Crimson Trace

January 30, 2013

Between The Berms: No Country For Old Men

In the battle to protect our second amendment rights we're not exactly faring so well.

First, we failed on three irrefutable laws of politics. In politics they say "speed kills" which means that responding with speed, or attacking with speed, kills your challenger. And NO, not literally "kills" but figuratively. Nothing about our response or communications plan suggests speed.

Nothing.

Democratic consultant James Carville once famously said, "If you don't feed the press the press will feed on you." We've been living proof of that over the last couple weeks.

And then there is the truest of political laws that "if you don't define yourself for the voters then your opponent will define you for them". We've been defined by our opponents in this fight just about every second of every day.

We've dropped the ball on all three of these, and as a result we have suffered greatly.

There is a lot we have done over the years as an industry, but there is a great deal we did not do. The kinds of things that would have served us better today had we been focused on them for the last 10 years.

But today, the issues we face require both a short term and long term response.

In the short term we have to admit that Sonny was right, we need a wartime consigliere. The run-and-hide approach to the fight we're facing isn't exactly working and we need to admit that, put the right people in place and start the fight anew.

Sure, we can sit around doing the same-old, same-old and hope that trick - the one and only trick in our bag - works. But it won't.

We need to stop being afraid of getting beat up in the press because we're getting beat up whether or not we show up to that fight. For an industry that isn't accustomed to political communications beyond the behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts, this is a very scary prospect.

Here's my advice...get over it. If you're uncomfortable with that then simply step aside and let somebody else do the tough job.

One bright spot in recent days has been by Jessie Duff, the Taurus sponsored national champion shooter who hosts her own show (along with husband Matt) on the Outdoor Channel. She appeared on Fox News Channel three times in the last week to 10 days and has done an excellent job.

Putting Jessie out front on the gun issue is a great move and there are a few more women from the competition world that could, and should be, utilized the same way.

However, imagine how much more effective Jessie and other women shooters would be if the industry invested in them well before all this with media training and messaging - assuming there was an actual message. We might be in a slightly better position.

When we come out of this on the other side, and we will make it through this, we better have a damn good plan on how to be better prepared the next time this happens.

And, it will happen again. Some idiot somewhere will decide to do the most horrific act of violence and our opponents will not hesitate to take that opportunity to push for even further gun control. Let's hope the next time it does happen we don't spend most of our time cowering from the media.

Our long term goal should be to develop spokeswomen, and men, that can deliver a political message in the media, one not for the choir but for the undecided voters.

What the industry also needs to do is get serious about our communications efforts. And that means taking a serious leadership role when it comes to sporting organizations.

Going forward the industry should demand that organizations they donate to, whether a governing body of a shooting sport or a small sportsmen's club, have an active communications program in place.

And I don't mean just a Facebook page or a newsletter to members. What I am suggesting is that a company not donate or sponsor unless the recipients have an ongoing media outreach effort.

So for instance, if the XYZ match wants sponsorship from Company ABC, then the XYZ match had better have a press operation to promote the match winners in the local media. And before you tell me why that won't work, why the match cannot get local media coverage, tell it to somebody else because it does work and I've done it. And a lot of people reading this - many of them with major companies - know that to be true.

The problem with such a step forward is helping clubs and organizations with the tools and know-how to implement an actual media plan. That's why it's probably going to be up to the National Shooting Sports Foundation to make something like this happen.

It's time for NSSF, on behalf of their member companies, to sit all the sporting organizations down and "teach them to fish" - whether they like it or not. That message won't be very appealing to a lot of shooting sports or clubs but that's the only way we'll be able to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

This is not a new idea by any means. Michael Bane and I talked about doing this back in 2002 when I worked at NSSF and Michael was coordinating the NSSF's media outreach program. (Imagine if that program had been running for the past 10 years.)

It is an idea whose time has come. We need to reevaluate how we promote competition and recreational shooting.

It's a new, more serious approach that is needed and for many of the "old timers" in the shooting sports, a new country as well...one not suited to old men and their old ways of thinking and doing.

- Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network

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