Gun Control — April 20, 2013 at 12:27 pm

It’s not just the NRA: Gun owners are a potent political force that shouldn’t be underestimated


If you die of a gunshot in the United States, the person most likely to have fired that gun is you.

A modest expansion of background checks was defeated in the Senate just a few days ago — though it seems like a childhood memory after the anxiety dream that was this week.

Commentators pointed out that nearly all polls show around 90% of Americans and majorities of even NRA members support universal background checks, an even more strict version of the policy that was defeated.

Gun owners often dispute these polls, but they should be proud of them. It shows they have political power almost unrivaled in the United States.

Only about 1 out of 10 Americans support bans on all abortions, even in cases of rape, incest or endangering the life the mother. Thus bans on all abortion only exist in very red states and usually they’re thrown out by the courts. The pro-life movement is forced to work for de facto bans on abortion by making nearly impossible for clinics to exist and completely onerous and burdensome for women to seek them. But on a national level, the best they can do is focus on de-funding family planning and insurance plans that cover abortion.

Since 1994 — after a crime bill that included background checks and an assault weapon ban that helped lead to the violent crime rate being cut in half in less than a decade — the NRA has had a nearly iron grip on national and state gun policy. Rights have generally been expanded as the assault weapons was allowed to expire. Even research into gun violence has been blocked to prevent the results being used to push for more laws.

Yet background checks remain in place — a tribute to their popularity.

To defeat their expansion, the NRA doesn’t argue against the policy. Instead they rely on the specter of a “gun registry” that will one day be used to round up weapons and the idea that criminals won’t follow laws, so why not make it easier for them.

And it isn’t just the NRA pushing the agenda. Wayne LaPierre plays up the “gun grabbing” rhetoric  but he’s just stoking a fear that’s very real. The NRA didn’t create “Operation Burning Wires” on reddit, an organized effort to encourage calls to Senators that’s been going on for months.

Much is made of the NRA’s funding of candidates but the truth is in 2012 they lost almost every race they focused on.

The success of the gun rights movement isn’t just the organizing and financial support of gun makers through the gun lobby. It’s a real, enraged political movement of gun owners. They’ve seen what happened with cigarettes — laws upon laws effectively marginalized the industry and “smokers’ rights.” And they’re determined to make sure that doesn’t happen to them.

The truth is the fight against gun violence is a fight to save gun owners lives. In 2010, there were 11,078 homicides involving a gun and there were 19,392 firearm suicides.

If you die of a gunshot in the United States, the person most likely to have fired that gun is you.

This is a point that The Guardian‘s Ana Marie Cox has been making, often lost when we point out that there are more than 30,000 gun deaths in America each year.

Yet gun owners are more afraid of a gun-grabbing government than some policy that might lower these numbers.

We can blame the NRA for feeding that paranoia but the fear is real — likely the result of a feeling of  powerlessness as the middle class struggles and diversity becomes accepted by the majority. We may know we’re trying to help them without infringing their rights — but sincerity just seems like more deception, a front to hide an agenda from the UN or Saul Alinsky or whatever.

This fear is powerful and particularly effective at weighing in scaring vulnerable politicians. The passion of gun rights advocates should be respected because until it is matched — or abated with real policies to grow the middle class — they will continue to win.

[Photo credit: Anne C Savage, special to Eclectablog]