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Thank You For Shooting—How Hollywood Can Get This One Right

Thank You For Shooting—How Hollywood Can Get This One Right

The 2006 movie “Thank You for Smoking” is a masterpiece of satire. In the film, Aaron Eckhart starred as a spokesman for “Big Tobacco” named Nick Naylor. Nick was a master of spin. His quick smile and happy, slippery, but always seductive logic befuddled even politicians who hated him.

This is Nick, introducing himself:

“Few people on this planet know what it is to be truly despised. Can you blame them? I earn a living fronting an organizing that kills one thousand two hundred human beings a day; 1,200 people. We're talking two jumbo jet plane loads of men, women and children. I mean there's Attila, Genghis and me, Nick Naylor, the face of cigarettes, the Colonel Sanders of nicotine. This is where I work, the Academy of Tobacco Studies. It was established by seven gentlemen you may recognize from C-Span. These guys realized quick if they were going to claim cigarettes were not addictive, they better have proof. This is the man they rely on—Erhardt Von Grupten Mundt. They found him in Germany; I won't go into the details. He's been testing the link between nicotine and lung cancer for 30 years, and hasn't found any conclusive results. The man's a genius—he could disprove gravity. Then we got our sharks. We draft them out of Ivy League law schools and give them timeshares and sports cars. It's just like a John Grisham novel … well—you know—without all the espionage. Most importantly, we've got spin control. That's where I come in. I get paid to talk. I don't have an MD or law degree. I have a bachelor's in kicking ass and taking names. You know that guy who can pick up any girl? I'm him, on crack.”

Here’s how Nick told his son Joey what he does for a living as they enjoyed ice cream cones together.

Joey: So, what happens when you're wrong?

Nick: Well, Joey, I'm never wrong.

Joey: But you can't always be right.

Nick: Well, if it's your job to be right, then you're never wrong.

Joey: But what if you are wrong?

Nick: OK, let's say that you're defending chocolate and I'm defending vanilla. Now, if I were to say to you, "Vanilla's the best flavor ice cream," you'd say …?

Joey: "No, chocolate is."

Nick: Exactly. But you can't win that argument. So, I'll ask you: “So you think chocolate is the end-all and be-all of ice cream, do you?”

Joey: It's the best ice cream; I wouldn't order any other.

Nick: Oh. So it's all chocolate for you, is it?

Joey: Yes, chocolate is all I need.

Nick: Well, I need more than chocolate. And for that matter, I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom and choice when it comes to our ice cream, and that, Joey Naylor, that is the definition of liberty.

Joey: But that's not what we're talking about.

Nick: Ah, but that's what I'm talking about.

Joey: But … you didn't prove that vanilla's the best.

Nick: I didn't have to. I proved that you're wrong, and if you're wrong, I'm right.

Joey: But you still didn't convince me.

Nick: Because I'm not after you. I'm after them.

Now Keshet Studios wants to adapt this Jason Reitman satire into an anthology series that would take on a different social issue each season. The studio wants to start with gun control. The title would be: “Thank You for Shooting.”

Finding another Eckhart to be, in this case, a satirical spokesman for the gun industry will be difficult—Eckhart was that good. But that’s what they’re probably attempting to do; they are likely trying to conjure up a smiling, likeable, no-apologies spokesperson for the gun industry who will talk away gun violence with effortless grace until he falls flat on his face.

But there is a deep flaw with that approach. At the time when “Thank You for Smoking” came out, cigarettes had become politically incorrect. Tobacco companies had basically even given up their denials that cigarettes cause the health problems they do. It had become a big, sick joke that tobacco companies once funded studies to claim that inhaling smoke from burning tobacco wasn’t harmful.

The opposite is true with guns. The gun-rights movement, both nationally and in most states, has clearly been beating gun control efforts for the last few decades. Guns today are only politically incorrect with liberal media outlets, with liberal politicians and, basically, with a minority of people who follow that political philosophy.

While cigarettes clearly have been shown to cause health problems, guns don’t do any such thing. A gun can take or save a life. Guns are neither good nor evil. Not being allowed to have a gun, and so being left defenseless before a stronger adversary, is what is harmful; especially to women and the elderly. This is the basic reason why the right to keep and bear arms was protected from government infringement in our U.S. Bill of Rights.

Today, more than 100 million Americans own guns, and the areas with the most restrictive gun control laws tend to have the highest homicide rates. This Harvard study, done just a year after “Thank You for Smoking” came out, exhaustively looked into gun ownership and homicide rates in the U.S. and many other countries and couldn’t come up with a link between the two. If anything, as John Lott determined, more guns equal less crime. Also, every time someone does pull a trigger—whether hunting, sport shooting or otherwise—he or she is basically ringing a cash register for conservation, as ammunition is taxed and, by law (particularly, one known as the Pittman-Robertson Act), the monies raised must be spent on conservation-related projects.

So if Keshet Studios decides to be predictable by satirically mocking gun rights, their effort will fall flat. It would be a false argument, and lies don’t resonate, truth does.  

If the studio really wants to do a production that will be honest—and shockingly popular (shocking to the Hollywood elite, anyway)—it should cast the leading role as a gun control activist, a Michael Bloomberg spokesperson who ignores all the reality of the harm gun control does (especially to poor people) and who smiles like a politician as he tries to convince people to give up their freedom.

His opening salvo could go something like this:

“Few people on this planet know what it is to be truly despised. Can you blame them? I earn a living fronting an organizing that looks the other way when countless inner-city residents are kept from the freedom, from their ability to defend their own lives from gangs. In Chicago, in 2016 alone, more than 700 people were killed by criminals with illegal guns, but I blame the millions of law-abiding gun owners for the actions of these criminals. This works beautifully. It even convinces many good people in those places to blame other people’s freedom for their plight. This is where I work, at Big Gun Control Studies here in New York City. It was established by seven billionaires who live in gated communities behind armed security. These guys realized quick if they were going to claim freedom is the problem, they’d better spin the facts. That’s where I come in. I get paid to talk. I don't have an MD or a law degree. I have a bachelor’s in making people believe hard-won American freedom is the problem.”

Frank Miniter is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide—Recovering the Lost Art of Manhood. He is also the author of This Will Make a Man of You and The Future of the Gun. He is a contributor to Forbes and writes for many publications. His website is FrankMiniter.com