When Little Red Riding Hood Is Packing Heat

Another young recruit.

Photographer: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

The National Rifle Association’s latest campaign has instigated some small degree of controversy and a larger amount of snark. But the best response to “Little Red Riding Hood (Has a Gun)” and “Hansel and Gretel (Have Guns)” isn’t mockery -- it’s counterprogramming.

The lesson of these recalibrated fairy tales is familiar to any reader of NRA literature: When good guys (or girls, as the case may be) pack heat, bad guys pay. In reality, 100,000 Americans are killed or injured annually by firearms; few would qualify as “bad guys." So far in 2016, there have been at least 57 instances of a child shooting someone. With so many guns in so many irresponsible hands, that tally will rise.

QuickTake Guns in America

The commercial angle of the NRA’s latest campaign is obvious enough; the NRA Family website features advertisements for handguns and rifles. Even more consequential, however, is the demographic angle: The NRA is actively, aggressively trying to build its constituency among a new generation. Web videos, books, accessories and more -- including the “Eddie Eagle” gun-safety courses for kids and support for high-school shooting teams -- are all part of the NRA’s outreach to bolster a declining gun-owning population.

Storytelling is the essence of the NRA campaign, which offers anecdotes and passion to promote the group’s militant views and to counter opposing data and common sense. The organization has a preordained narrative for every tragedy: More guns would have prevented it. It’s an argument also heard in the political arena, of course, where the NRA has built a famously well-funded operation, including lobbying, organizing, donating and advertising.

Supporters of gun-safety regulation have until recently tended to focus on this kind of political activism. But lately they have become more engaged on the cultural front. The television drama “The Good Wife" recently featured a plot inspired by random gun violence. “The Daily Show” effectively exploded NRA rhetoric about the capacities of a “good guy with a gun” to control violent situations. One of Cosmopolitan magazine’s recent how-to articles is about how women can talk with their boyfriends about guns. (The article is part of a campaign sponsored in part by Everytown for Gun Safety, co-founded by Michael R. Bloomberg, majority owner of Bloomberg LP.)

With the nation’s political system in a polarized lock, pushing some states toward greater regulation of firearms and others increasingly into a free-for-all, the need for common venues and common language to address gun violence grows more pressing. Supporters of reasonable gun regulation will have to engage American culture in new and innovative ways to make progress and save lives. The nation can’t afford to let dangerous fairy tales go unanswered.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.