Is it time for Social Marketers to get involved in the Gun Debate?

As I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago I have been an advocate against guns for as long as I can remember. Maybe it is a Canadian thing, although many Canadians own guns. I am not against freedom of choice; I abhor most types of censorship and am not a big fan of government regulations. However, as a social marketer I do believe there are some issues worth fighting for. It seems that almost every week I hear about innocent people being killed by guns in the USA. Why is this happening and what can be done about it?

In a recent blog  I pointed out that gun control seems to be an issue where common sense seems to be non-existent and you wonder if normally intelligent people seem to lose their mind when confronted with it.

Fareed Zakaria   pointed outs in his article the solution to gun violence is clear ”the killing of young children and many other mass murders using guns is not a complex problem that will require a complex solution. In fact, the problem is straightforward and the solution is blindingly obvious to any thinking person.”

Zacharia points out that people point to three sets of causes when talking about events such as the shootings of young kids and their teachers in Connecticut:

  • First, the psychology of the killer;
  • Second, the environment of violence in our popular culture; and,
  • Third, easy access to guns.

Any one of these might explain a single shooting. What Americans should be discussing is not one single event but why they have so many of them.  The U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries. Note, Canada with the tenth of the population of the USA had 173 firearm homicides in 2009.

First we hear that mental health is the issue but if psychology is the main cause, Zacharia points out the USA should have 12 times as many psychologically disturbed people. But they don’t, actually the USA does take mental disorders seriously and invest more in this area than do many other industrialized countries.

Is America’s popular culture the cause? This is highly unlikely, as largely the same culture exists in other industrialized countries. Think Canada for example, we are exposed to the same movies, TV shows, and video and Internet games and have a fraction of the gun murders than the USA. Zacharia points out that youth in England and Wales are also exposed to virtually identical cultural influences as in the United States. Yet the rate of gun homicide there is a tiny fraction of the USA. Why? Britain has tough gun laws. The Japanese who invented the video games industry ( think Nintendo/Sony etc.) and  are video game crazies and are at the cutting edge of the world of video games. Yet their gun related homicides rate in 2008 was 11 … yes 11 compared to the USA which was 11,029 in 2008.

Now it is true that Japan’s population slightly over 128 million  is less than half of the USA population but when you look at the stats you only need to know that Japan has perhaps the tightest regulation of guns in the industrialized world.

Australians with a population of 23 million people are exposed to video games and violent movies and they also have people with serious mental heal problems but gun related homicides rate in 2008 was 31. That as many people who get killed by guns in the USA every day.

So when you look at the  data it would strongly suggest to anyone with common sense , that  the USA have so much more gun violence than other countries because they have far more permissive laws than others regarding the sale and possession of guns.

Let’s face it in any society there will always be mentally deranged people with severe mental illness. And some might be influenced by popular culture. But if the movies and video games is the problem why is the killing of innocent victims by guns on a weekly basis not a problem in other industrialized countries?

A recent comment by Bob Costas  in an interview with “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart got me thinking. Costas stated that “I think any sane person believes that we ought not to have high capacity magazines and assault rifles and that there ought to be background checks.  “We can tighten all that stuff up without replacing the second amendment.”

Costas told Stewart that “there is a gun culture in America. “We’ve changed the culture on a lot of things without changing the laws, no one repealed the first amendment, but we changed people’s attitudes towards racist or homophobic remarks. Cigarettes remain a legal product but attitudes towards them and an understanding of their dangers have taken hold, so the culture has changed.”

Yes change in attitudes about guns in America … sounds like a JOB FOR SOCIAL MARKETERS.

So I wonder why in all the debates on gun control, Americans are not talking about changing the gun culture? Why for example in a town hall meeting do I hear women living in fear in their homes, arming themselves to the teeth because they are afraid someone is going to attack them in their home. Why do we now hear from politicians and those wonderful folks at the NRA the idea that we should now extend homeland security i.e. armed guards in primary schools. Is this what Americans want to see in their schools?

Another issue for me as a social marketer and a public health advocate is why has gun control not become a public health issue in America

The National Center for Disease Control (CDC) data on firearm fatalities in 2005 showed that greater than 39,000 deaths were caused by firearms. These deaths included 16,000 suicides, greater than 12,000 homicides, 600 justified defensive uses, and the remaining deaths were accidental discharges. Source

Rauda Tellawi states that Guns hurt people, society and the economy in many ways, yet public health campaigns do not emphasize gun violence as a public health issue. In other words, though the Second Amendment conserves the basic right of self-protection, advocates also need to understand that fighting for this right is also a fight against others’ rights to a healthy life, free from the terror created by irresponsible gun owners.

Sara K. Rasmussen points out in her article, Surgeon’s decree: Gun control a public health issue that the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby has successfully blocked reasonable measures to control and regulate firearms in USA for years.  Consider these NRA “achievements”: 10 years ago they succeeded in eliminating federal funding to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for public health research that would examine the effects of gun violence on our society. The result is that there is currently no credible evidence on which to evaluate the effects of gun control. The NRA lobby actively seeks to remove from office those individuals who would make gun control policy a priority in the United States. And, they recently succeeded in making it illegal for a physician, to ask patients about guns in the home.

How did this happen? Why has public health in the USA not been more vocal on this issue?

It is time for public health people in the USA, including social marketers to take action on this important issue just like they did with smoking many years ago. Shouldn’t public health professionals have a say on what responsible gun ownership looks like.

As Rasmussen states, “I don’t think it looks like a country where unstable, isolated youths can easily access assault weapons. It doesn’t look like a country where a 4-year-old can be murdered for opening his mother’s front door.  And I doubt it looks like a country where our elementary school teachers are carrying concealed weapons.”

John Parisella writes in Maclean’s magazine Is it easier to buy a gun than a kitten in the United States?

Gun violence is a public health concern, and it is high time that social marketers take this issue up as a public health concern. There may be funding from the Mayor’s council and other organizations who may be interested in funding a social marketing campaign to address the “gun culture” in the USA.

Let me know what you think.

One Reply to “Is it time for Social Marketers to get involved in the Gun Debate?”

  1. Well said Jim. I too saw that the gun lobby had prevented the CDC for research on gun violence. So I got thinking. Why not ban all political donations to politicians, at all levels of government, from the gun lobby (i.e. NRA) and those companies and businesses that manufacture or distribute weapons and ammunition. Although, I don’t know all the laws about US election financing, it certainly doesn’t take away constitutional rights but it does stiffle influence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five − 3 =