The National Rifle Association and cause marketing may not seem like a match. But what if the NRA took on a cause marketing campaign to push for improved funding for community mental health programs?
Strange bedfellows often make the best coalitions and this one seems like a natural. Since the NRA won't support virtually any restrictions on gun ownership, maybe it should concentrate on at least one cross-section of Americans who can do great harm with firearms.
Not only mentally ill people morph into serial killers. But beyond question, community mental health programs have come up short in handling a population that once might have been confined in a state hospital, but now is left to fend for themselves, often homeless and living in the streets.
There have been valiant efforts, especially by local governments and effective nonprofits, to patch up a system that never was really stitched together to provide housing, medication management and access to jobs. The big problem is a lack of money and manpower to handle the challenge of treating mental illness, not just reacting to symptoms such as substance abuse and erratic behavior.
There isn't even enough money for programs such as one in place in California that is tasked with confiscating guns from persons with known mental illnesses. While the NRA reportedly hasn't opposed the program, it apparently has lobbied against adequate funding.
So why not put all that in the past, turn over a new leaf and come out as the loudest, most emphatic supporter for effective community mental health treatment, including programs that take away their access to firearms, which can result in the deaths of others and themselves? This seems like a perfect way for NRA to earn wider respect, champion a group of people who are overlooked or ignored and address at least one major stumbling block to prevent mass killings.
A lot of people support gun control, despite its practical shortcomings, as the only viable way to reduce gun-related violence. The NRA could show another way, allying itself with mental health providers and advocacy groups.
A NRA cause marketing program to support better funding for community mental health programs won't stop the argument over gun control — or ease the anxiety many Americans feel about the prospect, however improbable, of massive gun seizures by an overzealous government. However, such a campaign, if undertaken seriously and in collaboration with the mental health community, could help tear down stereotypes that are a barrier to a rational discussion of how to maintain civilization amid a sea of guns.
Whatever you think the Second Amendment really means, guns are part of the American personality. Just like in the Wild West, the challenge isn't to take away everyone's guns, but to stop pointless, bloody gunfights on city streets and their awful collateral damage.
If the debate can move to higher ground, with the NRA in the lead instead of riding shotgun, we have a chance of finding solutions. Drastically improving community mental health services is a great place to start. Who knows where that could lead — maybe to a frank discussion about how to make school campuses sanctuaries from pedophiles, drug dealers and mass murderers.
Cause marketing is a powerful tool, as many brands and worthy nonprofits have proven. But cause marketing isn't just a tool to sell stuff; it also can be a tool to solve problems, as American Express showed when it raised money to restore the Statue of Liberty. The NRA and the mental health community should give it a try. It could be a better match than you think.