President Barack Obama’s recent executive orders concerning guns illustrate two important points: the difficulty with messaging gun policy, and the gap between what Americans favor and how politicians vote.
First, let’s look at the issue of messaging. If you watched the CNN town hall meeting two weeks ago, you heard the president talk about background checks, adding more agents to the FBI, and the benefits of “smart gun technology.”
One of Obama’s executive orders mandates that everyone engaged in the business of selling firearms will have to employ the already existing background check system. As it stands, a number of sales are made without background checks. The president didn’t say a word about adding new layers of steps in the purchase of guns from licensed dealers, nor have news agencies revealed anything that will impede a “law-abiding citizen” from owning a gun.
Still, here’s the second question Obama was asked: “So why can’t your administration see that these restrictions that you’re putting to (sic) make it harder for me to own a gun?” The woman who asked the question is not alone in how gun advocates respond to changes in gun policy.
How can there be such a disconnect between what the president said and what some people think they hear? Likely, the answer is that of frames, those subconscious structures within us that shape how we see the world and determine what we see as good or bad.
If you believe gun ownership is a good thing and any regulations concerning gun sales are a bad thing, you approach the issue of gun policy—especially if the phrase “gun control” is used— with a certain set of frames. Similarly, if you believe guns are too plentiful and that society is at risk as a result, you approach the issue of gun policy with different frames. What resonates with those frames will be accepted; what doesn’t will be rejected.
What’s the takeaway? The more highly charged the subject, the more you have to think about your audience’s frames and how you should craft your message so that it resonates with your audience. Even then, certain messages won’t get through. It’s this way for all emotionally charged issues.
Here’s a second interesting aspect concerning guns: while most Americans favor expanded background checks, politicians are fighting the idea.
Last September, a Quinnipiac University poll found 93% of voters, including 93% in households with legal guns, support “requiring background checks for all gun buyers.” A CBS News-New York Times poll conducted last October found that “nearly nine in 10 Republicans favor background checks on all gun buyers, similar to the views of Americans overall.”
A CNN poll conducted earlier this month revealed similar findings, as evidenced by the following questions and answers:
“As you may know, this week Barack Obama announced several executive orders that change the nation’s gun laws so that background checks are required for more gun purchases online and at gun shows, and which make it easier for the FBI to complete background checks efficiently. Overall, do you favor or oppose these changes?”
No opinion 2%
“When it comes to gun control laws, do you think Barack Obama has gone too far, has taken about the right amount of action, or has not gone far enough to change the nation’s gun laws?
Gone too far 38%
About the right amount 31%
Not gone far enough 30%
No opinion 1%
If the majority of Americans favor expanded background checks, why did the Senate vote down two bills last December— expanded background checks and prohibiting people on the federal “no-fly” list from obtaining a gun? Answer: follow the money.
In 2014, gun right groups donated $3.77 million to federal office candidates and spent $12 million on lobbying. The top Senate beneficiaries in 2014 from these groups were John Cornyn, R-Tx, and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, who received $65, 225 and $58,800, respectively. Take a look at OpenSecrets.org to see who makes things happen in D.C.
Cornyn said the bill that dealt with the no-fly list was “un-American.” He couldn’t afford to say otherwise.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
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