Capozzi: Can PR reduce gun violence?

A campaign to prevent arson could have clues as to how a communications campaign could reduce gun violence.

Image via M&R Glasgow / Flickr; used under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

A communications program targeting potential arsonists changed my life.

As MD at Ketchum in New York, I received an RFP from Aetna, the insurance giant. After passing the first screening round, we were given a test assignment. Aetna asked us to design a communications program to reduce arson.

We were surprised to learn that most arson crimes weren’t committed in disadvantaged urban areas, but rather in rural, mostly Southern, communities. The perpetrators were generally young, white men and their motive was revenge – "You seduced my wife, I’ll burn your house down."

We also learned that nearly 100% of them get caught.

So, we mounted a campaign aimed at potential arsonists. Our key message: "Don’t do it -- we’re going to catch you!"

We won the business.

Targeting potential arsonists turned out to be pretty easy. There was a lot of information available on their lifestyles and media channels that would reach their demographic.

Could we do the same thing for risky gun owners?

The number of households with guns is in decline, while the concentration of guns is skyrocketing – up to 8.1 firearms in the typical gun-owning-household, double the number of 20 years ago, according to The Washington Post. It follows, then, that new gun purchases are coming from existing gun owners rather than first-time buyers. 

Could that be good news? To me, it suggests that the number of one-gun households is in decline. And it also seems logical to assume that multiple gun owners are far less likely to have their weapons used for violence against people than one-gun households. 

Those multiple gun owners are likely to care about their weapons, maintain them carefully, and keep them locked in a gun safe. At the same time, it’s logical to assume that many of the one-gun households, owning them for protection, keep a loaded gun in the bedroom end table or on top of the refrigerator.

Could a PR effort aimed at one-gun households lower the incidence of gun violence in America? I’ll bet it could. 

Louis Capozzi is former chairman of MSLGroup and an adjunct professor at Baruch College.

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