Taking Control Of Our Image

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Editor’s Note: Originally published in the June 1975 issue, former SI Editor J. Rakusan touches on the need for dealers to “control the narrative” and clear up malicious misconceptions spread by politicians, the media and anti-gun organizations. (Sound familiar?) The points outlined below can be readily applied today — especially with the thousands of customers joining the ranks of firearms ownership in recent months. This article has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Like the Goodrich dealer, the firearms dealer also has an identity problem. The anti-gun politicians have been screaming “Guns are bad” for so long, millions of people believe them.

Naturally, they also believe if guns are bad, the people who sell them must also be bad — Strike One!

The portrayal of gun dealers on TV is enough to give anyone the willies. A recent segment of “Police Story” shows a dealer portrayed by an actor who has been a bad guy for so long he’s almost unbelievable unless he plays a satanic monster. Of course, this TV gun dealer apparently only handles Schmeissers, Thompsons and stolen M-16s. On “Hawaii Five-O,” I have yet to see the gun dealer portrayed as nothing but a stupid money grabber — Strike Two.

"Give some thought to your image and if you see ways to improve it, do so."

Then we come to the so-called “Documentaries.” On several of these, the cameras pan the front of a gun shop, then go inside to interview the dealer. Honestly, have you ever seen one of these that didn’t pick the worst example of the professional firearms dealer? Not only do they all seem to appear seedy, but chances are they come up with a stupid statement such as: “Ah, I don’t care what they do with the guns after I sell them … .” Strike Three.

Despite these three strikes, we’re not out. We’ve got a lot going for us if we’ll take every opportunity to act as responsible business owners. There are several things that will change our image — and at the same time, even help our businesses.

1. Watch The Statutes
Know and follow all laws. Sure, some of them may be stupid, but they’re on the books. One brush with the law can make the future look bleak. As a matter of fact, if you’ll look at successful gun dealers, I think you’ll find many of them go beyond the law. And, they do their damnedest to cooperate with law enforcement people at every opportunity.

2. Get Involved
If you’re, as you say, a business owner — join the local business organizations. Get involved with community business projects, and you’ll be surprised at how many of the local business owners will get involved when you (as one of their buddies) is attacked.

3. Use Your Influence
Use your influence as an advertiser to get pro-gun information in local channels. Don’t use your influence (i.e., your advertising dollar) as a club to force the media to your cause, but as a baton to gently direct them toward a more pro-gun attitude.

4. Put Up A Front
Offer part of your front window display area to public service organizations. A window dedicated to the Boy Scouts, Red Cross, Community Fund — any of the community service functions — will give your shop a whole new image. It costs you nothing but a little time and space, and it can pay dividends beyond your imagination.

5. Be A Teacher
Offer your services as a firearms expert to clubs, schools and any other organization that may want a pro to explain firearms safety to youngsters. Perhaps they won’t come to you for this service, because they may never have given it any thought. But if you offer your services to them, with a valid reason why firearms safety is important, and why it should be taught in a classroom situation rather than by parents — who seldom have the time or expertise — you may be surprised at how many will think it’s a great idea.

6. Cleanliness Is Next To …
Give some thought to your image and if you see ways to improve it, do so. Keep your store or shop presentable. This doesn’t mean it must be antiseptic, but it should be neat. And, while you’re at it, take a look at yourself; do you present the picture of a professional business owner or an itinerant peddler?

Something We Can’t Ignore
To close, I’d like to quote from the Foreword in “The World Of Guns,” published some time ago:
“Public image is a picture painted on the mind of the viewer by word-artists using emotions for color. It’s the picture conjured up in the public mind when a person, an object or an industry is mentioned. It’s not necessarily a true picture; it can flatter or it can damn, without regard for truth in either instance.

" For much too long the firearms industry has ignored its public image. We have sat silent while others, sensation-mongers or worse, have painted us ugly and our product repugnant."

“For much too long the firearms industry has ignored its public image. We have sat silent while others, sensation-mongers or worse, have painted us ugly and our product repugnant … using ignorance as an easel for drawings without truth and without perspective.”

Have you, as a dealer in guns, furnished these unfriendly artists with some of the paint?

Dealers, have you picked up any tips from SI’s running of classic articles this year? Let the SI team know.
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