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Gun Nuts Find a New Target: The NFL

Pro football isn't pro-gun enough for Guns & Ammo

Christian Petersen/Getty Images Spots/Getty Images

As 2013 comes to a close, gun advocates can count up their impressive string of victories this year. They defeated the strongest push for new federal gun laws in a generation, handing President Obama an embarrassing defeat and defying the will of 90 percent of the American public. They saw Illinois, the last state to ban people from carrying guns in public, finally loosen its laws. They successfully mounted a recall effort to remove two Colorado lawmakers from office for supporting new gun restrictions. Yet gun advocates may have finally found an opponent they can’t beat: the National Football League.

This week, Guns & Ammo magazine broke the story that the NFL rejected a proposed Super Bowl advertisement for Daniel Defense, a gun manufacturer based in Georgia. The ad, which features a handsome young father explaining that he’s “chosen the most effective tool” for defending his family from harm, was dinged by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on advertisements. That policy prohibits any ads that feature “firearms, ammunition or other weapons.” Although Daniel Defense’s ad doesn’t show any actual firearms—though it does feature the company’s logo, which is an artistic rendering of a military-style rifle—the league barred Fox, the network that will air the Super Bowl, from running it.

To gun advocates, this was nothing less than a declaration of war. Alex Jones, who last made headlines with a notorious anti-gun control rant on Piers Morgan’s show, said the NFL’s decision proved the league was “anti-family,” “anti-liberty,” and “anti-American.” Worse yet, Jones said, the NFL was in cahoots with the imperialistic Obama Administration, which is using the Super Bowl as a venue for political propaganda, just like Hitler did with the 1936 Munich Olympics.

This isn’t the first time the NFL and its broadcast partners ran afoul of gun advocates. Last year, they were furious when sports commentator Bob Costas, during halftime of a Sunday Night Football game, blamed the “gun culture” after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend before taking his own life. Challenging the very essence of gun rights ideology, Costas had the audacity to say that “handguns don’t save lives.”

The year before the Costas flap, gun advocates and other conservatives accused the league of being behind ESPN’s firing of Hank Williams Jr., who sang the rousing theme song on Monday Night Football. Williams’s offense? On an episode of "Fox & Friends", he compared Obama to Hitler.

Gun advocates have also seen the NFL’s hostility to the right to bear arms in its policies on guns at games. In 2011, Wisconsin, the home of the Green Bay Packers, changed its laws to allow people with a permit to carry concealed weapons in public. Gun advocates unsuccessfully tried to pressure the Packers’ Lambeau Field to allow the same. Robert Farago, a gun blogger so popular he’s been featured in the Washington Post, accused the NFL of being “officially anti-gun.” Then earlier this year, the league adopted a new security policy that requires fans to use transparent bags if they want to bring anything into stadiums. The reason for the policy, according to the NFL, was “to provide a safer environment for the public.” To gun advocates, however, the policy did the exact opposite. What could be safer, they ask, than a stadium full of lawful gun owners? You know, more guns, less crime.

While some gun advocates are prone to see a conspiracy to take away their guns at every turn, there is some merit to their complaints about the NFL’s rejection of the Daniel Defense ad. The ad doesn’t feature any firearms, save for the logo. The gun maker offered to remove the logo and replace with an American flag, but the league rejected that idea, too. And the ad also seemed to come within an exception in the NFL’s policy, which provides that “stores that sell firearms and ammunitions ... will be permitted, provided they sell other products and the ads do not mention firearms, ammunition or other weapons.” Daniel Defense operates a brick-and-mortar store that sells apparel and other branded merchandise.

Conservatives like Michelle Malkin were quick to point out—not incorrectly—a certain hypocrisy behind the NFL’s policy and how they apply it. Though the policy prohibits firearms and ads that promote movies and video games that are “excessively violent,” the league has approved ads where characters get “electrocuted, run over by buses, kicked, punched, tackled, thrown out of high-rise buildings, and attacked by crotch-biting dogs,” according to Malkin. The NFL’s policy also prohibits ads for movies and video games with “overtly sexual material”—even though that condition seems to be met by at least half the Super Bowl’s ads.

Perhaps the problem with the Daniel Defense ad wasn’t that it promoted armed defense of home and family. The ad may have run afoul of the league’s prohibition on “social cause/issue advocacy advertising.” Certainly the right to bear arms has become a major political issue and the NFL rightly wants to keep political ads off the Super Bowl broadcast. Daniel Defense all but admitted that this was the purpose of the spot: “We are trying to exercise our First Amendment rights to give our opinion on the Second Amendment.”

The NFL understandably wants to steer clear of such hot-button topics so as to avoid offending any viewers. But at least some gun owners are offended by the NFL’s seeming hostility to firearms—so much so that Alex Jones has called for gun rights supporters to boycott the NFL. “Americans have to decide,” Jones insists, “Are you going to roll over and put up with this because you love watching your football so much? Or are you going to boycott the NFL because of their anti-American agenda?”

Good luck with that. According to Variety, the NFL has had “monster ratings” this season, with at least 15 games drawing 25 million viewers or more. The league is bringing in annual revenues north of $9 billion. And despite increasing concerns about brain injuries, the NFL remains the most popular and profitable professional sports league in the country by a good margin.

If there’s one thing Americans love more than their guns, it is football. Only time will tell if the boycott is successful, but the smart money in Vegas is betting that gun advocates have finally met their match.