About the National Rifle Association, George Stephanopoulos once said, “They call their congressmen. They write. They vote. They contribute. And they get what they want over time.” The NRA is a powerful organization that almost exclusively sets the gun agenda, whose members view gun laws in the political framework laid out by the NRA itself. They often equate the right to own a gun with the right to protection. They promote the idea that one should own a gun because she does not want to be caught in a situation where she ends up a victim.
Largely due to the NRA, the framing of protection through gun ownership has changed over the last thirty years to go beyond simply protection from a tyrannical government to personal self-protection from fellow citizens. The group enacts many methods to give the public the perception that their safety is at risk while participating in everyday activities. The NRA website includes multiple links to “Armed Citizen” stories. These stories tell tales of people protecting themselves and others during a violent encounter through the use of personally owned handguns. A typical headline reads “Armed Homeowner Stops Assault on Two Women” and tells a story of someone who is a grand example of self-protection. The use of such non-emblematic stories encourages the idea that harm is just around the corner and highlights armed self-defense in a positive light.
One favorite line of the NRA is “Rapists love gun control,” drawing a clear picture of women being at greater risk when they do not carry a gun, and protection being implicit if they do. The group funds ads that show a well-known woman conservative talk show host saying, “There’s a very good chance your next target will be armed, trained, and ready to exercise her right to choose her life over yours.” This gives the impression that rape and violence occur in dark alleyways, and a way to ensure safety is to have a gun on-hand. Similarly, the popular “guns do not kill people, people kill people” line embodies the idea that there are criminals out there waiting for you. The organization disseminates the idea that guns won’t kill you, a person will, but you can exercise self-defense and protect yourself if you have a gun on your person at all times.
What the NRA does not include in “Armed Citizen” stories are the all too real examples where an armed civilian shoots an innocent bystander or a man walks into a club with a legally obtained weapon and kills fifty people. Instead, the NRA further propagates the self-protection rhetoric by withholding comment or by redirecting to the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and the supposed inability of gun control to mitigate its risks. Further, the organization does not mention the statistical evidence that gun ownership decreases women’s safety, as rape and violence are most often committed in the home, by someone the victim knows. Access to a gun, even if it belongs to the victim, makes an abusive situation 500 times more likely to turn deadly. The NRA’s comments about protection rouse up public opinion to support the idea that people’s lives could have been saved if only the innocent, law-abiding citizens had also been carrying weapons.
Ask the majority of Americans who own guns why they do so and they will state self-protection. Despite the falling rate of crimes in the United States, many believe crime is a major problem that has only gotten worse, and the support for relaxed concealed carry laws has risen. Much of this is due to the political rhetoric that the NRA created. Thirty years ago, before the NRA was as loud or powerful, those who believed crime was on the rise were actually more likely to desire stricter gun control laws, such as banning concealed weapons. The NRA takes statistical evidence that crime has decreased, but lauds it as due to the prevalence of guns, despite the fact that there is no proven causation, or even correlation. In fact, many scholars believe the opposite.
The NRA dominates the debate about gun control, successfully framing the issue as a law and order and self-protection issue. It’s time to aggressively fight back and change the frame on gun control. It’s time to promote facts and stories that accurately reflect reality to the general population. It’s time for those who know the importance of gun control to call their congressmen. To write. To vote. To contribute. And if we begin to do these things, we will get what we want over time.