SSAA members often ask how they can help promote and protect the shooting sports at a grassroots level. Our best advice is to write to your local Member of Parliament. Your letters are very important; not only do they provide mandates for our politicians, but they also remind them that their constituents are passionate about certain issues.
We also encourage you to express your concerns about any errors or misrepresentations in the media directly to the media outlet or journalist where appropriate.
In addition to the below tips and insights, SSAA National has developed statements on our position on certain topics so you can be more effective in your communications with politicians and media outlets.
TIPS FOR WRITING TO POLITICIANS
- Appropriately address the representative you are writing to.
- Include your full name and address. Politicians pay more attention to people who live in their electorate.
- Be concise. Keep your letter short by raising only one or two key issues. Politicians receive many letters, so do what you can to make yours one that they will have time to read.
- Ask a question on issues that require a personal response. Be clear on the action you want taken and make sure it is an action the politician can actually do.
- Do not make speeches or offer opinions.
- Make your letter original. It is better to use your own words than to use a template or form letter.
- Request a response to your letter. Their response will usually be a form letter, but you will know that your letter has been seen.
- Personalise your letter. If possible, include a personal story or information on how the issue affects you, your family, your business or people around you.
- Mention your membership of the SSAA if you wish, but please do not use the SSAA logo on your personal correspondence. Remember that you are expressing your own views.
- Personalise your relationship. If you have ever voted for the representative, contributed time or money to their election campaign or have met them, say so.
- Be polite but don’t be afraid to take a firm position. Do not get aggressive or use abusive language.
- Express your thanks. It is important for politicians and political parties to be able to share that they have been helpful or successful in their work.
CONTACTING YOUR LOCAL MP
HOSTING A RANGE DAY
SSAA National often hosts range days for politicians, the media and other relevant groups. Sometimes the events are private and not publicised; other times media are invited to report on the event and our Publications and Media team cover the story for our publications.
In general, federal politicians and national interest groups are hosted by SSAA National, where state or territory politicians are hosted by local branches. If you would like assistance or information about hosting a range day, contact your state office or email [email protected]
OUR POLITICAL SUPPORTERS
Some federal politicians and parties have been quite clear in publically showing their support for the SSAA, the shooting sports and recreational hunting. Many of these have been in direct contact with us and occasionally we will post their messages of support on our website and Facebook page.
We encourage our members to show similar support in return and to take the time to look at each politician’s websites and profiles. The following are federal politicians and parties who have shown support for our cause recently, along with links to their party or personal websites for your information.
Queensland MP Bob Katter
Katter Australia Party
Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie
Western Australia MP Ian Goodenough
Liberal Party of Australia
TIPS FOR WRITING TO MEDIA
If SSAA members see a media report that is biased or unfair, how should they go about raising their points of issue with the news organisation?
Write an email to the journalist who wrote the story, CCing the editor, producer or whoever is in charge. Phone calls can be ignored or pretended that they never happened, but an email is in writing and leaves a record.
It is critical a few points be observed here:
- Firstly, never criticise the journalist personally. Calling them names or casting aspersions on their journalistic abilities will mean your email is instantly ignored.
- Take a friendly approach. Give the journalist the benefit of the doubt and assume any inaccuracies or bias are from a lack of knowledge on the subject, rather than a deliberate bias (even if it isn’t, or you suspect it is not).
- Keep it fairly straightforward. Journalists are busy people and don’t have time to or simply won’t read a PhD dissertation on why, for example, the term ‘high-power’ is completely meaningless when it comes to describing any gun larger than a .22.
- Pick only two or three, at most, examples of errors or inaccuracies to highlight. A point-by-point refutation of the entire story will also see your email ignored.
- Explain why the inaccurate reporting of these facts is detrimental to shooters or the shooting sports generally.
- Never tell the journalist that something ‘is not a story’. Few things pique a journalist’s interest (or annoys them) more than people telling them that something is not newsworthy. People who say that in relation to things which are not about celebrities or entertainment are quite often trying to hide things or have their own agendas.
- Offer to help. Continuing on the assumption the errors are from lack of knowledge, be part of the solution. As well as being a genuine opportunity to help correct a lack of knowledge on a subject, it also helps to show you are not an angry weirdo who just wants to rant.
- Include your contact details (first and last names, phone number and email address).
