By Mike Bazinet
Forbes.com contributor Elizabeth MacBride recently produced an essay that says far more about herself than the subject she has been supposedly getting to know over the course of “more than a year.” In “The Second Amendment Is A Marketing Slogan, And Other Lessons from The Gun Business Beat,” we are witness to what happens when a writer uses his or her own pre-existing beliefs to interpret what they see. In the world of intelligence gathering it’s called “mirror imaging.”
That approach might be an acceptable approach for a novelist, but such clear bias coming from a “business writer” who claims to be reporting on what she found in that role is a real disservice to Forbes readers. Serving as a self-appointed tour guide for those on the other side of our nation’s cultural divide when it comes to gun ownership, she is now only reinforcing the biases of those who would never deign to set foot on a range or venture near a gun counter.
It’s not far into her piece that Ms. McBride intones.“I’ve started to see more about the entrenched dynamics that give the United States its world-class gun violence problem.” A little further, we read, “Lately, I’ve started to understand more about how guns are marketed in the United States … Of course, there are some guns that are still marketed as tools, used for hunting, or purely as collectibles, as items of beauty. Guns are an accessory to a day out at the gun range.” An accessory? If you’re at the range, one would think they would be a necessity.
More importantly, to Ms. MacBride, the legal commerce in firearms itself is responsible for “gun violence.” It’s a shame she never asked the FBI or ATF how criminals get their guns. It’s not by their being marketed to, it’s by their stealing them and obtaining them from the black market. But conflation is key to her essay. It’s the guns.
Let’s move on: “But the larger share — it’s hard to estimate how large it is, because there aren’t good numbers on exactly how many guns are sold in the United States — are bought as tokens of political belonging and as luxury brand items. A gun connotes a wild kind of fun, like a sports car, even if you never drive it. It’s a toy for a grown-up boys, and increasingly, grown-up girls.”
So, now that she has both insulted our intelligence and that of her readers who have to follow a total non sequitur as she has ruled out that people buy firearms for several kinds of recreational shooting and for self-defense (she mentioned only hunting and collecting), but instead that Americans buys guns out of political identification and as luxury items for wild fun, even if we never use them. Wait, what?
There’s more. “These are the messages I’ve seen, over time, the emotional threads that companies and dealers use to reach their consumers: Guns will help you feel powerful. Guns will give you an identity as a protector. Owning guns, especially the right guns, will help you feel part of a group.” And here we thought the narrative was that gun owners were rugged individualists, except for those crazy militia members. We clearly got it wrong.
Americans every day make the serious decision to buy firearms to protect themselves and their families, but it certainly doesn’t confer their identity. And we for sure we don’t see much emotionalism in our stores or on our ranges. There’s that mirror imaging, because the emotionalism is found in this essay, not so much in the business reality we see.
And now to the piece de resistance: “The Second Amendment is one of the world’s most effective marketing slogans.” To be fair, she adds, “Of course, it’s more than that. It’s a Constitutional Amendment, one distinguished legal scholars have argued over for hundreds of years.” Yes, yes, it is. Thank you. And we can thank our nation’s founders for the wisdom and foresight (oh, and the Revolutionary War) that gave us that freedom.
Of Princesses And Protectors
But Ms. McBride diminishes our great Constitutional right that gun owners know also requires the accompanying sense of great responsibility the overwhelming majority of us demonstrate every day, with what she clearly believes is a singular insight. “The Second Amendment has the same effect as a photograph of Kate Middleton wearing a dress a designer wants to sell by the thousands to other women. It evokes an identity and puts it in reach. Buy this dress; be a princess. Buy a gun; be a man; be a protector.” Putting aside the fact that women are the fastest growing segment of the gun-buying public, which she alluded to earlier in the same essay, there’s that pesky mirror image again.
There is more to unpack in Ms. MacBride’s essay that is wrong, but her last great conflation deals with what she believes are military firearms available as in the civilian marketplace and with their being marketed as “luxury items,” again. Or maybe they’re tools,“…but nobody buys 10 chain saws in varying colors and speeds.” Speeds? Who knew?
In a well-done article on mirror imaging, Andrew Pasternak wrote, “It is entirely possible and likely that two people will view the same information and come to different conclusions. However, before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), one must make sure that their own experiences and convictions are not obscuring their use and interpretation of information. A good article can state why one believes in something and gives facts to prove it. A great article does the same thing while acknowledging the facts that do not correlate with one’s own argument.”
We commend that article to Ms. MacBride, as well as to her editors at Forbes.com, and we can only hope that she next turns her attention to the marketing of power tools.
Mike Bazinet is the Director of Public Affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.