The cowboy finishes off the last of the Pace Picante Salsa. He is handed another brand of salsa and looks skeptical. His cowboy buddies crowd around to read the label and discover this “stuff’s made in New York City.” The cowboy replies: “New York City? Get a rope!”
Whether it’s salsa or gun legislation, there are some things Americans may not embrace from the Big Apple. Michael Bloomberg’s $12 million gun violence ad campaign is a case in point. Viewed from afar, Bloomberg’s effort is a generalized, impersonal swipe at the issue of gun control. At best it falls flat and at worst it has the potential to trigger a backlash.
It is imperative that we stem gun violence. We have seen gun violence in its most horrific forms—Tucson, Sandy Hook, Aurora. At the same time, gun violence continues to take a steady and slow toll in the form of crimes, domestic abuse, suicides, and accidents. We are in the midst of a public health and safety crisis, but throwing money at a problem doesn’t necessarily make it better.
The premise behind Bloomberg’s ad campaign is a logical one: Exploit the electoral connection. When public opinion moves, politicians listen. And a moving ad viewed a number of times can be persuasive.
Constituents in states including Arizona, Louisiana, and Maine might watch the 30-second ad, feel moved by its message and ask their senators to vote in support of background checks.
But in practice, the ad campaign is ineffective. Ad-based persuasion can only take place in conjunction with a ground game that has developed a core of invested support. In turn, the development of a support base requires sensitivity to local realities.
Let’s take Colorado and Connecticut. Political leaders at the state level were able to pass gun control legislation that at this point seems tenuous at the federal level. The context of tragedy regrettably played a large part in both Colorado and Connecticut’s new legislation. However, the personal relationships of the local lawmakers made these significant policy changes more palatable and possible.
Gun enthusiasts may not like the controls, but if they are presented with the case by state representatives they know, and maybe even see in Church, they will be more likely to listen to the message. Local level elected officials and local organizations (or local chapters of national organizations) can espouse the same message as the people in Bloomberg’s ad. The difference is the messenger is someone they can more closely relate to.
Bloomberg’s ad blitz disregards the importance of local pressure points. It also disregards the extent of diversity in state gun laws and, by extension, gun culture. In Arizona, anyone 18-years-of-age or older does not need a permit to either purchase or carry firearms. And remember, Arizona is an open carry state which means a weapon can be holstered and openly carried around.
Given Arizona’s entrenched gun culture, and Libertarian leanings, a handful of ads is unlikely to do the trick. Change will require a push that is homegrown. And money spent on ads in Arizona may be better spent by organizations more attuned to local sensitivities.
A good start may be in directing those funds to the gun control organization Gabrielle Giffords and her husband have founded. They not only are painfully aware of the nature of gun violence, but they have an intimate knowledge of Arizona’s political culture.
The intent of Bloomberg’s gun control ad blitz is laudable and he is putting his money where his mouth is. But without a nod to local realities, the actions of an “outsider” New York mayor could lead folks to “get a rope.”