Editor's Note: Over the past week, we've followed the discussion and controversy surrounding the Wounded Warrior Project following their taking a pass to appear on Tom Gresham's Gun Talk. Today, Tom Gresham brings us his complete take on the WWP controversy.
Does the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) have a bias against guns and gun makers? Two weeks ago that would have sounded crazy, but this week many shooters are convinced that it's true. Hundreds of hunts and shoots are held as fundraisers for the WWP, and gun companies donate to WWP for its projects. How could it be that this $185 million (2013 projected revenue) outfit could be anti-gun?
It started with a simple invitation -- I wanted someone from the Wounded Warrior Project to join me for the Veteran's Day episode of my national radio show, Tom Gresham's Gun Talk. I had no idea it would turn into a national dustup which now has the gun rights community in a turmoil -- so much so that people are burning their Wounded Warrior Project shirts.
We were disappointed when the Leslie Coleman, PR director for WWP, said they couldn't come on the show, but that happens. Schedules don't mesh, things happen, but that's not uncommon. No big deal. Except that Ms. Coleman said they were declining because we "are related to firearms."
"While we appreciate the interest in having a WWP representative on your show on Veterans Day we are not able to participate in interviews or activities with media/organizations that are related to firearms," said Ms. Coleman in her email.
That really rocked us because we knew of all the firearms-related activities used to raise money for WWP. I asked for clarification, and Coleman reconfirmed their position. That Sunday I talked about it on the air and sent out a tweet (@guntalk) with the information. Some doubted that I had reported it correctly, so we posted the entire email exchange on our Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/notes/gun-talk/wounded-warrior-project-email-exchange/10151354082553313
That lit the fuse, and hundreds (if not thousands) of gun rights supporters contacted WWP for clarification. The response was . . . a bit bland. Mostly it was along the lines of "We support the Second Amendment . . .," but the WWP web site specifically called out the firearms industry as one it would not "co-brand" with. That is, it would not allow the use of its logo on guns (and it turns out, on knives, either.) The other industries it won't co-brand with? Alcohol and sex.
Coleman's explanation that guns are used in suicides, and suicide is a big issue for returning vets, set off a firestorm of response. WWP quietly started making changes to its web site, removing mention of firearms, or changing it to "weapons." Online firearms boards documented the changes, posting the before and after. The pressure mounted on WWP.
By midweek, with the help of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, WWP offered to put its CEO, Steve Nardizzi, on Gun Talk Radio to explain what they now called a big misunderstanding that had been blown out of proportion. I welcomed the chance to clear up this mess, which no one wanted. I hoped that Nardizzi would announce a change in the policy.
He didn't. Once on the air, he said they support the Second Amendment (which really did remind me of when President Obama starts a sentence that way), and that they participate in hunts and shoots as fund raisers. Yes, we knew that. But what of the policy blocking the use of the WWP logo on guns? In fact, the policy prohibits the use of the logo at fundraisers where there is shooting, though that seems to be flexible.
No, he said, they would not "co-brand" with firearms or knives. The return on investment just wasn't there, he explained. I asked why they would turn down the money from such a program when it didn't interfere with their larger projects (ketchup, clothing, etc.), and he explained that co-branding requires much internal coordination with lawyers, PR people, and others to manage it, and that I wouldn't understand it. Hmmm.
What if we offered to cover all their internal expenses, and then co-brand (use their logo on guns and knives) as a way to contribute to WWP, I asked. Would that be okay? I never got a straight answer to that.
There was much back and forth, with it quickly taking on the feeling of dealing with a politician who has to be there, but who doesn't really want to answer the questions. To get the full flavor of the interview, you can download it or listen online. http://tinyurl.com/cugy6ft
Nardizzi even went on the offensive, saying he can't believe we would withhold donations from wounded vets because we don't get anything out of it (use of the logo). This feigned indignation didn't fly. I explained that we have many avenues for donating to our veterans -- WWP is only one of many -- and that just because someone decides not to support a group which he thinks has taken an anti-gun stand doesn't mean that person isn't going to continue to contribute -- just to other groups.
Having been in the gun rights fight since before the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, I've seen a lot of changes. For decades I've said this fight really is a struggle for public opinion. We have made great strides. Forty years ago a majority of the U.S. population thought that handguns should be severely restricted. That's not the case now. Through education and exposure the public recognize gun owners as "normal" people just like them. This is huge.
On the other hand, there is a major push to demonize and marginalize gun owners, gun makers, and the shooting sports. It is in this light that I see the WWP policy of prohibiting gun and knife makers from using the WWP logo. What are they telling the world?
Take the longer view. Ebay blocked firearms from being listed. Paypal blocks the use of its service for buying guns. Google blocks guns, dealers and makers from searches in its shopping service. We have reports of banks closing the accounts of gun makers simply on the basis that they won't do business with the firearms industry.
Each of these is a very public way of saying "We don't do business with 'those people'." Each is a way of saying that reasonable and responsible people should have nothing to do with the firearms business. We are being put into the same box as pornography.
Sure, the Wounded Warrior Project is only too happy to take our money. They "allow" shoots and hunts as fundraisers, but they don't want their logo associated with us. They are saying in a very public way that they refuse to be associated with us.
Some have suggested that there is pressure from the board, from big donors, or from elsewhere, to prevent the use of the WWP logo on "weapons." Honestly, I don't know and don't care. I just know it to be a continuation of the demonization of firearms, the firearms industry, and those who use guns responsibly.
There is no doubt that the WWP does good work. That's why I'm left disgusted and sad at this whole affair. But I know that we never win when we shrug and put up with this kind of treatment.
Throughout last week we continued to hear from people and groups which have been rebuffed by WWP because the groups were involved in firearms. One significant donation from a company in our industry was returned because it came though a faith-based foundation.
One element of this rather sad tale has been gratifying. The firearms community responded instantly to this with questions and pressure -- so much so that WWP recognized they had to go public to answer the charges. The connectivity of the gun rights movement through the internet made that possible. It has changed the game.
I had hoped that WWP would come to its senses. Once it became clear that the policy would not change, many identified and donated to other groups which help vets, and which are only too happy to be associated with guns, hunting and shooting. Last Sunday I had someone from marineparents.com on the radio show. Each week for the rest of the year, we'll have various groups which help wounded veterans on the radio to help them get additional exposure.
On Gun Talk Radio I created a "No Shrug" policy. We will always speak up. No longer will we just shrug when faced with a distorted media report about guns. No longer will we just go about our business when a politician makes outrageous claims about gun owners. No longer will we continue to give money to, or do business with, any outfit which in any way labels us as "undesirables." To shrug and just go on is to not just accept the demonization, but it actually agrees with it and supports it.