in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to prevent firearm sales to prohibited individuals. We can claim success in several states where legislatures have passed legislation to help ensure the consistent reporting of all appropriate records to the NICS database.
Because the news media more often than not takes its cues from the anti-gun activists and their political allies, we generally have to fight for coverage of what we are doing as good corporate citizens through the programs I’ve described. They attempt to sound reasonable by co-opting phrases such as “gun safety.” Their underlying agenda remains clear, however, and no amount of reorganization, re-branding or portraying the firearms industry as the enemy will hide it.