February 23, 2016
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that, when it comes to public relations, the firearms industry and lobby has sometimes been its own worst enemy. While organizations like the NRA have done a reasonably good job at recruiting a strong membership of gun owners, they’ve done so with fairly polarizing tactics and a bit of all-or-nothing rhetoric that has turned away many gun owners, not to mention alienating folks who don’t own, and don’t like firearms. (I say this, by the way, as a fully-paid Life NRA member.)
The truth is, outside of the “faithful”, most people have formed a lot of ideas about what the firearms industry is about… and to many of those people, it’s not a pretty picture. A common perception is that the firearms industry is focused only on getting as many guns into the hands of as many people as possible, and to hell with any negative consequences. So, for example, when a child gets his hands on a gun and accidentally shoots someone, a lot of folks want to lay blame for the problem at the feet of the firearms industry because, “all they care about is selling guns.”
That’s a shame, because it’s not an accurate assessment.
Despite the NRA’s prevalent place in the public eye (and public opinion), it’s fair to say that the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) is the real face of the firearms industry in the U.S. As the trade association of the U.S. firearms industry, with the stated goal of promoting, preserving, and protecting hunting and the shooting sports, the NSSF speaks for most gun and ammo makers, and holds an influential position when it comes to driving policy and public relations for its members. In that role, the organization has done a number of things that deserve the spotlight… but due to the hyper-politicized nature of the topic, those programs have remained relatively obscure.
One of those programs is Project ChildSafe. I’ve written about, or mentioned, the project several times over the years (such as here, here, and here), but I feel like I need to keep pushing what they’re doing.
Most people I’ve spoken to, including many hunters and gun owners, have no idea what Project ChildSafe is about. The handful who have heard of it think it’s a program to give out gun locks… which is accurate enough in a small way. But that’s not all.
Here’s what the organization says about itself:
Project ChildSafe is a real solution to making our communities safer. More than 15,000 law enforcement agencies have partnered with the program to distribute more than 36 million firearms safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and the five U.S. territories. Through vital partnerships with elected officials, community leaders, state agencies, businesses, the firearms industry and other stakeholders, Project ChildSafe has helped raise awareness about the safe and responsible ownership of firearms and the importance of securely storing firearms to help reduce accidents and access by unauthorized individuals.
In other words, what Project ChildSafe is about is safe storage, which can include gun locks, but also revolves around education and information.
I had the chance a week or so ago to chat with Bill Brassard, NSSF Director of Communications, and talk to him about the project. I hoped to get a little better understanding of Project ChildSafe, and what might help get the message out to more people.
One of the first points Brassard made is that the project relies on its partnerships with communities and local law enforcement to promote the message. “Our goal is to have community partners,” he told me.
The way this works is, the NSSF provides media kits, information, and gun locks to community organizers (usually law enforcement). The partners then manage and host gun safety events, using the materials the NSSF provided. The idea is for these partners to manage communication with local media outlets to publicize their local events. As more agencies and communities learn about the program, they can engage with NSSF to host their own events.
The challenge, he explained, is that in many cases communities wait until something happens before taking any action. Not that it’s ever too late to get the message about safe firearm storage, but the idea is to prevent shooting incidents before they happen.
The other challenge to this reactive scenario, of course, is that the story becomes about the guns and the tragedy. As Brassard pointed out in our conversation, the media (particularly the major media outlets) tend to focus on the politics of guns. To an increasingly cynical public, the NSSF coming in after the tragedy with a safe storage program seems almost disingenuous. The actual message is lost in the uproar.
What is that message?
I asked Brassard to nail it down for me.
“Secure storage is the number one way to prevent firearms deaths,” he said. “There is a safe storage solution for every circumstance, and every budget. There is no excuse for leaving a loaded firearm laying around.”
It is absolutely true, as he pointed out, that unintentional shootings have declined steadily over the years, largely as a result of improved education (hunter safety, firearms handling, etc.) and the increased accessibility of safety equipment such as locks, storage boxes, and safes. Statistics show pretty clearly that safety campaigns have been quietly succeeding, even if most people have not noticed.
But statistics don’t mean squat when it happens to you or someone you care about. This is why the message of Project ChildSafe is still important. “Own it? Respect it. Secure it.”
If you’ve bought a new gun from Winchester, Browning, Savage, or several others, you have probably seen that little badge inside the box… right there, in the package beside the cable lock. It’s a great reminder, but of course it only reaches the folks who just bought a gun.
I think, as a tagline, that’s OK. But personally, I’m more in line with Mr. Brassard’s words. “No excuse.”
