DAVE MARLEY

Dave Marley, owner of Marley Drug, said that response to his newspaper ad detailing National Rifle Association donations to North Carolina’s U.S. senators has been “about 80/20 positive to negative.”

Journal File

Dave Marley knows advertising. He spends tens of thousands each month on radio spots in markets across the country building up the name and reputation of his pharmacy’s mail-order business.

He employs his own marketing guy and has two call centers set up inside Marley Drug building on South Peters Creek Parkway. Operators are standing by.

“Advertising works,” he said Monday morning. “If you spend millions saying the same thing over and over again, people eventually believe every word of it.”

Still, even by his standards, Marley took a big step past filling prescriptions this weekend by wading deep into the nation’s ongoing debate over guns when he bought a full-page, full-color color ad in Sunday’s Journal that shows to the dollar how much the National Rifle Association has given U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. The ad also includes the senators’ phone numbers.

“I have two kids, a middle-schooler and a high-schooler,” Marley said. “The realization hit that if we don’t get serious about this, it puts my kids in danger. I’m not naïve enough to think it won’t happen here.”

This one’s different

“It,” of course, is the massacre of 17 people, students mostly, in a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day.

That followed the killings of 26 people in a Baptist church in Texas in December, which followed the murders of 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas in October, which came after the slaughter of 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in 2016. And who can forget the murders of 20 6- and 7-year-olds in an elementary school in Connecticut.

God only knows what came between all that. Schools, churches, concerts, it all runs together in one sickening string. It boggles the mind and breaks the heart.

But this one, the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., seem to have stirred people to finally stand up and shout “Enough” at the tops of their lungs.

Lawmakers who up to now struggled to offer anything more than hollow thoughts and prayers are suddenly willing to discuss high-capacity magazines, raising to 21 the minimum age required to buy military-style rifles and tightening background checks for gun purchases.

“I do think it’s different this time,” Marley said. “I’m optimistic that it will be different.”

That’s what drove him to put his money where his mouth is.

Marley’s ad started with a simple message: Tell Senator Burr and Senator Tillis to stop taking NRA money, and put our children’s lives first. It lists nearly $7 million in contributions to Burr and $4.4 million to Tillis.

He then shares some of his background as a gun owner. “If I can’t drop a deer in 5 shots, I don’t need an assault weapon, I need target practice.”

He also shows his work with a link to the source of his information about NRA contributions.

His reason for doing so sounds simple enough.

“The purpose of the ad is, that if we’re going to get the national conversation going, we need to understand the impact of the NRA and how much they suck the oxygen out of the room,” Marley said. “I realize that if people are looking for solutions, as I am, we need to let the politicians know. We can complain, we can get angry, but if we don’t channel that into something positive, nothing will happen.”

Rapid responses

Conventional wisdom used to be that business owners and companies were committing economic hara-kari by getting too deep into politics and political discussions.

Remember how Michael Jordan avoided any such issues in order to keeping selling more shoes?

These days, though, businesses and business owners have no such qualms. Remember the fuss after the N.C. legislature passed HB 2, the infamous Bathroom Bill that may well have cost Gov. Pat McCrory his job?

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, business is once again weighing in. Among others, the Bank of America, MetLife and investing giant Blackstone Group have issued statements about gun manufacturers and the gun debate.

Given that, and his own inclination toward political involvement, deciding to weigh in under his company’s logo took Marley all of about 15 minutes, his second such foray in six months. Last fall, he took out ads opposing efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

One week after the shootings in Florida, while getting ready to board a plane, he called his graphic design guy and laid out his vision.

“After watching how some of the conspiracy nuts attacked those kids, doing nothing wasn’t an option,” Marley said.

It didn’t take long to get a response.

Marley Drug’s Facebook wall filled up fast. Emails and phone calls flooded in, too.

Some were hateful, but most, Marley said, were supportive.

“It’s been about 80/20 positive to negative,” he said. “A couple people said they’d never put a foot in the store. But that’s OK.”

Because he’s in the line of work he is — think Medicaid and Medicare and the politics that surround those programs — he learned long ago to speak up.

“If you’re not at the table, if your voice is not heard, then you’re not going to have an impact,” he said.

Advertising works. Just ask Dave Marley.

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ssexton@wsjournal.com 336-727-7481 @scottsextonwsj

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