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Tell the Media Again: Say “Safety,” not “Control!”

by Susan C. Strong, Founder & Executive Director, The Metaphor Project

Mayors Against Illegal Guns has recently reported that 100% of Americans want universal background checks for gun buyers. They say that even gun owners and hunters,  grass roots NRA members, agree on this. Of course the national NRA leadership is against it. So right now it’s NRA head Wayne LaPierre vs We the People of the United States. We just cannot let Wayne and the gun makers win this one.  

As we all know, the first problem all the new gun safety proposals have is the same as ever. Congress members are afraid of the NRA, its lobbying power, its members, and the loss of its dollars. Of course, We the People are going to call our representatives and send a message to Walmart about their assault rifle sales too. But the media, along with some well-meaning advocates of gun “control,” are creating the second problem. They keep talking about gun “control,” in headlines, articles, on the air, on the web. Then the politicians and opinion leaders follow suit, because “control” seems like the dominant frame again.

As my regular readers already know, “control” is the NRA’s favorite frame. They like it because they can use it to scare. They know what it does to moderates who just like to hunt or shoot skeet. So everyone who really cares about new gun safety laws has to stop calling them “control.” Every newspaper or magazine editor, online media gatekeeper or well-meaning gun “control” advocate who cares about our poor bullet-ridden country must switch.  There are many ways to say it in a way that will draw support: sensible gun limits, sane gun rules, stricter gun rules, commonsense gun measures. Just avoid “regulation/s” (a G.O.P. bugaboo word), and be sure to talk about “safety” too. As for those gun “control” advocates who want to say “control” because they are just so mad, ask them to please recall that we need to keep our eyes on the prize. We must do what works, because lives are at stake.

Just in case you need to offer more explanation, here’s a bit about why the framing matters. We have to get massive, bipartisan grass roots lobbying power to move forward on gun safety. That means we have to stop the reborn “control” boogeyman again. It wasn’t always this way. As of January 8th, 2013, the White House was using “gun safety” in its communications about Biden’s task force; Mike Allen’s Playbook reported the following:

“THE NEW AGENDA - "White House ramping up gun violence discussions," by AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace : "Biden will meet Wednesday with gun violence victims' groups and gun safety organizations [emphasis mine]...”
This was followed on 1.10.13 by an item in the San Francisco Chronicle, p.A8,

[Headline] "Biden convenes gun task force, promises action.”

"Biden told a group of gun safety {emphasis mine} advocates and victims of gun violence [that] the President and I are determined to take action."
As far back as 12.23.12, I started getting reports from Metaphor Project Network members that our “gun safety” frame had gone viral. Key opinion leaders like Willie Nelson, Ed Schulz, and James Fallows were using the new language on the air.  

Friends, we outran the gun “control” frame once. It’s time to put our shoulders to the wheel again. Lobby all the media sources and activist opinion leaders you follow about dropping “control.”  Tweet, facebook it, email it, write letters to the editor, call up the editorial or the station staff, write comments, demonstrate, threaten to cancel subscriptions or stop donating, etc.  If any of the people you contact protest, ask them just whose side they are on: Wayne LaPierre and the gun makers or We, the fed up People of America?


Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project,, and author of the  new book, Move Our Message: How To Get America’s Ear.  The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997.



Originally posted to SusanCStrong on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 09:11 AM PST.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging and Shut Down the NRA.

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