Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Politics of gun regulation in the US and gun industry marketing

Bloomberg Businessweek is running a puff piece on the gun industry's most prominent lobby group, the National Rifle Association (NRA), Even After Newtown, the NRA's Power Is Undiminished by Paul M. Barrett 01/10/2013. He tells us that the argument that the NRA's political clout is vastly overrated is wrong:

This wishful thinking just doesn't square with the facts. Gallup polled Americans about guns over four days immediately following the Newtown atrocity, including on the day NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre held a take-no-prisoners press conference. ("The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.") Gallup found that the NRA continues to enjoy the support of the majority of the country, "as it has in all but one of the seven surveys in which Gallup has measured it since 1993." Fifty-four percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the gun lobby.
He cites some more polling results:

Even the understandable emotions prompted by Newtown cannot mask that in an era of declining violent crime, popular passion for gun control has waned. "Levels of support for gun control still fall far short of where they were as recently as 2008," according to Michael Dimock, associate research director at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. His group also surveyed Americans after Newtown. Asked about "assault weapons," which were restricted for a decade by a porous law that expired in 2004, respondents were equivocal. Forty-four percent said they would support a renewed ban; 49 percent opposed one. Gallup's December poll produced nearly identical results on questions about assault weapons. That's not a powerful mandate for a renewed ban.
And he frames it in NRA-friendly, culture-war terms about them fancy city dwellers versus the reg'lar folks out in the country:

Coastal urbanites who wouldn't think of owning a gun may find the NRA’s hard line outrageous, but this just lays bare a cultural divide. Gallup reports that 45 percent of Americans live in a household with one or more firearms. Republicans are much more likely to inhabit one of those homes. That broad base of support means that after mass shootings, the NRA can afford to go silent for days, as it did after Newtown. LaPierre is unconcerned about whether he will win over the editorial board of the New York Times on the merits of gun rights, because he doesn't have to. In fact, LaPierre frequently lashes out at the mainstream media because doing so, along with claiming that Obama’s real goal is to confiscate all guns, makes for a good fundraising pitch to the NRA’s 4 million members.
Barrett's affection for the NRA and his admiration for their marketing isn't entirely new. An earlier article of his from Businessweek, Going Great Guns with Fear Marketing
06/24/2009, is an glowing piece about the gun industry's successful marketing strategy. But his admiration in that piece has the probably unintended virtue of showing us how cynical the gun business is in promoting proliferation, and why we can't regard the sale of gun like that of toiletries or soda:

While most companies struggle through the recession, firearm makers and dealers are on a roll. ... The gun industry figured out decades ago how to capitalize on seeming adversity.

Take a look at current conditions. The country has elected a liberal Democrat to the White House and put his party in charge of Congress. Heightened gun control would seem a likely result of this shift from eight years of Republican power. A series of shootings this spring—including killings of an abortion doctor in Wichita and a guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington—has reinvigorated perennial and widespread support for firearm restrictions. Large majorities of poll respondents, for example, say they favor greater oversight of gun shows, where bad guys and nutjobs can often arm themselves without undergoing a criminal background check.

But rather than dampen gun commerce, this climate has triggered a shopping spree. Manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson (SWHC) and Sturm Ruger (RGR) report double-digit sales growth. Retailers say they can't keep shelves stocked. The main reason for the rush to augment home arsenals is that whenever the industry perceives a threat of greater regulation, it persuades longtime customers to go out and buy another gun—just in case. [my emphasis]
The gun business profits from mass shootings and lying propaganda about scary Democratic Presidents that the NRA and other gun lobbies like the Gun Owners of America promote.

It's worth repeating: this kind of marketing means that mass gun murders are good for business to the firearms manufacturers and sellers.

Robert Creamer in Why the NRA Is Becoming the 'Great Oz' Huffington Post 01/14/2013 makes a case for why the famous political clout of the NRA is overrated.

