The NRA convention just concluded a few days ago, and let me say that I had a great time — not being there.
But I’ve been thinking about the NRA for the last week because of the ongoing fuss over Volvo “Life Paint” — the amazing new reflective paint that Volvo thinks will bolster their image as a cuddly car company. Spray this paint all over your clothes and your bike and the drivers of cars might be less likely to run you down.
And people interested in “bike safety” can’t stop raving about how great Life Paint is.
So back to the NRA.
Whatever you may think of the NRA, the organization can be boiled down to three interests. First and foremost is the interest the gun industry has in selling guns. Lots and lots of guns.
In a tie for second place are two other interests in service to this bottom-line imperative of the gun industry: Gun rights and gun safety.
For a discussion of gun rights, feel free to find another webpage, such as the comments section of this video. Go on. Go away if that’s what you want to talk about.
I am not talking about hunting safety or shooting sports — I do know that hunters wear the same bright orange vests that safety-obsessed bicyclists like to wear. Equally, I’m not talking about cycling sports that occur away from public streets.
Many members of the NRA believe it’s okay — preferable even — to walk around armed every day, when done right.
And many bicycle users believe it’s okay– preferable even — to use a bike as transportation every day, when done right.
But have you ever seen any gun industry publicity that emphasized, How not to get shot by our product — and if you do it’s your own fault?
Any bike safety curriculum you might look at is permeated with the threat posed by cars — between the lines and right there in the lines. Bike safety education has very little to do with how you might hit a rock at 11 miles per hour, fall off your bike and sprain your wrist. Or how to keep your kid from falling out of a bike child seat.
So here’s my question:
We don’t call gun safety shirt safety, so why do we call car safety bike safety?
Suppose gun maker Colt’s Manufacturing Co. started a PR campaign touting a high-tech, spray-on paint they’ve developed — “Camo Paint” that will help make you less visible in the event of an armed robbery, a mass shooting, or some other scenario where being seen by the shooter is your biggest liability.
Colt Camo Paint doesn’t exist. I made it up. But imagine a slick viral video with quotes like these — all paraphrased from the Life Paint video:
We’re walking around in clothes that were designed 100 years ago when there were far fewer murderers.
Camo Paint protects shooters from shooting more people than they would otherwise see.
You’ve just got to be as invisible as you can, and that’s the good thing about Camo Paint; it just makes it very hard for you to be seen.
Putting something on that will make you out of sight of maniacs like me is a fantastic thing.
And the next time the news reports someone shot by a homicidal lunatic, imagine people wondering aloud, Was the victim wearing camo?
No gun manufacturer would ever do that. The gun industry has limits to its audacity. God, I hope I’m right about that.
But this is exactly the game that Volvo is playing, along with the rest of the auto industry, the insurance industry, and many local governments. When we get excited about Life Paint, we play along too.
Volvo doesn’t want to remind you that their products are deadly when operated by a distracted driver on public roads designed at the expense of all other safe transportation options. Just as Colt doesn’t want to remind you that their products are dangerous in the hands of… well, dangerous when in hands generally, but particularly when in the hands of someone who has decided he or she wants to shoot innocent people.
But at least Colt promotes gun safety, and not shirt safety. (I apologize if I give them any ideas.)
Over time, I’ve become less inclined to talk about bike safety. Now I’m going to stop talking about it altogether in the context of commuting and cycling for daily use. And when someone talks to me about bike safety, I’m going to say, “I believe you mean car safety.” Yeah. I’m going to be that guy.
We’ve discussed the NRA before here on Commute by Bike. See: Bike Advocacy from the NRA Playbook
In spite of Life Paint, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Volvos. I owned a 1974 Volvo 145 that was totaled when I was t-boned by a red-light runner in Phoenix. I was in my 20s. I survived. But I still have a reliable neck pop that I didn’t have before, whenever I turn my head all the way to the right. Nobody has ever asked me if I was wearing a helmet at the time.
Note that the opinions expressed here by Ted Johnson are solely his own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.