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Public relations issues and your shooting range
By James M. Hinter
Why should a shooting range have a "Director of Community Relations"? In today's world of "political correctness," your shooting range is a target for anti-firearm groups and other groups who do not understand what we do.
Building positive relationships with your local media, your local community, and local municipal government is vital for good will for your range. It is equally vital for your range's long-term survival. Having a positive presence in your local community ensures that your range, the shooting sports and our firearms heritage are seen as important parts of your local community.
Simply put, you have to make sure that your shooting club matters to your local community.
Across Canada, we are seeing closures and forced relocations of shooting ranges. It seems that, in many instances, an individual or a small group of people -- who often have just moved into an area adjacent to a range -- decide that the range, or guns, or shooting is unacceptable. Sometimes their reasons make sense, sometimes they don't. Many times these people in the community are uninformed and acting out of irrational fear of firearms.
Once the alarm is sounded, it may be too late to do anything. So what happens when this one person or small group begins "raising hell?"
Letters to the editor start appearing in the local newspaper. Complaints are lodged at community gatherings. Demands are placed on the appropriate county or city board to do something. Before long the general public is asking why this "dangerous range" was or has been allowed to exist so long. When this happens, what then do the affected shooters do?
They often get angry. They blame society, and the local government officials. "There has never been a problem at the range in the past -- - why are they attacking us?" Often, they start presenting an image that confirms the negative images painted by those who want to close their shooting range. Often, somewhere near the end of the process, someone calls the National Firearms Association and tells us, "Hey, they're trying to close our range. You've got to do something!"
All too often, by that time it is already too late.
The reality is this -- if the majority of the local general public is already opposed to your shooting range, your range is probably doomed. It is just a matter of time.
Saving your shooting range starts right now. Can you win? Yes. The battle starts long before there are any problems on the horizon. Your range, and your Board of Directors have to decide right now if the range is going to survive.
Therein lies the real issue. Think of your shooting range's new "Public Relations Director" as a "flu shot" for your shooting range. That person will become responsible for your range's relations with local government, with the media and with the general public in your area.
You might be thinking right now, who cares?
Every time you send the results of your latest competition to the newspaper, they never run them. When you run a competition, you don't get many spectators. Simply put, just making sure the winners of the most recent competition get their picture in the paper is not what we need.
What your public relations program must include is a selection of range operations and activities that are planned and developed as public relations measures. Your goal must be to help preserve your existing range, other ranges in the area, and future ranges. Those who do not plan tend to lose the future.
All of us must start thinking of range operations as potential public relations tools, as well as things that we personally enjoy. If the local communities are involved in our range activities, they will support our range. The National Firearms Association is convinced that we can change public attitudes and generate public appreciation and support by using our ranges more effectively. Some ranges, of course, are already sponsoring successful activities.
Your Club may be thinking that I'm "preaching to the choir." This is a favorite piece of rhetoric from shooting clubs and firearm owners. Personally, I wish all shooters and all firearm clubs were members of "the choir". Of course at a church, the choir practices at least once a week and then shows up in church for their performance on Sunday.
In Canada, most firearm owners, and many shooting clubs are not "choir members." In fact, even inside your own club you might have factions. Are your handgun shooters on friendly terms with your skeet shooters? In many clubs, the unity needed -- where all the Directors and club members believe that "A firearm is a firearm" -- is not yet present in the club.
Next, how many of you know of ranges that have become more or less "closed shops"? At some ranges, the directors, and members have become overly protective of their facilities? You know the type, "Don't let anyone but club members use our range -- and don't work to get new members!" They believe that "if we keep a low profile, maybe they'll leave us alone." Such clubs are terribly vulnerable.
There is not one single shooting range, fish and game club, or collectors association that can afford such an attitude.
It just doesn't work. We need to, and we must, encourage those types of clubs to do just the opposite. Your club needs to get involved with the local community. Your club must offer services to your local community, and continually be encouraging the public to get involved with your club.
Let's face it; public service programs that benefit the entire community are awfully difficult to condemn. And that's also true for the facilities on which they're conducted. So, in order to develop positive public relations and therefore help preserve shooting ranges, and ultimately shooting sports, the following range operations and activities are offered as ideas to generate public support. Please remember that one constant is present in each -- public involvement. Everyone in the community who is interested should be invited to the range facilities, and then made to feel welcome.
James M. Hinter is the National President of The National Firearms Association -- working for Canadian firearm owners in Ottawa, across Canada, and internationally. (c) 2005 James Hinter.
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