"Me" not "We" keeps the gun movement alive: "We" have the power to change that

March 5, 2018

A very successful strategy executed by Republicans and the weapons manufacturers who fund their campaigns keeps the gun movement alive. All one needs to do is go to the NRA website to see this highly effective cognitive strategy on full display. What makes this strategy so successful and powerful is that it evokes an idea virtually everyone accepts thanks to the dominance of conservative ideas based on hierarchy and self-interest.


The powerful ideas behind their strategy are threefold and interconnected. The first idea is that personal liberty, and the freedom to do as you choose, is the foremost human right. The idea extends to government; as in, government has no right to impede your personal liberty. Period.


Secondly, there is an inherent hierarchy that this idea reinforces - the more disciplined you are, the more strong and successful you will be, and the more deserving of success and reward you are. In terms of guns, the bigger and better gun you have, the more moral you are perceived to be. 


Thirdly, connected with both the self-interest and hierarchy ideas, is the "protect my family" idea. In the conservative worldview (frame), it is paramount for the authoritarian father to be "the sole protector" of his family. To keep all the bad in the world at bay, in this violent and scary world, one needs a gun. For the people who view the gun issue in this powerful, dominant frame, the strong belief is that anyone who want to "control" or take away their guns violates all three of the above moral concepts. 


Do not underestimate how powerful these moral concepts are - for even if you disagree with their function within the gun issue, you understand, and even agree with them on other issues. More to the point of this blog, we must start avoiding the evoking of these ideas. We have the power, through effective language and framing, to help each other change the public perception of this issue. We must start changing the perception of the gun issue from being one of personal liberty and hierarchy, to being one of authentic care for the freedom and lives of others. Here's how we do that, together.


First, know the words and phrases used by Republicans and the NRA to evoke their powerful worldview. Here's a simple rule - if the NRA is using a word or phrase, they use it for a reason. So avoid their language at all costs. Here are some examples of phrases and words to avoid, because they evoke the three moral concepts discussed above:


"Gun Control"

"Law Abiding"



"Freedom Loving"

"Self Defense"

"Gun Rights"

"Second Amendment Rights"


You get the idea...each of the above strongly evoke the ideas of personal liberty, self-discipline, and self-protection for your family. Here's how we can weaken these ideas by evoking progressive ideas based on the moral responsibility to care for others (empathy). The vast majority of people are capable of responding to empathy, and evoking empathy will weaken self-interest. Think of it - when you think and act on caring for others, you cannot think and act in your own self-interest! 


To start, the students in Florida have it right. The issue is about safety and the public good, and public health. There are too many people whose lives and freedom are in danger because it's too easy to obtain a deadly weapon. In terms of children, our future is literally at risk. As a nation, our core beliefs are based on caring for each other. Our freedom has always come with a responsibility for the freedom of others - this is the progressive view of freedom. Caring for the lives and freedom of our children means that we have a moral responsibility to act through our government - to provide necessary protections to ensure their freedom to grow and prosper. Instead of using the above pro-NRA words, use the following ideas:


"Gun safety is public safety"

"Caring for our children means responsibility for their lives and freedom"

"Our freedom to own a gun comes with a responsibility for the freedom and lives of others"

"We bear responsibility for each others safety and well being - gun safety protections are necessary to stop unnecessary deaths."


I'm sure you can think of more!


As movement towards the evoking of more progressive ideas based on empathy and caring for others gathers strength, and ideas based on hierarchy and self-interest diminish, public discourse on every issue will become truly more progressive. We all have the power to make such a change happen in our lifetime - on guns and every other issue.