There is broad consensus in the gun-rights community that the media consistently portrays guns in a biased, inaccurate and often deliberately deceptive way. That is true in news, entertainment and social media. This slant is so broad and so deeply woven into the personalities of the key players that they may not even realize they are perpetrating the bias. That makes it tough to have an honest and reasonable discussion on this issue.
We could throw up our hands and storm away from the rigged debate, but that is exactly what the opposition wants us to do. It isn’t easy, but steady and confident engagement will help us keep the record straight and permit us to take back some control of the public narrative. To compete in any media space, our engagement must be charismatic, catchy and digestible. We must make our point within the landscape of a tweet, and we must do it in a way that sways even skeptics. When we correct the record, we have to sidestep the charge that we are quibbling over meaningless technicalities or “gunsplaining.”
There is a distinction between pedantic gunsplaining and demanding rigor, but that often comes down to tone and context. The classic example of gunsplaining is getting bent out of shape when a pundit calls a magazine a “clip.” It is reasonable to point out that when we are setting national policy, words mean things. It is reasonable to point out that many of the loudest voices on policy are blatantly ignorant about the policy they are trying to advance. But treating a mislabeled gun part as a rhetorical “gotcha” alienates fence-sitters and skeptics. We have to clarify that we aren’t trying to quibble over arcane or irrelevant technical details; we understand what they are trying to say, and we can prove their proposal is foolish even if they had gotten the nomenclature right.
Media pundits tend to rattle off the same handful of canned talking points on guns that were generated by the gun-control lobby a decade ago, and we often leave those talking points unanswered. That is a failure on our parts as gun-rights advocates. The canned statistical claim that the U.S. has more “gun violence” than all other Western countries is almost always the first or last debate point we hear from the media, and it is so full of fallacious holes and misdirection that it is a goldmine for us. When they use that talking point, it is an opportunity to expose their bias for what it is.
Why do they care only about “gun violence” rather than all violence? Why are they using language engineered to conflate suicide and homicide numbers? It is fine to talk about suicide, but what does a ban on sporting rifles have to do with it? To which countries are we comparing the U.S. and why? Of course the U.S. has more murders than Luxembourg. We have a lot more of a lot of things than Luxembourg — like people.
One of the most important steps we can take as a community is to become more media-savvy and self-aware. News-media outlets are fundamentally businesses: They make money through subscription and ad revenue, and they will consistently make editorial decisions that will increase circulation, engagement, reach and audience attention. We can use that environment to our advantage. Our talking points must be credible, vivid, piercing and controversial. Those characteristics make for interesting news because journalists and pundits can challenge and debate them, and they generate engagement from the social-media audience. That also shapes how we challenge opposition talking points. The deceptive “gun violence” statistics aren’t just wrong but also boring. Bloomberg’s talking points are effectively yesterday’s news.
Work Smart, Work Hard
We need to recognize how media outlets stereotype us — specifically demographically as an audience and customer base. If the companies that own CNN and The Washington Post start to understand what a diverse slice of America values its right to self-defense, they may make editorial choices more aligned with their audiences. We don’t have to organize a boycott, but we can help spotlight the fact that consistently anti-gun media outlets and editorial boards are tone-deaf and oblivious to the real needs of their audiences and that said alienation is part of what is making them irrelevant.
As a rule, we should challenge deliberate deception. When the other side lies or uses a blatant logical fallacy in its narrative, we should address that in a clear, charismatic and accessible way. That can take many forms — from letters to the editor to fact-checking websites that powerfully and credibly dispel disinformation about guns to sharing memes. Gun advocates must take and hold the high ground in the national debate about gun policy. The operating environment is across every form of media, and we must engage on all fronts.
Jim is a concerned citizen and gun rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official position of his agency. References and links to other gun advocacy groups do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached at Jim@tacticaltangents.com.