Gasoline is very dangerous. It is highly flammable and its fumes can be explosive. A full tank of gas can probably produce enough vapors to blow up half a city block.
And yet millions of Americans visit gas stations every day. They stand next to pumps that dispense a gallon every few seconds, despite the fact that each gallon has the power of 60 sticks of dynamite.
They are comfortable doing this because they aren’t afraid of gasoline. They don’t demand “gasoline control” and they don’t agitate for background checks before someone is allowed to fill their tank.
Why is this so?
The answer is this: People know that gasoline is dangerous only when it is MISUSED. They are familiar with the product and they don’t blame the fuel if someone spills a quart and then drops a lit cigarette on the floor.
We call that “knowledge” and “education,” and it didn’t happen by accident. Someone had to teach the public that gasoline can be safe when used properly and no doubt oil companies and auto manufacturers participated in that effort.
Which brings us to this question: Exactly what has the firearm industry done to educate people who do NOT own guns not to be afraid of them? What outreach programs have they offered? What have they done to make people who aren’t familiar with firearms comfortable with them?
The answer: Not much. They may have provided funds to groups like the NRA, Gun Owners of America and the Second Amendment Foundation, but these groups concentrate on people who already own guns.
That is now starting to change a little, but a tremendous opportunity was missed in the past two decades — and missed badly.
During that time millions of Americans came to the conclusion that they needed to carry a firearm for self-protection. They did the paperwork and took the appropriate classes so that they could obtain concealed carry permits. In Florida alone, there are now almost 2 million permit holders and the national estimate is about 20 million.
But if 20 million Americans got concealed carry permits there are probably ANOTHER 20 million who are thinking about it. And there are probably many millions more who are thinking about buying a home defense firearm that does not usually require a permit, like a shotgun.
In other words, if a new ice cream shop can sell 100 cones a day with no advertising and no public outreach, imagine how many cones they could sell if they educated people about their location and their product. Imagine if they gave out free samples. They could probably sell 200 cones a day, maybe 300.
But the firearm industry did not do this. They did not reach out to people who do not own guns. They did not offer free classes at a practice range, at least not on the scale they should have.
As a result, too many Americans are ignorant about firearms. Indeed, even people who own a gun but who do not shoot regularly at a practice range are frightened of them. As a volunteer firearm instructor, I meet scores of these people every year.
This could have been prevented — and it is still not too late to reverse the damage. Crime statistics and demographics are still on our side. Every year more and more people understand that the government cannot protect you against violent crime.
They know the police arrive after the fact.
They understand that they now have two choices: It’s either self-defense or NO defense.
So, how do you tap into this large group? For starters, don’t scare them. Instead of talking about “gun rights” talk about home defense. That puts you in a positive light. No one will accuse you of being a “home defense nut.” And offer free sessions at a local range using a small beginners’ pistol, not a frightening hand cannon. Distribute free booklets, in the millions, explaining how firearms work and offering a free beginner’s class.
This is what the industry needs to do now to change its image. It needs to teach the public and become more proactive. It must reach out to people who do not own guns and offer them a free education.
If it does not, consumer ignorance will only grow. Tragically, that will destroy the right of self defense — and the firearm industry — all at the same time.
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