The Right to Bear Arsenals
A few months ago after the Las Vegas shooting, I wrote a cynical piece more or less arguing that we never do anything about mass shootings because most people are all show and no go. In retrospect, my cynicism was little more than an excuse to disengage. It's easy to get frustrated, however, when you see the same tired old cycle playing out and can do nothing about it.
Does the following sound familiar? After every mass shooting, gun advocates will point out that any gun control restrictions would not have changed anything, that the shooter would have still found a way to carry out his attack. Evil always finds a way, after all. Then the tired trope of "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." Good bumper sticker, lousy thinking. Mass shooters use guns loaded with high-capacity magazines to maximize their killing; they don't use wiffle ball bats. So...guns do kill people, a lot of them and quickly.
After the usual thoughts and prayers, we'll bog down in semantics about the difference between an actual military-grade assault rifle and what the killers are using - as if those distinctions make the bullets any less lethal. Talking heads and politicians alike will argue that America needs a real debate about gun control, but not right now, not in the aftermath of the tragedy. It's too soon, and we need to get through the thoughts and prayers first. If any debate does take place, it often ends up a debate about the debate, going nowhere but in circles.
And finally, we'll hear from some that the solution is more guns in the public space, not less, as if the only risk from firearms was mass shooters. Apparently, that makes perfect sense in the upside down reality we're in right now, where the solution is to have more of the problem.
According to Pew Research, a third of Republican gun owners link gun ownership to their overall identity; a whopping 95% of conservative Republican gun owners believe gun ownership is essential to their sense of freedom (in contrast, 29% of liberals feel the same).
With that kind of dedicated support, the NRA has been able to loosen gun
regulations while rejecting even the most basic restrictions as an unacceptable infringement to Second Amendment rights. When state and local authorities attempt to pass reforms, they face stiff opposition from the NRA.
As a result, any angry sociopath has the right to bear an arsenal with no questions asked until its too late.
This shows how even bad ideas can prosper when clever marketers get a chance to frame an issue. Even a steaming pile of bullshit has value if you know how to frame it. One man's bullshit is another's fertilizer.
Ask Americans whether they support more gun or less gun control, and they'll tell you they want less. Ask them specifically if they want to restrict access to criminals or other high-risk-groups like potential mass shooters, and they'll support it overwhelmingly.
Currently, about 97% of Americans support universal background checks. By 83% to 14% Americans support mandatory waiting periods. Likewise, 59% of Americans think that the U.S. would be less safe with more guns, against 33% who believe otherwise. But asked if they want more restrictions in general, that number drops to 52%.
This reveals a gap between what the general public supports and what the gun lobby defends. And it hints at solid bi-partisan support for reform. It also shows that gun owners are not the radical gun-toting Second Amendment fundamentalists that liberals make them out to be. In fact, only a tiny minority of around 7% of gun owners belong to the NRA, and even there you find a range of views.
The majority of gun owners express a nuanced spectrum of opinions that do not fall into easy stereotypes. These are millions of potential allies. Unfortunately, sharing common ground with gun owners means nothing without legislators willing to pass the necessary reforms.
You see, until reformers close the enthusiasm gap and ally with moderate gun owners to find solutions, the Second Amendment fundamentalists will continue to rule the day. Their agenda will continue to be: more guns, less regulations. Rigid dogma like that does not bend easily. If we want even modest change, we need to stay engaged beyond the first few days after a mass shooting. The norm after recent attacks has been a burst of outrage in the immediate aftermath of a shooting followed by a return to the do-nothing status quo soon after. Then repeat the cycle all over again a few months later.If we are only triggered to respond temporarily to the carnage of a mass shooting, we will forever be stuck in a cycle of reacting and forgetting.
There are advocacy groups out there working to advance common-sense solutions to gun violence, but they are dwarfed by the gun lobby. Meanwhile, the NRA is working 365 days of the year to hinder any and all legislation. It's well funded by both corporate and private donors, and the money is used effectively to buy the GOP's acquiescence.
So what about those of us who want change? We have to do more than rant and rave on social media. If just a fraction of those who support gun reforms donated to one of the advocacy groups I list below, change would happen. Also, vote! Make this issue a priority on the ballot next November. If people organize and then vote accordingly, the NRA's days as unopposed king-maker will be numbered.
More politicians would feel empowered to implement reforms rather than remain hostage to the NRA. We need to understand that making this issue an ongoing priority is critical, especially during those blessed lulls between shootings when gun reform is not front and center in the news.
Even during those lulls, the violence continues under the radar. This kind of persistent engagement is only one way to get things moving in a better direction. At the same time, state and local governments should continue implementing their own policies and reforms with the goal of making their communities safer from gun violence. But in the meantime, it's time to start by fighting lobbying with lobbying and money with money.
So consider giving to one of the gun reform advocacy groups below. This problem will not solve itself overnight, and there will be setbacks, but we have to start somewhere, and we have to keep at it once we do. More important, these groups focus on overall gun violence, and not just the mass shootings that get everyone's attention. The real carnage takes place in ones and twos every day and never makes anything more than the local news.
The Brady Campaign: Named after Ronald Reagan’s assistant who was shot and nearly killed by John Hinckley, this group scored is one of the largest gun control advocacy groups. This is the group I donated to after Adam Lanza went into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered twenty little six and seven-year-olds as well as six teachers. Help the cause by donating here.
Everytown for Gun Safety: Formerly Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Everytown for Gun Safety is now a coalition made up of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and survivors of America’s many gun violence incidents. They lobby for gun control legislation at both the local and federal level. You can donate here.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: The CSV is an organization comprised of 48 national groups working together to reduce gun violence through policy advocacy, research and strategic engagement. You can donate to them here.
Americans for Responsible Solutions: Started by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the wake of her own brush with death after being shot, ARS is focused on solutions to America’s widespread gun violence issue. Donate to help here.
Violence Policy Center: You can help them out with a donation here.