The politician's guide to the gun control issue

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted May 15, 2000

Soliciting votes from today's turned-off, apathetic voters is tough.

Like mutating bacteria, voters are becoming immune to our favorite campaign tactics. If you want to win an election, you must return to the basics. The oldest weapons in the politician's arsenal are fear and hatred. They are always effective if applied properly. The principles outlined in this guide can be applied in many ways, but the perfect issue, as you will see, is gun control.

Your goal is to make voters fear guns and hate the gun lobby. These emotions can then be transferred to your opponent. We are dealing with emotions, not facts, because people are more easily influenced through their emotions.

To promote fear of guns you must be prepared to rapidly exploit appropriate shooting incidents. The media will make this easy for you, since they are already extremely anti-gun and prone to hysterical coverage of these events. Imagine surfing a wave. If you are smart, the wave does the work and you enjoy the ride.

Make a prior arrangement with friendly media people to appear before their cameras on short notice. To avoid wasting your time, make it clear that you are not interested in non-gun violence like stabbing, beating, or arson deaths.

Prepare a statement in advance deploring the way that easy access to guns has caused the crime that has just occurred. Leave the details out and fill in the blanks when the information becomes available. As soon as possible after the crime, read your statement on camera.

Ideally the victims will be innocent people, and preferably children.

Unfortunately, most shooting incidents occur between members of rival gangs or involve police officers shooting in the line of duty. Worst of all are the cases where an armed citizen defends herself from a criminal. Be patient and wait for the right event.

Your statement should invoke as many emotional images as possible, since you are trying to convince voters that this could happen to them. Use dramatic phrases like "guns flooding the streets". Of course you will say that we need to act "for the children" at least two or three times. It is useful to say that gun lobby organizations have "blood on their hands". Demonizing these groups is essential now, because later you will attempt to tie your opponent to them.

Arrange a tour of the crime scene as soon as possible. Political connections with the local authorities will pay off at this time. You and a few associates should walk around the scene looking shocked and saddened. Practice your facial expression and body language in advance. Do not allow any audio recording, since cynical comments are sometimes picked up by unnoticed microphones.

Fear is your friend. People usually fear what they don't understand, so direct your advertising at urban voters and women. These groups are least likely to have personal experience with responsible gun ownership. Even though gun crime is decreasing, saturation coverage by the media has convinced most people that it is increasing. If you can't stir up fear in this situation, you are in the wrong business.

Creating fear is not enough; you must also present yourself as a savior. Have your staff draft at least one new gun control bill. The exact wording is not important, since these bills rarely make it past the initial committee hearings. Gun control bills are feel-good legislation, so choose a title with phrases like "child safety" or "public protection".

You will be asked how your bill will reduce crime. A good response is: "It may not have a significant impact on crime, but if it saves only one child, it's worth it." If asked how your bill would have prevented a crime that you are exploiting, you can answer: "It may not have saved these innocent victims of gun violence, but it's a step in the right direction."

Gun control should be part of your regular stump speech. Use as many dramatic, emotional phrases as you have time for. Do not mention any inconvenient facts, such as the ineffectiveness of gun control or lack of enforcement of current laws. If anyone brings up inconvenient facts during a question and answer session, simply talk around the question and change the subject. If you feel that you can remember some numbers, there are several excellent propaganda statements available from friendly anti-gun groups.

One popular factoid says you are 43 times more likely to be killed by a gun in your home than to use it for self defense. This is nonsense, of course, but tossing out a number, then quickly changing the subject, can often end a debate on a favorable note. If you are challenged later, you can say that you got the information from a reliable source.

The final part of the strategy is to tie your opponent to the gun lobby. One of the best tactics is to obtain photos or video of your opponent meeting with evil gun lobbyists. Also look for statements by the gun lobby referring to your opponent as a supporter of their misguided agenda. Pass this material to your friends in the media and stand back; they will do the rest of the job for you.

As you make use of these principles, beware of a serious problem that has embarrassed several politicians. Bodyguards have an annoying habit of flashing their guns or leaving them in inappropriate places.

This reminds people that you have armed protection and makes you appear hypocritical, so take steps to prevent this from happening.

Also, if you have ever used a gun for protection, deny it. We know that the elite can be trusted with guns, but voters may not share our enlightened view.

The truth has no place in politics. If you aren't willing to do what it takes to get elected, you don't deserve to hold an office.

Michael Brown, Professor of Political Science Liberal Arts University of Vancouver

Political satire by Dr. Michael Brown, who is actually an optometrist in Vancouver, Washington and moderates an e-mail list for discussion of gun issues. He may be reached at:

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