The Elusive Dream of Gun Control: America Should Brace for Another Decade of Schoolboy Slaughter

In 1977, Harlan Carter and a group of his friends staged a coup within the upper ranks of the NRA, transforming it from a sports club focused on gun safety into a lobbying and advocacy group. “uncompromising” public relations (Carter’s phrase) for the gun. industry.

Carter was the right man to fill America with guns, defend the massacre of school children and bring us to an estimated 45,000 gun deaths a year – more than any other nation on Earth – because he had shot and killed a 15-year-old Hispanic boy, Ramón Casiano, when Carter was only 17 himself.

He loved guns and knew what they could do in the hands of an angry white boy.

The year after Carter took over the NRA, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Lewis Powell himself, ruled in the Boston vs. Bellotti case that a corporation (like the NRA) was entitled to “personality” and therefore could claim the human rights set forth in the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment’s right to “freedom of speech.” That speech could come in the form of campaign money and other monetary support, the court ruled.

These two years and these two events began the modern “product cycle” of the gun crisis in the United States.

I came to the advertising industry in the 1970s and 1990s, having been a partner and founder of two advertising agencies and teaching communication, advertising and marketing around the world for government agencies from the NSA and the CIA to employees of more than 100 Fortune 500 companies. across America’s marketing hubs in the 1990s. Understanding product cycles is the foundation of Advertising 101.

An example of a product cycle that everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t realize it in this context, is cigarettes.

In 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States published an explosive report on the health effects of smoking, claiming hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths each year at the feet of this industry. The tobacco lobby fought it with all it had, while simultaneously exploiting it with “healthier” filter cigarettes.

Out of that report came hundreds of anti-tobacco groups across the country, all dedicated to reducing the needless deaths the farcical industry was inflicting on Americans for profit.

In 1986, one of the nation’s top fine dining restaurants, The Pillar House in Boston, became 100% non-smoking. It was a milestone, and as the corporate media predicted bankruptcy, this restaurant and others doing likewise flourished.

In 1998, the tobacco industry promised in a legal settlement to stop marketing to children, although a court found in 2006 that it still did (as it does today, albeit less directly) .

It took until 2000 for smoking to be legally banned on all flights within, to and from the United States.

Eventually, city after city, state after state, cigarette vending machines were banned; they were banned nationwide in 2010, and by then most schools had adopted some sort of anti-smoking education programs.

Tobacco is one of only two products sold in the United States that causes death “when used as directed.” The other, of course, is firearms.

With firearms, we are just now entering a major change – the first since 1978 – in the cycle of this product. When we understand this, we understand the magnitude of the work ahead of us, if we really want to stop the mass shootings.

This is going to require a revolution against an established order, and revolutions require revolutionaries. People ready to speak harsh truths, to draw clear lines, to guide public opinion rather than follow it.

Right now, Democratic strategists are warning us not to be “too radical,” to avoid using the phrase “gun control” in favor of “gun safety.” “, less controversial, and settle for small, incremental changes like closing the gun show loophole. .

It’s BS, and we have to call it what it is. Democrats need to stop negotiating with themselves and start fighting.

The arms industry and the gun fetishists they have indoctrinated are already on a war footing; they’ve been around since 1978. They have no interest in compromising and – whatever we call our efforts – they will shout “gun control!” so loud that it will be heard in all corners of the country.

They are eager to fight and being nice will just mean certain defeat.

Other products have gone through this kind of cycle, and we need to remember what struggle each represented if we are to soberly consider the battle ahead.

When Rachael Carson posted silent spring in 1962, the DDT and pesticide industry went to war; it took the near extinction of the American bald eagle and more than a decade to rid our country of this terrible chemical that was once regularly sprayed by planes in cities and suburbs. There were setbacks: the tobacco industry, a heavy consumer, nearly had DDT reauthorized in the United States in the 1990s.

When Ralph Nader wrote Dangerous at any speed in 1965, the automotive industry went to war; it took decades (and hundreds of thousands of deaths) before the industry was finally forced to adopt seat belts, folding steering wheels, airbags, anti-lock brakes and other safety features that are now standard .

Right now, with guns, we’re at the point where my friend who owned this restaurant in Boston was at the start of the tobacco wars of the 1980s. Or where the gay marriage advocates were at in the 1990s , when it seemed impossible.

We are the “first to adopt” public opinion when it comes to gun control.

We’re the ones willing to say we think owning a gun should at least be subject to the same “regulations” as owning and driving a car (which can also kill people): it has to be registered, you have to obtain a license by proving your competence. on a shooting range and pass a written safety and legal exam, and you must have liability insurance.

We must be prepared to say loud and clear that we want to see all assault weapons and indeed all non-hunting-specific semi-automatic weapons – weapons specifically designed to kill humans in a theater of war – removed from the hands of civilians in the United States.

We must proudly point out that states with strong gun control laws – like Massachusetts, which has seen only 2 children die in school shootings in decades – have fewer gun deaths. fire. Or that countries like Canada and most of Europe, where guns are available but well regulated, have only a tiny fraction of the gun deaths and injuries we suffer here in America .

It should be clarified that “good guy with a gun” arresting “bad guy with a gun” is a dumb compromise and that, as I explain in detail in my book The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendmentit is a complete lie that the Founders wanted us to be armed so that we could “overthrow a tyrannical government”.

We should respect hunters (especially in poor rural areas) and sport shooters, but express only morbid curiosity about people who choose to have firearms near their homes “just in case”. where » they need it. Keeping guns around the house to “deter crime”, with a few geographic exceptions, is like carrying a 5-gallon gas can in the back seat of your car wherever you go “just in case”: it is more likely to kill you than save you.

We must point out the simple reality that if you live in an area where there are a lot of ticks, you are more susceptible to Lyme disease; if you live in an area with lots of rattlesnakes, you are more likely to get bitten by a snake; if you live in an area with lots of guns, you are more likely to get shot.

We must be prepared to ask, “What happened to common sense?

And we need to know that every step we take will be attacked in bad faith by the NRA and its Republican allies as “not solving the problem.” Nevertheless, we must persevere.

It took America more than 50 years to go from a ‘normal’ number of guns and our first mass shooting in 1966 to the orgy of guns and murder that exploded on the American scene when the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress authorized an assault weapons ban. expire in 2004.

Along the way, there have been hundreds of gun-friendly changes in laws, both state and federal, from legislatures and courts, as well as shifts in public opinion.

Reversing forty years of pro-gun momentum will require a similar decades-long campaign, both a law and a legal challenge. We cannot be deterred by the inevitable setbacks along the way.

Today, we stand on the cusp of real and lasting change, whether it happens in Congress this year, following massive voter turnout in November, or in 2024.

If there was ever a time for us to speak boldly with the courage of our beliefs, this is it.

About Marc Womack

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