There’s no excuse not to secure your guns. These days, with affordable biometric hand safes, a lock in every gun box, and even the modicum of common sense, I have a hard time believing anyone who claims they “couldn’t” lock their gun away. You could. You just chose not to.
You can’t teach a kid not to pick up a gun. You can teach a kid that it’s “bad” to play with guns, but no amount of teaching can overcome the juvenile monkey-brain. If you listen to interviews of the parents of kids who have shot themselves, or shot other kids, almost all of them “thought” their kid “knew better.” Kids do stupid things because their minds aren’t fully developed. They don’t really comprehend permanence. They don’t think Mom or Dad would leave a gun laying around if it were really that dangerous. It’s just a second… and that’s all it takes.
And it’s not just kids. That gun you keep by the bed for “security” isn’t very secure while you’re at work. The shotgun in the closet… just keeping it out of sight doesn’t keep it out of reach. This is how guns make it to the streets and into the hands of criminals.
Look, if you have a carry gun (and a legal right to carry it), then carry it. Don’t leave it laying in a place where someone can walk off with it. If you don’t want to pack it, then store it. Lock it up. Do us all a favor. Do yourself a favor.
There’s no excuse not to.
Learn more about Project ChildSafe on their website at http://www.projectchildsafe.org.
February 11, 2016
One of the things I have always tried to do with this site is to identify and highlight great programs related to hunting and the outdoors. I, obviously, haven’t done much in a while… but I’ll be working on changing that. Here’s something now.
I’d heard a little bit about Camp Compass over time, but never really knew much about it. Then, this morning I got a press release about the program and a new video they’ve released. While I really love the idea of the program that gets inner city kids exposed to the outdoors, the thing that caught me up in this particular message was the focus on using the opportunity to break through racial (and gender) barriers.
So, anyway, take 10 minutes and check out the video. There’s a Go Fund Me campaign as well, if you feel inclined to chip in a little cash to the program. Or maybe it’ll stir you to start or get involved with something similar yourself.
February 8, 2016
A few weeks back, at SHOT, one of the new products I was particularly hot to see was the Iron Rig decoy weights.
I know, “decoy weights?”
Well, the thing about these weights is that they’re lead free. Not only are they lead free, they’re being advertised as lead free, which means it’s not just an afterthought.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing and talking about the lead issue, but my focus (like many other writers) has been on ammunition. The thing is, fishing tackle has been an ongoing topic in efforts to remove lead from the environment. Push aside the politically driven arguments for a moment, and consider that an emphasis on fishing tackle makes total sense, since lead is arguably more ubiquitous in fishing than it is in hunting (and there are far more fishermen than hunters).
Before you break your neck trying to follow my train of thought, I bring up fishing because waterfowl hunters have, for ages, used fishing weights to anchor our decoys. And these weights are almost always made of lead. Hence, any regulation that affects the use of lead in fishing tackle will impact waterfowl hunters as well.
How likely is a ban on lead fishing weights in this country? It’s hard to say, but if I must prognosticate, I’d say a national, general ban is still a long ways off. However, on an incremental level, I think we’re already seeing it start. Some states, including California and Washington, are already making moves to prohibit the use of lead (of any kind) in sensitive waterways. The Federal agencies overseeing wetlands and wildlife are also looking at restrictions on lead in the waterways they manage. It’s not unreasonable to expect some lead tackle prohibition in National Parks, National Monuments, and possibly National Forests in the relatively near future.
On my only full day at SHOT, I had a chance to have a nice chat with Jena Muasher and Scott Griffith, the marketing team for Big Game International. One of the first things I asked was what drove the decision to produce a lead-free decoy weight. The general response was that the company saw the “writing on the wall”, and wanted to get ahead of legislation that would restrict the use of lead weights. More specifically, they pointed to California regulations that appear to be on track to eliminate the use of lead tackle by 2019 (a contentious issue, of course, but not an issue on which I’m particularly well-informed).
So, why cast iron, decoy weights?
The simple answer is that it was an easy choice. As Scott explained to me, the goal was to make changes that did not reduce performance. Cast iron is heavy and relatively easy to cast in the sizes and shapes that are used for decoy anchors (it’s more of a challenge for smaller fishing tackle, which is another issue). It’s also inexpensive, relative to lead, which actually enables a lower cost to the hunter.
Unfortunately, the weights available for display at the show are simply prototypes, so I wasn’t able to carry a handful home to test out before our season ended this year. However, Scott and Jena told me the plan is to start getting these to market by summer, and promised to get some out to me to try out. I’m particularly interested in seeing how these things hold up in the salty environment where I do much of my hunting (NC coastal salt marshes and brackish rivers). You can bet I’ll be letting you know how it all pans out.