The Atlantic’s Molly Ball has a revealing article, How the Gun Control Movement Got Smart, about the gun control lobby’s rather seismic strategic shift over the past decade or so. According to the article, the lobby no longer uses the term “gun control” as it sounds too big-government-esque, and now favors the softer-sounding “preventing gun violence” instead. It’s all part of the lobby’s strategy to change their message to one that is “more appealing to Middle America and moderate voters.” Yet as Ball notes, whether these changes in strategy and tone will actually result in meaningful legislation getting passed remains to be seen. Whether such legislation would actually make a dent in the roughly 30,000 U.S. deaths by firearms is an even bigger crapshoot. And that’s the core problem.
I’ve often wondered why the interests of non-gun owners – by definition, we don’t have an interest in retaining the Second Amendment – get such short shrift from the “gun violence prevention” lobby. After all, 66 percent is not chopped liver. Why not work on expanding the base of post-Second Amendment Americans and build a domestic culture of peace and nonviolence, rather than allow gun worshippers to chart the nation’s course? Unfortunately, the “preventing gun violence” lobby does not have any interest whatsoever in acknowledging the fact that a majority of Americans reject gun ownership.
As Walter Shapiro wrote in a 2007 Salon article arguing for Second Amendment repeal, “Frustrated by the constraints imposed by the right-to-bear-arms language in the Second Amendment, proponents of gun-control legislation have always worked on the margins.” The question must be asked: Why work on the margins when non-gun owners are the majority, and therefore, by definition, not marginal? Shapiro helpfully explains why the piecemeal “work on the margins” legislation fails to yield results anyway:
“Close the gun-show loophole” is not likely to be remembered as one of the most stirring slogans in political history. The result has been a blunt form of cost-benefit analysis among politicians. If federal gun-control efforts mandating background checks and waiting periods do not solve the larger problem of too many unstable Americans shooting first and asking questions later why risk political defeat to uphold and expand these modest laws?”
The guns used in both the Aurora and Newtown massacres were legally purchased, from the shooter in the former case, and the shooter’s mother in the latter case. The deaths of those killed in these massacres are well within the margins of the “preventing gun violence” lobby’s vision for America, and here’s why: Even if an assault weapons ban were passed, the Aurora and Newtown shooters would still have had access to legally-obtained handguns*. Supposing that the Newtown shooter shot dead the principal and teacher first with handguns – those possibly able to tackle him – he would then have been able to shoot at the children using however many handguns he could have fit on his person.
Are we really having a national political discourse that places the onus of responsibility on six-year-olds to tackle madmen with legally-purchased handguns in order to save themselves?
Yes, we are. Hence the real issue at hand is not how the gun control lobby got smart, but how they got so dumb.
I’d be open to all theories on that score, but given the level of personal tragedy on the part of so many involved in the “preventing gun violence” lobby, I’m quite hardpressed to ascribe the dumbness – yes, expecting a classroom of six year-olds to tackle mad men with handguns and calling it a moral vision for America is indeed dumb – to nothing more than poor political calculation. I think something more is going on here with the men and women who have become so involved with this issue to the point that they’ve actually turned it into their profession.
Imagine, for example, that you’ve been taken hostage at gunpoint in a bank. The hostage standoff lasts for a week. Then two weeks. Then a month. During that month, the hostage-taker decides when you eat, what you eat, when you sleep, when you go to the bathroom. He is in total control of your life. Who will you turn to when you are hungry? The police? They have no control over your physical situation. Eventually, just to survive, just to provide yourself with enough food and liquids, you start ingratiating yourself to the hostage-taker. You listen to his life story. You begin to empathize with his plight. After all, if you empathize with him, and can prove you are not his enemy, but are really on his side, won’t he be more likely to give you a ham and cheese sandwich to eat rather than just crackers? Once he gives you that ham and cheese sandwich, perhaps you can convince yourself of an alternate reality: he’s not really your hostage-taker, but your friend. And now that he’s your friend, he no longer has power of you. At least in your imagination…
After every one of this country’s mass shootings, the members of the “preventing gun violence” lobby pop up on television calling for “sensible” gun control laws. As Molly Ball documents in her Atlantic article, they go to great lengths to assure gun owners of their Second Amendment rights. “Nobody is trying to take away anybody’s Second Amendment rights” is a mantra that, like the double term “first responder,” has become a staple of national discourse ever since our nation fell victim to the tyranny of these private sector tyrants with guns.
Inherent in the advocates’ mantra is a level of personal understanding, even compassion, for the gun owners in this country. They know the N.R.A. and other gun-worshippers control the legislative agenda on guns in Washington and state capitols around the country. They are the masters, the hostage-takers. If you want to survive, you had better start empathizing with them, understanding their needs, understanding the nuances of their character. Otherwise, they will give you nothing in return; more mass shootings and chaos will continue.
Also inherent in the advocates’ discourse is an aversion to a broader philosophical engagement on the Second Amendment’s role in shaping our social fabric. On an issue brimming with far broader philosophical significance – the morality of investing the decision to simply end our government in the hands of those with the most firepower at the time of their choosig – the discourse of the “preventing gun violence” advocates is studiously technical.
Most of them, at least the one’s who appear on television – Sarah Brady, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, Brady Campaign president Dan Gross, Colin Goddard – have all had their lives severely disrupted by gun violence. Moreover, professionally speaking, they eat, sleep and breathe in the same orbit as the N.R.A. and other gun groups.They are coping with their personal tragedies the best they can, trying to survive and help everyone else to survive, and knowing every step of the way who their ultimate political masters are.The reality is this: for the “preventing gun violence” advocates, their masters at the N.R.A. have far more in common with the shooters who wreaked havoc in their lives than with Americans who eschew guns. It’s no wonder why the interests of non-gun owners in this country – the 66 percent majority – are so completely irrelevant to the political strategies of the gun control lobby; non-gun owners aren’t holding them hostage like the N.R.A.
The net effect is this: Americans who believe the Second Amendment is a relic of a time gone by, and who are deeply offended by the very idea that force or arms could ever be a solution to protecting ourselves from tyrannical government, are being told – day in and day out – by “preventing gun violence” representatives that we have an actual stake in keeping the Second Amendment in the United States Constitution.
Logically, we know these advocates are good people who want a more peaceful society. Therefore what they have to say is by no means a pack of lies. Yet the 66 percent majority of Americans who are not gun-owners, along with hunters who only want gun access for hunting and not for future insurrection, have no political stake whatsoever in retaining the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. For “preventing gun violence” advocates, no matter their personal goodness, to teach otherwise is a profound untruth.
I believe it is a profound untruth that has emerged, not from a bad political calculus couched as domestic realpolitik, but something deeper: a variant of Stockholm Syndrome that causes gun violence victims to empathize and identify with those who have fueled this country’s gun culture, rather than with the majority of Americans who reject gun ownership outright.
This is a democracy, and all should have a place at the table of discourse on national issues. But it’s long past time for Americans who reject the fundamental philosophical premise behind the Second Amendment – namely that self-annointed gun worshippers can overthrow our government when it no longer suits them – to stop taking our political marching orders from men and women who live in fear of the latter, but aren’t very likely to ever admit it…
Probably because they can’t.
*Senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons ban would grandfather in assault weapons already in circulation, like the ones used in the Newtown and Aurora massacres.