Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-5) is the chair of a congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Last night he started holding three town hall meetings in Northern California on reducing and preventing gun violence. From his Facebook page:

 I will be holding a series of town hall meetings on reducing and preventing gun violence.
On Tuesday at 7 p.m. we will be at Napa City Hall in the Council Chambers at 955 School Street. (done)

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. we will be at Vallejo City Hall at 555 Santa Clara Street.
And on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. we will be at the Board of Supervisors meeting room in Santa Rosa at 575 Administration Drive. I want to hear from you. Please join us if you can.

AR-15

Illustration by Peter Stevens, via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license

If you live in these areas I encourage you to attend. I’d love to hear about it. If you are pro-public safety and want to talk, please go and get your body and voice on the record. I can guarantee you that the people at Cal Guns are going to turn out the bodies, their noble talking points and their subtle intimidation comments. Since they don’t have control of all their members they will also have extremists speak. These are the ones I’d really like to hear from, since they represent the leadership of the NRA.

I don’t really like “Town Hall” style meetings. Politicians like to hold them to give the illusion of listening. Usually their minds are made up in advance by looking at the polling data or which “very serious people” have set up meetings to discuss the issue with them.

They also will note calls, emails, tweets (@RepThompson), and Facebook posts (FB page). You get more points if you are in their district, but being a rich rich donor helps.  Yes, politicians are “listening” but they mostly listen to people who are important to them, those who can deliver votes or money. For years the NRA produced both. But that’s changing.  If the politicians start hearing from dedicated, ferocious public-safety enthusiasts they will notice.

I personally don’t like the Town Hall format. Partly because too often progressives don’t know how to use it effectively in the media (hint, don’t wait for the media’s coverage–make your own. Don’t go for high profile events where the media will be there with their standard frame, “He shouted She shouted the Truth lies somewhere in the middle.”)

One of the things I learned by taking on and successfully defunding right wing media is that even if you could “win the conversation” if there is no leverage that leads to actual change, you won’t reach your ultimate goal. Especially when they constantly lie, change the subject, change the definition of words,  move the goalposts and yell to “win.”

The TV media coverage only looks at the extremes at Town Hall events, so unless the other side does something stupid (bring their guns?) or your side does something clever (like the Silent Student Protest after the pepper spraying in Davis) the media always does the same story  Here is my prediction:

Segment opens on long shot of pro and anti signs. Zoom in or people in costume or with props. One or two clever signs. Let people get an idea of number of bodies per side. Cut to someone dressed in camouflage saying something contrary, “I’m a vet and I say ban AR-15s and semi-automatics!” Cut to woman saying her hand gun saved her life. Cut to Thompson listening during meeting. Cut to head of “Gun Rights” group for 7 second quote. Cut to someone from Brady Campaign group for 7 second quote. Include a educator or mental health professional talking. End with Live stand up after the meeting is over to explain, “This hotly contested issue will be continued tomorrow in blank. Reporting live from Orange County I’m Gustavo Almadovar.

Does this mean you shouldn’t attend? No. If we can’t control the message we can at least not let their extremists flood the venue.  Because this is exactly the kind of thing where the NRA gets their extreme members organized to attend. It is one of the many communications strategies they use. But it’s not their most powerful.  The powerful stuff is hidden.

You have probably noticed that the NRA stays quiet after a major shooting, but they didn’t stop talking in the background in states to expand laws that help more guns get sold or weaken laws that prevent guns from getting sold.  They won’t stop on the work they can control. They can’t totally control the media,  but they do a pretty good job.

Did you notice that the media respected the NRA’s wishes to not speak following a major shooting? It’s like he’s Al Capone in The Untouchables the way the media keep respecting weapons lobbyist Wayne LaPierre’s feelings.  A “press conference” with no questions?  LaPierre’s policies and actions helped facilitate a mass shooting, why should he be spared the uncomfortable hot seat right after the shooting? Why does he get time to collect his thoughts and write his speech? The mothers and fathers of the dead didn’t. Besides, isn’t that why they pay him so well?  I know that journalists feel that it wasn’t fair to ambush him with questions until he was ready. But it’s not fair that the people ambushed at a mass shooting can’t ask questions either.

I’ve already told you what kind of media coverage I expect to come out of the Town Halls. If there are some real extremists there will the media downplay them? I doubt it, this time it’s different. Based on my experience the guns everywhere people will make threatening comments, comments showing their selfishness and lack of empathy and brag about the steps they will take if anyone tried to confiscate their guns. They will talk about killing people, usually the black clad government agents who are coming to take their legal hunting shotgun or rifle. If they do talk to the press and it makes the news nobody will challenge them on these comments.  ”Really? Your desires for ‘target practice’ with an AR-15 or other semi-automatize weapon outweigh the health and safety of others? Really?” They will say they are joking if asked seriously, but they aren’t.

They do not care about your children’s safety, they do not care about other’s safety in public,  if they did they would be trying to help rather than making threats.  These are the kind of people that I hope Mike Thompson and his task force vice chairs meet tonight and over the next few weeks.