PR Team: Americans for Gun Safety (Washington, DC) and Widmeyer Communications (Washington, DC) Campaign: "Broken Records" Time Frame: January 2002-ongoing Budget: $100,000In the polarized politics of the gun debate, Americans for Gun Safety (AGS) is neither far right nor far left. As a nonprofit advocacy organization started three years ago, AGS supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but advocates gun safety and stricter enforcement of gun-control laws. In a short time, AGS has produced several extensive reports, complete with legislative suggestions. One such report, Broken Records, highlighted the flaws of the FBI's background-check system drafted in the seminal Brady Bill of 1994. These records are essential in preventing illegal buyers, like criminals, from getting their hands on firearms. The report culled data from all 50 states, and found that 22 states had inadequate records. But statistical proof only goes so far in contentious politics, since gun-rights and gun-control advocates are so passionately convicted. AGS teamed up with its PR firm, Widmeyer Communications, to get the momentous findings of Broken Records out there - and effect legislative change. Strategy "We wanted to get into people's homes to make this a local concern, to reflect a position that we support gun rights, as well as better gun laws," says Jim Kessler, policy director at AGS. The team at Widmeyer met with Kessler several times before the Broken Records report was released to ensure the group's expertise on the issues at hand. "Reports are a one-day sale. If you don't execute, you miss the opportunity," says Kessler. Tactics With a limited amount of time, Widmeyer knew it needed to focus on states where the gun debate is most heated, namely states divided into rural and urban areas, like Colorado, where gun-rights and gun-control advocates are clearly separated. The campaign was in full fury for two weeks, reaching out to a variety of media, with the emphasis on editorial boards of major publications from key congressional districts and states. Thirty such boards were approached, and time was secured with 20 of them. Widmeyer appealed to editorialists on both sides of the debate by focusing on "AGS' position on gun rights, which is neither Charlton Heston nor Sarah Brady," explains Naomi Paiss, VP at Widmeyer. Results Print coverage was seen in Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, while broadcast segments, including 60 Minutes, featured Kessler. On account of AGS' centrist approach, Republicans and Democrats came to a consensus on the background check's ineffectiveness. The need for new legislation became clear, and as the brains behind Broken Records, AGS worked with lawmakers on a bill providing upward of $1 billion to fix the FBI's current system. The bill passed the House by unanimous consent last year, but after congressional elections, it was reintroduced to a new Congress in late September. Nevertheless, the bill, titled the NICS Improvement Act, has received strong bipartisan support, and seems likely to make it to the President's desk - an admirable result for a young advocacy group. "Some organizations can go their entire lives and never pass a single piece of legislation," says Kessler. Future While AGS waits for the final word from the Hill, it is moving forward on other reports, the last of which, called Enforcement Gap, underlines shortcomings in federal gun-law enforcement. Widmeyer also headed the public release of that report, to which the Department of Justice has already responded.
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