The NRA has a problem with government actively working to discourage the use of perfectly legal products, including using taxpayer dollars to fund public health and awareness campaigns. Such campaigns typically include those that warn of the dangers of using tobacco and abusing alcohol.
Subsection (c) of a bill known as Senate Bill No. 45, currently in committee in the Kansas state legislature, says:
“The prohibitions in subsection (a) and (b) shall include any activity to advocate or promote any proposed, pending or future federal, state or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product, including its sale or marketing, including, but not limited to, the advocacy or promotion of gun control.”
Subsections (a) and (b) describe how state money can be used, and prohibits its use for distributing propaganda, such as booklets and pamphlets, that would serve to support or defeat any legislation.
Of the bill, the NRA’s website says:
“Senate Bill 45, introduced by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, would save taxpayers money by prohibiting taxpayer funds from being used to lobby against legal products or to promote gun control…SB 45 is a common sense reform that would help preserve the rights of taxpayers to ensure that public funds are not used to pursue a political agenda against legal products. Other states allow taxpayer funds to finance expensive advertisement campaigns that demonize perfectly legal products – from everyday consumer products to firearms and ammunition. SB 45 would prohibit this practice in Kansas and make sure that public money is not used to put law-abiding gun owners in the crosshairs of an agency with a political agenda.”
According to The Topeka Capital-Journal, State Senator David Haley (D-Kansas City) believes the bill could be interpreted to scrap anti-smoking campaigns and public awareness campaigns regarding alcohol abuse, because both tobacco and alcohol are legal consumer products. He and a representative for the American Cancer Society are concerned about keeping these products out of the hands of children, but are also concerned about being unable to continue raising awareness of the dangers associated with these products.
Brent Gardner, spokesman for the NRA, said that it would still be okay to use public funds to actively discourage use of these products by minors because that is illegal, despite the products themselves being legal.
Should it become illegal for public funds to be used for public health and awareness campaigns in Kansas, finding money for such campaigns becomes extremely difficult, as private organizations must turn to soliciting donations to keep them going. A USA Today article from August 2012 reports that, following a graphic series of anti-smoking ads funded by the federal government, the CDC reported well over 400,000 new visitors to their smoking-cessation website, and over 190,000 new callers to its quit-smoking toll-free number.
Thomas Frieden, a physician with the CDC, says that it’s important that everyone understand the risks and dangers associated with smoking.
Public health campaigns seek to create awareness, not outlaw a legal product, and when a legal product is dangerous, people need to be able to make an informed decision about whether to use that product. This isn’t limited to smoking and drinking, it also includes the dangers of junk food, and yes, the dangers of firearms. The “demonization of legal products,” as the NRA puts it, comes from the dangers inherent to these products, not the ad campaigns or those financing them.
What the NRA is not understanding is that “legal” does not mean “safe,” and that people have a right to know where danger lies in legal products. The industries that make these products will not spend their money warning of potential and known dangers simply because it’s not in their best interests to do so, and without help in the form of grants and other funding, non-profit organizations simply don’t have the money for these major campaigns.