Gun control group targets firearms owners with new ads, seeks common ground

Gun regulation group coins a new term, 'family fire,' to describe the unintentional shooting of children in homes where guns are stored improperly.
by Dennis Romero /  / Updated 

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The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the group behind federal background checks for firearms purchasers, is launching a new ad campaign that is an effort to find common ground in a country divided on the issue of gun control.

The campaign launching Wednesday, finds its way to television via public service announcements facilitated by the Ad Council, and aims to make the term "family fire" a household word as it describes accidental shootings of children and other family members in homes across the nation.

"Rather than mudslinging and name calling, we’re focusing on how can we act to keep our kids alive," said Kyleanne Hunter, a Brady Center vice president. "And that might open the door to more discussion about how to end gun violence."

This foot-in-the-door strategy is composed of at least a year's worth of "End Family Fire" TV, digital and online ads that center on a conversation between an elementary-school aged boy and his father.

The boy asks if a firearm is in the house, but he soon reveals that he knows where it's kept and that he could use it to confront a bully. "But it is our gun," the boy says. "In our home. Happens all the time."

The full-length spot concludes with the words, "8 kids a day are accidentally killed or injured by FAMILY FIRE. FAMILY FIRE is a shooting involving an improperly stored gun."

The Brady Center, citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, states that 4.6 million children live in homes with unlocked and loaded guns; three in four know where the guns are stored.

So far, gun-owners' rights groups don't appear to be open to the Family Fire campaign. The National Rifle Association didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

But Jordan Stein, director of communications for the organization Gun Owners of America said via email that locking up firearms is not a panacea for keeping children away from danger.

"Every death is tragic, but statistically speaking, more young children die choking on hotdogs than are killed accidentally by firearms," he said, supporting his argument with recent data from the CDC. "So forcing every home to have their guns locked up will only make gun owners less safe. After all, when a criminal breaks into a person’s home, he’s not going to wait for the gun owner to unlock his firearm."

New "End Family Fire" Campaign Promotes Safer Gun Storage to Save Lives
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Ad Council, and Droga5 introduce new phrase and national PSAs to reduce the number of deaths and injuries resulting from unsecured or misused guns in the home.The Brady Campaign

The timing of the ad blitz — there still has been no federal legislative action following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida Feb. 14 and following the Las Vegas massacre Oct. 1 — could also be seen by anti-gun activists as odd.

Advocates for stricter rules for firearms owners are also grappling with hi-tech weapons, such as 3D printed guns and "ghost guns" made of untracable parts, that exist under the radar of law enforcement in most states.

But Brady Center officials say the need to find compromise with the gun owners' rights contingent is urgent: without it, a fix for easy access to firearms on the part of criminals and mass shooters might never be addressed.

"In the gun violence conversation, gun owners were largely missing," Hunter said. Added Kris Brown, co-president of the organization, "People are frustrated by the stalemate we have on both sides."

Keeping children away from guns should be a no-brainer, they argue, that everyone can get behind (even as comedian Sacha Baron Cohen trolled some Republicans to admit they embrace the idea that kids should be trained to use firearms).

"This is completely outside the realm of politics," Brown said. "It's not red state, blue state — it’s families who want to do what’s best to protect the most vulnerable."

In fact the Family Fire campaign officially recommends simply that gun owners with firearms stored in homes where children live keep them "secure" and separate from ammunition. "A simple gun lock can make a major difference," the campaign states on its website.

Hunter said the campaign, which is supported by the groups Droga5, National Parent Teacher Association, Doctors for America, the DC Police Foundation and others, is "in some ways" akin to the harm reduction movement for drug users: If nothing can stop it, society might as well make it as safe as possible. But Hunter said the Brady Center likens it more to the campaign to stop drunken driving.

"We have to find a way to foster a more rich and common understanding about guns in this country that don’t cause people to go to the other side of the divide," Brown said.

CLARIFICATION (Aug. 8, 2018, 4:54 p.m.): An earlier version of this article stated that the Brady Center's campaign is "in some ways" akin to the harm reduction movement for drug users. The Brady Center did not dispute that comparison, but said it preferred to liken its campaign to one intended to end drunken driving. The article has been updated to reflect the group's preference.

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