Why I'm Going to the NRA Convention

Richard Doverspike, left, of Fairmont City, Pa. checks out one of the thousands of handguns on display while he was attending
Richard Doverspike, left, of Fairmont City, Pa. checks out one of the thousands of handguns on display while he was attending the first day of the NRA convention in Pittsburgh on Friday, April, 16, 2004. The NRA is creating a news corporation, starting an Internet talk show and preparing to buy a radio station. They are taking the step to operate free of political spending limits. It hopes to use unlimited donations to focus on gun issues and candidates' positions despite the law's restrictions on softmoney-financed political ads close to elections. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

I'm a gun responsibility advocate and I'll be attending the NRA Convention in Indianapolis this weekend. Sound like an oxymoron? Well, it shouldn't be. Evolve, the gun safety and responsibility organization my husband Jon and I founded, believes that something as important as responsible gun ownership should not be politicized.

I will be going to the convention with my gun-loving, safety-and-responsibility-advocate brother, Troy. One of the reasons I asked Troy to join me is that he personifies everything good about gun culture: tradition, family values, safety, calling out irresponsible behavior when he sees it. Troy lives in rural Minnesota, has some chickens that lay some eggs (not enough to feed the family, but the kids love it) and makes an honest living running a property maintenance company while fixing the occasional car on the side. Troy is not a politician. But he believes that his community -- the gun community -- should lead the safety and responsibility messaging.

We're going to the convention to talk to gun owners and manufacturers about the work of Evolve. Sandy Hook was a wake-up call for me and for millions of other Americans, not just because of the terrible human toll suffered by the families who lost loved ones, but because the senseless slaughter provoked a national standoff about gun safety. A standoff that has the potential to send the gun safety and personal responsibility conversation right down the drainpipe of politics. Again.

My husband and Evolve co-founder, Jon, is an ad guy, raised in a quintessentially Woody Allen-esque family. I come from more traditional Lutheran Scandinavian Minnesota, and my brother's love of guns reflects my family roots. But the vitriolic debate that broke out after Sandy Hook convinced Jon and me that the politicized arguments were not going to help in remaking an aspirational culture of safety and responsibility. One that can be owned by everyone.

We looked at other times when a national consensus developed around the issue of safety; for example, the National Safety Council, which grew out of efforts to promote safe driving when America began its love affair with cars. The Council wasn't interested in taking cars away from drivers, even unsafe drivers. But it did, and still does, evolve motivational and innovative ideas around safety and careful driving messages. The new campaign efforts around the issues of safety now emphasize the need for drivers, particularly young drivers, to understand the dangers of texting while they drive.

Another example is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which began in 1980 but really took off when public service announcements appeared in movie theaters in 1988 reminding us to designate a "safe" driver who would stay sober so that everyone else could have a good time and still return home safely. Like the Safety Council, nobody was asked to give up drinking. But the language and culture about safe driving and alcohol was changed forever. Change the language around an idea and we change how people think about it. What is significant is that the alcohol industry has actively supported responsible drinking. Think about it, how effective would "designated driver" be without the support of the key stakeholders -- bars and restaurants? The Century Council, for instance, is comprised of virtually all the major spirits companies that "aims to fight to eliminate driving and underage drinking and promotes responsible decision-making regarding alcohol use." They lead the safety and responsibility message; they make it cool to be educated and talk about alcohol. In addition, they are creative and open to working with new partners to make sure their message is heard by all. This is good business and politics -- because if you "self-regulate" then the government and its citizens tend to leave you alone.

Evolve wants to help do the same thing with guns. The NRA, NSSF, and others in the industry have paid lots of attention to gun safety. There is a legacy of safety messaging. But the fact of the matter is that most efforts are exclusive to the gun industry. History shows that responsibility campaigns that remain insular, not embracing a spirit of inclusiveness, can run the risk of inside baseball and can end-up talking only to themselves. And not talking to the wide range of people who should be thinking and talking about it.

There are always new and emerging segments of owners and motivating interests -- today's gun owners don't all come from a heritage of gun family traditions -- so "it takes a village." It's not enough to advocate for ownership and not make safety and personal responsibility also the coolest thing on the block. For everyone.

Now that's not a problem for the automobile industry because everyone drives a car. But a majority of Americans don't own guns, and the gun industry could also be willing to learn how to talk to non-gun owners, as well, so that gun safety and responsibility can become a part of popular culture, with everyone at least owning the basics. By combining objective outsiders, who know marketing and popular culture, with industry support, perhaps we could create the new gun equivalent of "friends don't let friends drive drunk" -- perhaps with the gun shop owners and gun manufacturers taking on the role of the bar -- and a larger coordinated message effort emerging from that.

Evolve says "safety is not a side" because we don't think something as important as gun safety and responsibility should be politicized. We only care about the biggest and most innovative safety and responsibility campaigns and tools. Campaigns that continue to evolve and talk to everyone.

For those of you wondering, we are completely independent and we depend entirely on ourselves for support. Our first video "The Bill of Rights for Dumbasses," which has been viewed by nearly 100,000 people, was totally financed by us and in-kind services. We know that politicizing safety is not a big enough idea and there are plenty out there who want a new playbook. Troy and I look forward to meeting many of you this weekend.

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