#TBT: The Time Ad Age Went All-In for Gun Control

RFK Shooting Prompted a Burst of Activist Journalism

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"Can there be any doubt anywhere that violence and contempt for law and order are doing their rotten best to tear American society apart?

"Can there any longer be any doubt that the vast majority of decent, honest, sensible, thoughtful residents of America—black, white, yellow, young, old, rich, poor, conservative, liberal—are almost physically aching for a return to sanity and decency."

The product of The New York Times' editorial board in the wake of a recent shooting?

No. Rather, it's the beginning of an Ad Age editorial titled "GUNS MUST GO!" published on June 10, 1968, four days after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

What about that pesky Second Amendment? The editorial had this to say: "Does that mean that any 17-year-old punk or junkie can't be restrained from buying or owning a gun? Does that mean that anyone can collect an arsenal, without interference of any kind from responsible authorities?"

It then went on to urge the Four A's, ANA, AAF and "all the panoply of national and regional associations in the media, advertising, marketing and related fields to get behind a massive effort to reduce the tremendous hazards of a gun-riddled society, and to get at it right now." (Italics in the original.)

Credit: Crain Communications.

The following week, Ad Age doubled down and ran part of the editorial on the front page. It also reported that the prospect for a gun law was "brighter" and that the AAF was moving on gun control, sending members a petition to sign for "Gun Control Now." Networks, meanwhile, said they doubted that their content spurred violence. A group of New York-based ad people formed the New York Advertising Committee for Sane Gun Laws and created a poster targeting the National Rifle Association. And Ad Age ran a series of anti-gun ads created by North Advertising, Chicago, offering to "send the ads—or radio tape or television film versions of them—to any medium that would send in a coupon … requesting them."

Credit: Crain Communications.

The June 24 issue contained no fewer than 10 stories about the subject. Liz Taylor, Ad Age reported, took out a gun-control ad in national newspapers. Over 140 people wrote to Ad Age requesting the gun-control ads run the week before. And advertisers and networks set about changing the content of TV shows and spots, while trade groups tried to do something about the issue. The AAF, however, found early going rough, with some threatening to resign membership. And another group calling itself "Advertising Men for Deescalation of Violence on Television" formed, though the nine media directors met as "concerned individuals, not as representatives of their agencies" and asked not to be named. Senator Warren Magnuson, D-Wash., wrote in to laud Ad Age.

And if you're at all wondering if Ad Age's readers were unanimous in their support for this activism, the answer was a resounding no.

Credit: Crain Communications.

Numerous people wrote in to express their "unqualified admiration" for a "hard-hitting editorial." But others bemoaned a justice system gone soft, one in which "naïve judges and parole officials release criminals to repeat their crimes." Still others noted that if guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns, pointing specifically to New York's strict gun-control laws—and high crime rates. One reader noted that cars kill more people annually than fire-arms. One reader called it "emotional balderdash" and another said it was "definitely not only out of place in Advertising Age, but done without really thinking things through. The approach reminds me very much of the anti-advertising editorials that sprinkle other publications."

Someone even blamed the media.

In other words, not much has changed since 1968.

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