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.

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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.

—Will

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