Sticker Shock: Bumper Sticker Calamities

I recently attended the 33rd annual Gun Rights Policy Conference and was sitting next to my friend, Greg Hopkins, who is an attorney and an instructor with Alabama Legal Defense Academy. He had just purchased a handful of pro-2A bumper stickers and placed the small pile of them down beside me. Greg leaned over, pointed to the pile and said, “I use these for my classes.” My curiosity piqued, I asked if I could look at them. So he spread them out on the table, and I read through each, pulling several of them out and saying aloud, “NO. Nope! Definitely not this one.”

I shook my head as I turned over “Forget 911, Dial .357.” I quickly set aside “Fight Crime, Shoot Back.” And I frowned at the one that read “Keep Honking … I’m Reloading.” While I totally get the snarky sentiments and have heard them (and other similar jokes) within the firearms community, I cringed at the thought of the anti-gun crowd viewing these. For those people who hate guns and think that gun owners are violent, crazy people, these three bumper stickers might add fuel to their fire since these messages could seem to support shooting someone instead of using logic, reason and safety.

That left only two bumper stickers on the table: “Crime Control! Not Gun Control!” and “Guns Cause Crime … Like Flies Cause Garbage.” Like the others, these two bumper stickers shared strong statements, but the messages were much more palatable.

Greg pointed out that the three stickers to which I gave negative reviews were definitely not statements that look good if you have to defend your life with a firearm. Members of the gun community often talk about being cautious about what we post on social media platforms, since a prosecutor can — and will — use whatever might show the defendant in a negative light. But bumper stickers have been used in the courtroom for much longer than Facebook or Instagram have been around. Bumper stickers were invented by a silkscreen printer in 1946. The stickers became popular as mementos of events and vacation destinations and soon were used for political campaigns (along with an infinite variety of other messages, ranging from the classic “My Other Car Is a Porsche” to the ever-popular “My Child Is an Honor Student at XYZ School”).

Since that time, bumper stickers have become a recognizable part of the way we express ourselves on the road, and they’ve made their impact on popular culture as well. In fact, Greg mentioned to me that one of the most common questions used in voir dire, or jury selection, includes: “What bumper stickers do you have on your car?”

He went on to explain that the bumper sticker question is pertinent because only about 15 percent of people will put a candidate or a cause on their vehicle. And if a juror holds an attitude so strongly that he or she will paste it onto a car, you want to know what that attitude is. In many ways, these inexpensive personalizations make vehicles an extension of their drivers’ space. So, if someone has bumper stickers, he or she must mean the expressed sentiment … and be more enthused and dedicated than 85 percent of the population.

Whether you’re like tens of thousands of Americans asking people “Can’t We All Just Get Along” or you’re sporting “I’d Rather Be Judged By 12 Than Carried By 6” on your car, a bumper sticker involves a verifiable commitment — and a simply stated one. As Larry Bird, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, notes, “It [a bumper sticker] says everything … while at the same time saying very little.”

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