A suggested example email might go like this:
I read your story in the Bunyip Creek Herald regarding the Adler lever-action shotgun. As a licensed gun owner and keen sporting shooter I was disappointed to see it had some fairly significant inaccuracies. I appreciate how busy you guys are and that firearms are a fairly complicated subject, but when things like ‘the rapid-fire gun which can unload eight shots in just a few seconds’ is printed, it paints the shotgun as some kind of destructive mass-murder weapon and brands any law-abiding gun owner who might want one as being some kind of nutter.
Lever-action shotguns have been legally available for more than 120 years in Australia, even after the Port Arthur law changes, and the Adler is not fundamentally different from any other lever-action shotgun; it just looks a bit more modern and perhaps a bit scary to people without much knowledge of firearms.
If you’re doing further stories on guns or the shooting sports, I’m happy to help out as a local shooting club member – I shoot regularly at the SSAA Bunyip Creek Clay Target club and have been involved with it for many years.
Would you like to come out any weekend as our guest and try your hand at clay target shooting? It’s a lot of fun, would offer a first-hand experience of what the sport is like, and could make an interesting color piece as well.
If you would like to write a Letter to the Editor (to be published in the publication’s letters pages), then the SSAA’s view would be to suggest following the same basic suggestions as for complaining to the journalist directly, but making the focus a bit more general. For example: “As a law-abiding gun owner, recent sensationalist media reports regarding the Adler lever-action shotgun are deeply concerning. The outright misinformation and inaccuracies being reported are causing real damage to a legitimate sport and directly affecting its members here in the community…” If enough people write enough letters consistently, the message will get through eventually.
For what it’s worth, one respected journalist, who is also a SSAA member, says he has never heard any of his colleagues – at any media outlet he has worked in – make disparaging remarks about shooting, shooters, or guns generally. He honestly does not believe the average non-shooting Australian actually gives gun ownership any thought in their day-to-day lives; journalists support proper licensing and registration, but don’t generally have a problem with licensed, law-abiding people owning guns for target shooting and to a lesser extent, hunting.
CONTACTING PROFESSIONAL BODIES OVERSEEING JOURNALISTS
When should you contact the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (professional body overseeing journalists) or the Australian Press Council?
It depends on the nature of the issue. For a story that is ‘merely’ inaccurate (unnecessarily describing a gun as ‘high-powered’ or referring to a scoped hunting rifle as a ‘sniper rifle’, but not substantially anti-gun) then you should probably not bother unless the outlet in question has a verifiable history of doing it and had ignored or rebuffed feedback from the community to this effect. Make a note of the outlet, edition, date and page and feel free to email the outlet about your displeasure if you like.
For more blatant bias outside an opinion piece – such as a story about the Adler shotgun which has comment from the police and an anti-gun group, but not the SSAA or a pro-shooting organisation/person – then write to the journalist and editor/producer as outlined earlier. If you haven’t heard back in a reasonable timeframe (say, a week or so), or if they run another anti-gun story after you have contacted them, go to the Australian Press Council first and follow their prompts about how to complain and what can be complained about. The Press Council is responsible for overseeing print and digital media only; TV and radio are handled by the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA). Also complain to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) if you like; it’s not as if emails cost anything to send.
Keep in mind that opinion pieces have more leeway for the writer/speaker to have stronger views and outright bias on a particular topic, including guns. You may be wasting your time complaining to the writer of an opinion piece, as they are not going to change their views on the subject and arguing with them may just make the situation worse. If it’s completely egregious or out of line, complain to the outlet’s editor/producer as well as the Australian Press Council and the MEAA, but don’t be surprised if nothing significant comes of it. One suggestion though: if you are a decent writer (or know someone who is and who likes guns), then request the opportunity to write a counter-opinion piece on the subject.
USING SOCIAL MEDIA
What role can social media play in raising awareness of just how biased and unfair the media has become when it comes to firearms and the shooting sports?
One of the benefits social media such as Facebook can potentially offer is showing gun owners as normal, everyday people. When the average punter thinks of gun owners in Australia, they may think of farmers, or perhaps bogans or nutters with special ops fantasies. About one in 25 people in this country owns a gun, but most gun owners tend to keep quiet about it around other people who do not shoot. They simply don’t want to deal with the negativity that comes from people deciding their friendly and helpful coworker is now a ‘potential psycho’ because they have access to a double-barrelled shotgun or a target pistol securely locked up in a gun safe.
