Yesterday's unspeakable killings in Newton, Connecticut have already unleashed a loud, emotional discussion on gun ownership in America. We need this discussion.
However, this discussion will probably have the same one-sidedness as previous tragedy-borne gun discussions. Gun proponents, particularly the National Rifle Association, will denounce the tragedy and then retreat to the position that limiting access to guns will not make anyone safer.
While I personally believe that our country should tighten up gun control, it's clear that to see any progress, to keep our children safer, we need the help of gun advocates as well. Furthermore, I take the NRA, whose membership includes some of my friends, at its word when they say that they don't like dead children any more than I do.
I don't sit in Congress or on a court bench. I can't legislate or regulate the problem. I can, however, approach it from what I do know: marketing. So let me re-phrase the question: how do we market our way into a safer America?
Here's my suggestion: implore the NRA take up mental health as an issue along with gun owners' rights.
From a marketing perspective, the NRA look like goons. They fight any attempt to limit gun ownership, no matter how well-intended. Their membership demands it, I guess. The NRA tends to stick to its position no matter what.
When they do offer suggestions for decreasing gun violence, they generally fail. They push for strict enforcement of extant laws, which adds nothing. They talk personal responsibility, which works only as far as individuals choose to accept it.
From my perspective, they rely on the large number of guns already in private hands (over 88 per 100 Americans, according to one source) and the gun culture across broad swaths of this country to make any argument moot. Sure, close a loophole or put in a new ban; we've already got ours.
So if the NRA won't take guns out of people's hands, why won't they approach the problem from the other part of the equation: the people with guns who choose to kill people. A man or boy who shoots children, a man who dresses up as the Joker and shoots up a theater or a fired employee who chooses to file grievances with lead has clearly lost his (and, let's face it; they're overwhelmingly "he"s) grip.
After the fact, news stories always point to clues that an assailant has made cries for help that went unanswered. I call upon the NRA to drive support to answer those cries. I call upon the NRA to drive support to calm those cries before anyone has a chance to utter them.
Based on violent crime rates alone, guns have become a public health issue, just as drunk driving did in the 1980s. Why not treat it as part of a broader health issue, a mental health issue?
Again, from the narrow perspective of marketing, it might help the NRA look more engaged with public policy rather than as a group of angry white men. More importantly, it might solve a problem.