The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is launching a public education campaign to warn of the dangers of having unlocked and loaded guns in a house, particularly in one where there are children.
Called “End Family Fire,” the campaign seeks to prevent unintentional deaths by urging gun owners to take steps that would prevent children or guests from accessing firearms. They include storing a gun in a place where it is not accessible to those who do not own it, storing a firearm and ammunition separately from one another and using a gun lock.
About eight children each day are unintentionally killed or injured by a gun, according to the average of five years of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the group said.
“We can all agree, eight children being unintentionally shot and injured or killed every day is simply unconscionable,” Kris Brown, Brady’s co-president, said in a statement.
“Just like the term ‘designated driver’ changed perceptions about drinking and driving, the term ‘Family Fire’ will help create public awareness to change attitudes and actions around this important matter. This is a nonpolitical issue where gun owners and non-gun owners alike can come together and play a role in reducing the number of innocent lives lost to gun violence.”
But how does a phrase like designated driver end up in the lexicon? And is it possible to inject words into the linguistic bloodstream and have them endure?
" It doesn’t happen all that often because it’s really hard to get something from the marketing domain into the everyday usage domain," said Michael Adams, a professor of English at Indiana University.
Mass media campaigns have been happening since the founding of the United States, particularly in the realm of public health. Their dissemination adapted to a changing media landscape: pamphlets, books, magazines, radio, television and Internet. But their effectiveness has been mixed. Adams and others who study language said phrases or slogans have to be catchy to catch on, like “see something, say something" or “secondhand smoke.” They have to be unobtrusive enough not to offend but memorable enough to remember -- alliteration helps.
Mostly, the phrase or slogan needs to be used, often. But public service announcements don’t often whip around the Internet and find viral fame. Instead, it takes years of sustained use for something to seep into the public’s consciousness.
Like designated driver.
In the mid-1980s, media coverage of drunk driving waned, and deaths started to rise. In 1985, the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health opened. It was led by Jay Winsten, who made tackling drunk driving its first priority.
Winsten traveled to Scandanavia, where a sober driver campaign helped reduce traffic fatalities. Upon returning to Boston, he approached a local television station about starting a public awareness campaign about sober driving. The station, which had just lost a staff member to a drunken driving accident, agreed and partnered with the Massachusetts Restaurant Council, which offered free non-alcoholic drinks to sober drivers at more than 200 establishments.
“It asked for only a modest change in behavior. If you drink, drink in moderation, and if you drink, choose a designated driver,” Winsten said in an interview.
He then reached out to executives at the three major networks, CBS, ABC and NBC, which were under fire for running beer advertisements, and agreed to air public service announcements about the dangers of driving while drinking. He forged relationships with executives at advertising agencies, who created campaigns around sober driving. And Winsten was urged by the former president of CBS, Frank Stanton, to take an approach that he was initially skeptical of: disseminating the message through Hollywood.
Winsten spent 25 work weeks in Los Angeles, convincing television executives, producers and writers that the idea of a designated driver should be written into television scripts. It worked: Over four seasons, about 160 episodes of television shows had references to sober driving. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton also filmed service announcements about designated driving, and police departments nationwide picked up on the concept.
“Sustainability is the biggest challenge in all of these campaigns,” Winsten said. Other successful examples including anti-smoking campaigns and initiatives to use seat belts and reduce teen pregnancy rates, he said.
Brady’s campaign was launched with help from the Ad Council, a nonprofit that produces and distributes public service announcements. Brady said a number of media companies, including Fox Networks Group, Meredith Corp. and Conde Naste, made “significant commitments” to the project, which will run the PSAs in donated space in print, broadcast and online. It has also garnered the support of groups including the National Parent Teacher Association and the American Psychological Association.
Brown said she wants to put family fire “in the lexicon” by partnering with trusted institutions like law enforcement and public health groups who, she said, understand that they are trying to lower the number of accidental gun deaths in the home.
She thinks it will take a year to two years of frequent use to make it something people think of, and three to five years before it is commonly used. She hopes it will further take off with the use of social media.
A lot has changed since Winsten brought designated driver into common usage. There are no longer only three television networks to bring on board, and while social media can help spread things quickly, it has also shortened peoples' attention span.
“Given the fragmented media marketplace and extremely short attention span of the general public, even if you break through with a creative idea like the ice bucket challenge, that generates for five weeks worldwide attention,” he said of the viral challenge where a bucket of ice was dumped on a person’s head to raise awareness of ALS. “That’s five weeks. What are you going to do for the rest of the year and the year after that?”
Lexicographers said the term family fire might have different connotations.
“It may be hard to get people who don’t pay that much attention of things to get people to think of family fire as anything other than a fire burning down a house,” said Allan Metcalf, a professor of English at MacMurray College.
Some modern campaigns that most people agree are worthwhile aren’t catching on as they should, including those against distracted driving. Winsten said it’s almost an “unnatural act” to put a smartphone aside after getting in a car, and that most people think they can multitask and won’t crash a vehicle while using a phone.
Brown said she thinks the issue of preventing accidental shootings is a nonpolitical issue, and one that gun owners and non-gun owners can get behind. She said there is no desire to take guns away from people, only to remind people of the safest possible way to store them in the home.