There’s a lot of debate about gun control right now, and it was interesting today to watch all the major U.S. car rental agencies halt their discount programs for members of the NRA (National Rifle Association). Whatever your position on gun rights I hope to make the argument that these discounts for NRA members were never justified in the first place.
I have taken note of some readers asking me to stay apolitical in this age of Donald Trump. I also think there are appropriate times to bring politics into the discussion when it touches on the travel industry. This is, obviously, a travel blog. Various hotel chains are also cutting ties.
There’s No Overlap between Firearm Education and Travel
Start with the basics and look at the purpose of the NRA as an organization. The about page describes its foundation, and that the “primary goal … would be to ‘promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.'” Since then it has engaged in a variety of educational endeavors listed on that same page. It closes by saying:
While widely recognized today as a major political force and as America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights, the NRA has, since its inception, been the premier firearms education organization in the world.
My question is, if this organization is all about firearms education, why do they need discounts from car rental providers? I can see how it makes sense for AAA and AARP. People who own a car and travel might want to drive at their destination. Older people with time on their hands talk about spending their golden years traveling and will need a car, too.
Do I need a rental car to visit the gun range? Are people trained to carry weapons more attractive customers than people who aren’t trained to carry weapons? I simply don’t see any rationale for this relationship.
Weak Connection between Political Advocacy and Travel
The only plausible argument I see is that, as the NRA points out, the organization is a potent lobbying force. Having access to a group of people and using their international communication system to market a product at a discount could be appealing.
But this opens an ugly can of worms. Should Avis, National, and Hertz provide discounts to Catholics? That’s over a billion people who all follow one leader. Surely there’d be some return on getting Pope Francis to advocate 10% off your next rental car. What about skipping political advocacy groups and going straight to political parties? One can take the Republicans, and another can take the Democrats.
So, no, I don’t think that going after any kind of policy-centered organization makes any more sense. It’s too easy to irritate other groups that have opposing policies. Even if those policies are ostensibly good (“safety” and “freedom”) it’s a matter of interpretation. AAA and AARP engage in political advocacy, too, but it’s hardly the kind to cause polarized debate.
On the other hand, I think providing a rate discount to NRA employees, just as some car rental agencies provide discounts to other private and public employers, is perfectly fine.
It Was a Dumb Idea from the Start
Ultimately, I hope this serves as a lesson to some marketing professionals that this was a dumb idea from the start. Public outcry forced them to renege on existing agreements. NRA members are now claiming they’ll stage a boycott in protest. It’s a lot of angriness that could have caused great harm (and might still) while the outcome has done nothing to put these brands in a good light.
You think Avis, National, or Hertz are going to benefit? Hardly. They all started out offering these policies, and they all stopped. None of them stand apart as the “good” guy. All of them are now viewed — by at least some people — as the “bad” guy.
For the same reasons that some readers might yell at me for getting in the middle of the debate and sharing my opinion, these companies never should have been involved either. The point I’m trying to make is that it has nothing to do with your position on gun rights or gun violence. It has everything to do with the fact that you will eventually upset some of your customers.
For companies that have nothing to do with guns, it’s just foolish to get involved by creating a formal agreement with the leading advocacy group on one side of the debate.