In the wake of the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the battle over gun control has flared up again with predictable results. Gun control supporters repeat their long list of facts about how much gun violence there is in our country, where 34 Americans are killed every day with a gun, and call for stricter controls on gun ownership. The National Rifle Association (“NRA”) and other gun advocates argue that our society would be safer with more guns, and spin wild conspiracy theories about people coming to take your guns away. Meanwhile, with the exception of a few Democrats such as New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, most politicians duck the issue, and most political commentators correctly predict that little progress will be made on protecting public safety from gun violence.
The question for us progressives is how do we break this logjam? Doing so will obviously be a long, hard battle, but I would recommend that a good starting place is to adopt and consistently repeat the slogan – “Guns Aren’t the Problem, the NRA Is the Problem.” What I mean by that is our goal as progressives should not be to ban guns. Instead, it should be to achieve common sense regulations of guns in order to protect public safety. The NRA, however, has blocked such common sense regulation of gun ownership every step of the way.
On the first part of the slogan – “Guns Aren’t the Problem” – the reality is that the Supreme Court has, for better or worse, settled the question of whether there is a 2nd Amendment right to own guns. In addition, the right to bear arms is quite politically popular, so eliminating it in order to ban guns would be virtually impossible as a matter of politics. While I don’t dispute that there are some progressives who want to ban guns, the vast majority of us do not seek to do so. So, we should stop letting our opponents frame us as if we are out to get people’s guns.
Instead, we progressives should be arguing that with the right to bear arms comes responsibility to make sure that guns are used safely, that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and that ownership of the most powerful weapons that are clearly meant for little else than killing people is restricted or forbidden. And that is why we advocate for mandatory background checks, closing the gun show loophole, banning cop-killer bullets and bullet clips that hold 100 shells, making it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime and to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers, and making sure people on the terrorist watch list cannot buy guns. These are all common sense steps to protect public safety that can be achieved while not infringing on the right to own a gun that the Supreme Court found in the 2nd Amendment. And large majorities of Americans, even gun owners, support such common sense efforts to protect public safety.
The blocking point on these issues, however, is the NRA, which refuses to accept that with rights come responsibilities. Instead, the organization uses its $200 million per year lobbying budget to defeat even the most benign gun control regulations, and to falsely accuse even the mildest supporters of common sense gun control of being out to take away everyone’s guns. The NRA even goes so far as to use its lobbying power to muzzle efforts by government agencies to fund research into violence and ways to prevent it.
A fight against the right of Americans to own guns is one that almost certainly can never be won. But a concerted effort to make gun ownership safer by enacting and strengthening common sense efforts to protect public safety through, for example, closing the gun show loophole and banning bullet clips that hold 100 shells, can and must be won if we want to reduce gun violence in the US. And the way to win that fight is to paint the NRA, which takes advantage of its own members in order to promote a reactionary and dangerous agenda of turning the US into a version of the old Wild West, as the out-of-control villain that it is.