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Mike Weisser Headshot

Ever Heard of the NSSF? Not If You Don't Own a Gun

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The biggest problem in dealing with the issue of gun violence is that the two sides don't have the foggiest idea of what the other side is talking about. The gun control people talk one language, the anti-gun control crowd speaks in a different tongue. They talk to different audiences, they talk about different issues, they might as well be on different planets. Want the latest example? It comes from the gun control side.

The current issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine contains an article entitled, "The Gun Lobbying Group You Don't Hear About," and it goes on to detail the activities of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, whose national office, ironically, is located right down the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

The article details the extent to which the NSSF, which represents manufacturers, gun wholesalers and retailers, has of late stepped up its lobbying and PR efforts to match the influence and expenditures of the National Rifle Association. In fact, the author makes the point that the NSSF's role in the gun debate has of late become more important because people within the industry have begun to question the role and value of the NRA.

I'm not saying that the NSSF is a household word when it comes to pro or con discussions about guns. And if you're not a gun owner, or haven't been to the annual gun trade show (aka the SHOT show) run by the NSSF in Las Vegas, there's no reason that you should be aware of the organization's existence or activities. Furthermore, the NSSF's President, Steve Sanetti, is a quiet, corporate guy who avoids the media spotlight about as diligently as Wayne LaPierre tries to attract it.

For all those reasons, you could argue that an article introducing the NSSF to the readership of a magazine like the Atlantic is a worthwhile exercise in investigative journalism. There's only one problem. The NSSF has of late begun to promote several public campaigns that are not only a break with past industry strategies for defending themselves against the anti-gun crowd, but are designed to put the gun industry in the forefront of the debate about the issue that makes them most vulnerable, namely, the issue of gun safety.

Historically, the gun industry's response to concerns about gun violence, as promoted by the NRA, was to argue that everyone would be safer if they had or were protected by a gun. Remember Wayne LaPierre's call for armed guards in schools following the massacre at Sandy Hook? As a counterpoint, take a look at the new NSSF website promoting its ChildSafe campaign. It's direct, it's clever and it calls for every gun owner to take a pledge to lock up or lack away all their guns -- the American Academy of Pediatrics would be proud.

Mike Bloomberg campaigned hard for expanded background checks to eliminate or curtail "straw sales." For years the NSSF has sent literature and display posters to all its gun dealer members (myself included) promoting its "Don't Lie For The Other Guy" campaign. Now they are taking this message directly to the public with full-size, highway billboards that are being mounted in inner-city neighborhoods throughout the United States.

Don't get me wrong. The NSSF's newly-found concern about safety and responsibility isn't without its faults. The distribution of gun locks, as the Atlantic article points out, was a PR sham. And their attempt to convince us that military-style rifles are nothing more than the 21st century version of the traditional hunting rifle is a joke. But when was the last time that Michael Bloomberg put up a roadside billboard that reminded people that straw sales were against the law?