AP Photo/Noah Berger
As word was breaking about the mass shooting in Gilroy, California last night, presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden were among those quickly jumping on Twitter to call for vague and unnamed gun control laws. Neither waited until any facts emerged, nor did they mention any of the existing gun laws on the books in California. Beto even managed to give a shout out to gun control activists while avoiding any specific policy proposals.
Sending love to all who are hurting tonight—and all who are affected by the 40,000 gun deaths in America each year. We can accept this as our fate or we can change it. Following the lead of the students marching for their lives, and for all of ours, I know we can end this crisis.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2019
Biden, meanwhile, talked about fixing our “broken” gun laws without ever explaining how he would “fix” them.
This violence is not normal. How many more families will have to lose a loved one before we fix our broken gun laws? We must take action, starting with real reform.
Our thoughts are with everyone in Gilroy this evening. Enough is enough. https://t.co/wHqY9RE8Nu
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 29, 2019
Both Biden and Beto’s campaign staff know the drill. When a tragic situation begins to play out, as it did in Gilroy last night, the important thing is to tweet about the need for some unnamed new gun control laws. Don’t wait for the facts to be known to seize on the emotion of the moment. Don’t get ahead of the story by getting specific about policy proposals that may not fit the as-yet unknown facts of the case. Call for action, but keep it vague.
This comes straight from the anti-gun messaging guide “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging”. Starting on page 40 of the playbook, gun control activists, politicians, and other allies are told step-by-step how to respond to a “high profile gun violence incident”.
- Don’t hesitate to speak out
- Express concern for victims (without a “but”)
- Don’t assume the facts (and don’t wait for them)
- Ask hard questions
- Never apologize
- Recognize that your audience has broadened
- Seek a longer-term relationship in a period of high attention
- Don’t let policyspeak drain the emotion from the moment
- Challenge the NRA’s silence
This is another way of saying:
- Start talking up gun control as soon as possible
- Don’t forget to mention the victims, though
- Don’t wait for facts to start making emotion-driven arguments
- Ask questions, even though the answers aren’t yet known.
- Don’t apologize for bringing up gun control before we even know the names of victims
- Talk about gun control in a way that attracts people who aren’t closely involved in the issue
- Try to get their email address and contact info for your database
- Don’t talk about policy, but make emotional arguments instead
- Blame the NRA
By my count, O’Rourke and Biden nailed at least five of the nine talking points in their initial tweets, which is no small feat considering they only had 280 characters to work with.
The killer in Gilroy, California robbed families of their loved ones, with no regard for age or innocence. Steven Romero was just six years old. His mother lies in a medically induced coma because of her injuries. You know who O’Rourke, Biden, you, I, and everyone else should be furious with? Not the NRA. Not Congress. Not California legislators who haven’t passed some yet-to-be-introduced bill that wouldn’t have prevented this crime. We should be furious with the killer; the individual who decided that they would invade a happy, peaceful, festival where thousands were enjoying themselves and try to kill as many of them as possible.
Our grief is shared. No matter where you stand on the gun control issue, our hearts break at the thought of the families who’ve been shattered, the long road to recovery some of the injured will face, and the innocent lives taken without a second thought by their cowardly killer.
We find our common ground in our grief. It’s sad that some choose to cheapen that grief by using messaging strategies dreamt up in a public relations shop. It may just be politics as usual, but it’s one reason why so many Americans are turned off by politics these days. I don’t suspect it will change any time soon, but each of these candidates, and each of us, can choose to do and be better.