Twitter is a popular source of information with journalists. However, it seemingly has a strong Green-Left-Social Justice slant among its Australian users, so people just are not interested in hearing positive things about guns there. Look at the flogging Senator David Leyonhjelm received there any time he said anything the anti-gun lobby even slightly disapproved of. Additionally, look at the fallout on social media over the ‘Cecil the Lion’ incident and also Glenn McGrath’s African hunting trip. If Australia’s social media users are prepared to lambast McGrath, then they are not going to listen to everyday, non-celebrity SSAA members defending their chosen recreations either.
However, those who may wish to use Facebook or Twitter can issue comment on matters quickly and timely, posting or tweeting such comments as “We abhor the criminal use of firearms but don’t punish the law-abiding” or “There’s so much misinformation about this subject; we have some accurate information here”, which may have at least some chance of being acknowledged in a story, particularly by some of the more digitally savvy media outlets.
A suggestion is for SSAA members to distance themselves from American-style gun culture promotion on social media, regardless of their personal views on the subject. The syndicated nature of modern media means a lot of stories about shootings and gun issues from the US are run in Australia (basically, it fills a story slot, usually obtains lots of clicks and the local news organisation does not have to write or produce the story itself). So there is a lot of misinformation among the general public about what Australia’s gun laws actually are and what people can and cannot legally own or do with their legally owned guns.
Also, keep calm and realise you are highly unlikely to change anyone’s opinion online. Be respectful and civil because while you may not convince anti-gun folks to change their minds, you might convince them that law-abiding gun owners are sensible, civilised people. This is the first step in changing the conversation around guns in Australia from a shrill shriek to a more accepting and understanding approach by the anti-gun lobby.
Read more tips for using social media.
AN INSIGHT ON HOW NEWS STORIES ARE STRUCTURED
Journalists, especially in print and online, tend to use what’s known as the ‘inverted pyramid’ technique to structure a story. Basically, this generally involves the most important or newsworthy bit first, followed by supporting information, then quotes from both ‘sides’ and possibly (space or time permitting) a concluding bit. From a news perspective, you want your view to be the at the top of the inverted pyramid and one way to help put it there is to be the one who brings the issue to the journalist.
Technically speaking, news stories on controversial matters should present both sides of the story. However, it is not clear why anything involving firearms automatically seems to fall into that category. For instance, whenever a car manufacturer releases a new car, we don’t see a mass of articles from road safety organisations decrying the new vehicle as yet another way for people to irresponsibly drive at more than 200kph.
Generally speaking, any journalist who is also a SSAA member would never have approached an anti-gun organisation for comment in a news story about firearms, but neither would they personally have approached the SSAA – because as a member, it’s a conflict of interest. So ironically, despite being in one the best places to help get the message out about how great shooting is and how law-abiding gun owners are not nutters or terrorists, in many respects any journalist who is a SSAA member is actually quite limited in what they can do besides pointing colleagues towards the SSAA when they are doing a story about guns.
Perhaps a lot of the anti-gun bias in the media is people (readers and viewers) misreading or misinterpreting facts. If you take something such as “The Adler lever-action shotgun can fire eight shots in eight seconds” or “a .308 rifle can shoot through a tree trunk”, that’s factually correct and a journalist who reports that is not stating anything untrue. However, a lot of people are going to interpret that as “Gosh, that’s a lot of shots in not a lot of seconds/an awful lot of power. Why would anyone need that unless they were doing something untoward?”
Most journalists don’t know anything about guns because it’s just not something they deal with every day and guns can be an incredibly esoteric subject even to people who are lifelong enthusiasts. Also, journalists have to come up to speed on many different subjects very quickly indeed. They are not going to do a lot of investigation to find out of a .308 rifle is a pretty standard hunting calibre or a something that belongs in a James Bond movie.
Finally, journalists across Australia work under a huge and often unbelievable amount of stress and pressure, and for considerably less money than you think. There is incredible pressure to break news first, ahead of the competition, and newsrooms are generally chronically understaffed. There just is not the time to do a lot of in-depth research beyond fact-checking and things like that.
That does not excuse deliberate anti-gun bias where it appears, but generally, most journalists are too busy, too stressed and too underpaid to become involved in elaborate anti-gun agenda-pushing (even if they hate guns) for the simple reason they, like most other people, don’t give firearms ownership much thought until guns feature in the news. This is likely to be the case because someone who should not have a gun (and almost certainly was not allowed to in the first place) has done something unpleasant with it.