Pistol-Packing Mamas

Political ads dissected and explained.
May 26 2000 3:00 AM

Pistol-Packing Mamas

The spots: "Safe Kids Fund No. 1" and "Safe Kids Fund No. 2," produced by Ackerman McQueen for the National Rifle Association.


Transcripts: Click for a transcript of "Safe Kids Fund No. 1" and for "Safe Kids Fund No. 2." 

These two ads are all about the pairing and juxtaposition of four words: "gun," "safety," "education," and "politics."

Vid 1 Here's how the NRA sees the political landscape. 1) People want safety. 2) Gun-control advocates say guns are a threat to safety. 3) Gun-control advocates are using this equation to push for restrictive gun laws, which the NRA opposes. 4) Laws promise solutions but involve politics. 5) People like solutions but dislike politics. 6) The generally understood way to achieve solutions without politics is education.

The essential strategy of the NRA ads, therefore, is to connect the word "gun" with the words "safety" and "education," to substitute the word "politics" for the word "law," and to juxtapose "education" with "politics."

Vid 2 The textbook understanding of debates is that you're supposed to advance, rebut, and defend propositions. What makes each proposition substantive and open to rebuttal is its verb. For example, you're supposed to argue that guns are safe or that proper education of citizens in the use of firearms obviates the need to seek new gun laws through the political process. But in the real world, persuasion is accomplished just as often through sheer association. You don't have to say why guns are safe or how the safety of guns can be guaranteed through education. You don't even have to say that these things are true. All you have to do is repeat the phrase "gun safety education" over and over.

Look at the NRA ads. Each one repeats the phrase "gun safety" five times and the phrase "gun safety education" three times. Each one begins and ends by saying we should set "politics" aside and focus instead on guaranteeing "safe kids" through education.

These phrases implicitly rule out the position of many gun-control advocates—namely, that guns are fundamentally unsafe and that new laws are needed to control them. Once the issue is framed as "gun safety," the question is narrowed to how—not whether—guns can be owned and used safely. The task is to work with guns, not against them. As for laws and legislation, there is nothing to discuss. There is only the cacophony of "politics," which is so unpleasant and confusing that you're better off turning away from it and focusing instead on "education." As the NRA condescendingly puts it, "You're going to hear lots of disagreement about gun politics, but we can all agree on gun safety."

My favorite line in both ads is the part where they say the NRA is demonstrating how to "make a difference" instead of "making arguments." How cynically, ironically true.




Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.