Reports Of Gun-Control’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Over on The Atlantic, Molly Ball has announced “The Death of Gun Control.” She says that any serious efforts on gun control ended when the Senate voted down enhanced background checks back in April. And if that wasn’t the death of gun control, the recall of two pro-gun-control Democrats in Colorado on Tuesday made it official.

The Atlantic — On Tuesday, two Colorado state senators, both Democrats, were recalled by voters for their votes in favor of gun control. Gun-rights advocates instigated the recall drives; the National Rifle Association spent $360,000, sending mailers and airing television ads calling the lawmakers “too extreme for Colorado.” Gun-control proponents, buoyed by donations from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, outspent their opponents five to one. But the NRA turned the money against the lawmakers, painting them as pawns of fancy-pants out-of-state liberal interests. And the NRA won. —

Here’s what matters for the future of gun control: Advocates needed to send a signal that politicians could vote for gun control without fear of ending their careers. Instead, they sent the opposite message. Now risk-averse pols, already all too aware of the culture-war baggage the gun issue has historically carried, will have no incentive to put their political futures in jeopardy by proposing or supporting gun-control legislation.

I agree this was not a desirable outcome, but it was a fairly minor setback. Yes, there are indeed many risk-averse politicians out there, but that’s hardly a reason to admit defeat. If this was the prevailing attitude in the time when the Civil Rights Act passed, there would be no Civil Rights Act. The same could be said of the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Social Security and so on. The point is this — usually the greatest progressive legislative achievements happen when they do not have anything approaching unanimous support. In fact, usually these progressive achievements happen in a climate when a plurality, even a majority are against it. So to admit defeat because a couple of Democrats lost their seats to a fringe group of rabid gun nuts is to say progressive and liberal politicians in 2013 have no courage. And maybe that’s true, but I hope not.

A second problem with admitting defeat on gun control, is the carte blanche given to gun fanatics to dictate gun policy to the rest of the nation. You say gun control groups outspent the NRA and still lost? So what? Spend more money next time. Or spend money in more effective ways. Because there is an easy way to defeat the crazy gun nuts, outnumber them at the polls. The only reason the NRA and gun advocates successfully recalled these two Democrats is that the zealous one-issue voters showed up and everyone else stayed home. And remember, the gun control measures passed in Colorado are still in place. The NRA and their gun-loving cohorts did not recall the law, they only recalled the politicians. That’s hardly a defeat, and it’s definitely not a reason to say gun control is dead.

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  • It’s interesting how you name advancements in our recognition of rights–the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act–while at the same time telling us that a movement to violate rights isn’t dead. Progress is toward an understanding of the rights of each person. You’re advocating regress here.

    • Trust me, you are hardly the first to triumphantly make this comparison, but it’s easily dismissed by the fact that when you talk about gun rights, you are talking about a material right, not a civil right. And in my book, that’s a big distinction. Having a right to a firearm is no different than having a right to a car or a TV. And save me any references to a particular constitutional amendment, because the purpose and meaning of that amendment have been twisted and contorted to mean something quite different than it’s original purpose. And even if it were the original intent, it would be woefully out of touch with a modern civil society.

      • The right of the people–that’s hard to twist, but gun control advocates have been struggling to do so for a long time now. But what is more basic than a “material right”? I have the “material” right to my property. I have the “material” right to my life. You’re creating a false distinction there.

        • And gun advocates always conveniently ignore the “well regulated Militia” part, simply dismissing it as a separate and distinct phrase.

          A civil right is indeed more basic than a material right, and it’s not a false distinction. Civil rights are the embodiment of the individual, of your life.

          • My right to own property is a part of my existence as an individual. With regard to the language of the Second Amendment, the militia clause gives the reason that the Founders saw the amendment as necessary, but the right is identified as belonging to the people, not to the militia or the state. The people. That us, including me.

          • We can obviously debate the intent of the Second Amendment forever and we’d likely never agree, but what is indisputable is that the language of that amendment does not guarantee a right to any and all current and future firearms technology. And the Supreme Court, while upholding that 2A does mean what you believe it means (even if I disagree), also ruled that jurisdictions have the right to impose regulations on firearm purchases. At the end of the day, each regulation could face a Supreme Court test if ultimately pursued to that level.