Barrett's reading of the poll data he cites is also distinctly NRA-friendly and/or lazy. For the last 12 years, Democrats nationally have been relatively muted about new gun regulations, while the NRA whose marketing Barrett admires so much has spent that time promoting fear, paranoia and conspiracy theories about gun control. But in the Pew poll he cites, 54% were in favor of an assault weapons ban that had been bitterly opposed for years by the vocal gun lobby but nor seriously advocated at the national level by the Democrats, while 49% opposed it. Bennett calls that "equivocal," but it indicates to me that there's considerable support for the idea.

A more recent survey from Pew (In Gun Control Debate, Several Options Draw Majority Support 01/14/2013) shows a 58/39 split in favor of banning semi-automatic rifles and 55/40 for banning "assault weapons". So that would indicates that opinion has shifted significantly in favor of better gun regulation since Newtown when the advocacy against gun proliferation has been more prominent in the news than it has been in years. Their results also show that Democrats tend to favor gun regulation significantly more than Republicans. Since we just elected a Democratic President by a solid margin a couple of months ago, that should count for something in the prospects for more regulation.

A Public Policy Polling studey (Images of NRA, Congressional Republicans on the decline 01/09/2013) shows, as the title indicates a notable shift in the favorable ratings of both the main gun lobby group, the NRA, and the party in Congress that is more supportive of the gun lobby. They report:

The NRA now has a negative favorability rating, with 42% of voters seeing it positively while 45% have an unfavorable view. That represents a 10 point net decline in the NRA's favorability from the week before the press conference when a national poll we did found it at 48/41. Its image has taken a hit with both Democrats (from 29/59 to 22/67) and Republicans (71/19 to 66/18).

The NRA's focus on putting more guns in schools is likely what's driving the decline in the organization's image. Only 41% of voters support the organization's proposal to put armed police officers in schools across the country, with 50% opposed. Democrats (35/57) and independents (38/51) both oppose the push and even among Republicans only a narrow majority (52/39) supports it.
This finding is consistent with those who point to the overblown reputation of the NRA. Their propaganda and their fanatical leader LaPierre are really unattractive to most people. They haven't been so prominent in the public eye the last few years as they are now. If prominent Democrats continue to challenge their positions, the unattractiveness of the far-right politics and gun fetishism of the NRA will continue to turn off a lot of people.

More recently, i.e, this past weekend, BBW also ran this piece by Charles Kenny, Guns Don't Kill People, Gun Culture Does 01/13/2013, that repeats some gun industry talking points. But he does say in the second paragraph, "The international evidence is clear that it takes more than guns to cause high crime rates [duh!], yet guns enable both intentional and unintentional violence, and large, lightly regulated gun sales lead to more homicides throughout the Americas." (my emphasis)

Kenny cites other studies indicating the link between gun proliferation and gun violence in advanced countries. And he also includes an important point on the effect of US gun proliferation in Mexico:

Mexico provides a case study of what happens when more guns meet weak institutions. In the four years following the lapse of America’s assault weapons ban in 2004, 60,000 illegal firearms seized in Mexico were traced back to the U.S. Luke Chicoine, an economist at the University of Notre Dame, estimates that the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban led to at least 2,684 additional homicides in Mexico. Similarly, a study from New York University researchers found that homicides spiked in Mexican border towns after 2004, particularly those most involved in narcotics trafficking. The spike was far less dramatic in towns that bordered California, which had a state-level assault weapon ban that remained in place after the U.S. ban lapsed. A survey of court cases reported in their paper found that 3 percent of trafficked guns came from California, vs. 29 percent from Arizona and 50 percent from Texas. [my emphasis]
Kenny also makes this point:

That's not to say that more guns reduce crime — the evidence clearly suggests the opposite. In particular, tougher regulations governing magazine size or assault weapon sales might well reduce the toll of mass shootings. China saw a school stabbing spree on the same day as the Newtown massacre—22 children were injured, none killed. In attempted mass killings, the type of weapon really does matter, and fewer guns circulating would lead to fewer accidental deaths and suicides.
I'm glad that not everyone writing for Bloomberg Businessweek on guns is as much of an shill for the industry as Barrett.

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