the Good Fight

01.08.13

The Gun Debate Heats Up

Does it make a difference when a man's man like Stanley McChrystal says he supports gun control?:

"I spent a career carrying typically either a M16, and later a M4 carbine," he said. "And a M4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It's designed to do that. That's what our soldiers ought to carry."

Said McChrystal, "I personally don't think there's any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America. I believe that we've got to take a serious look -- I understand everybody's desire to have whatever they want -- but we have to protect our children and our police and we have to protect our population. And I think we have to take a very mature look at that."

Good for him, but I've never been sure about things like this. Clearly, the NRA doesn't care what McChrystal thinks. The Biden task force has them pretty fired up:

News that the White House is considering significant gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting is music to the ears of gun control advocates, who have waited decades for a serious conversation about guns. But it’s also being welcomed by gun rights groups, who say leaks from the Biden task force are just the thing to push their flock back into the fight.

“[The article] was a Molotov cocktail right into the middle of this thing,” Dave Workman, a former board member at the National Rifle Association, told TPM Monday. “That lit the fuse, it really did.”

We still don't know how hard the White House plans to fight on this. They sort of have their hands full. But that leak to the Washington Post was a sign, I suppose, that they're going to put some serous political capital into this. Which stands to reason: You can hardly lay down public challenges to the most powerful lobby in Washington and then say, "Sorry, just kidding."

Obama will be up against it on this one. Even an incoming Democratic senator, from North Dakota, just distanced herself mightily from the Biden package.

But I've come to believe that all political losses are not created equal. Guns are kind of a sui generis issue. If Obama advances some proposals and has 60 percent of public opinion on his side, and said proposals are thwarted because the minority 40 percent is overrepresented on Capitol Hill, and because some people who know better are just scared shitless of the NRA, there can be a sort of moral victory in that, and I doubt seriously that losing to the NRA would cost Obama all that much face, as it were. Well, at least he tried.

What has to happen is this. Some Democrat from an NRA state or congressional district needs to stand up to the NRA on this one, vote with Obama, and win reelection. In fact the White House ought to be engineering this very outcome. Choose two senators and four House members. Persuade them to vote yes, promise them the moon and the stars, deliver the moon and the stars, help them win, and prove that rural members can vote against the NRA and survive. Then maybe next time, you can beat them.

Mind you I'm not ruling out beating them this time. The right set of proposals endorsed by the right set of public faces could result in a win. Imagine, for example, if McChrystal were willing to cut a TV ad saying the above words, and some group poured millions into splashing that ad across prime-time television.

We all know the NRA's extreme view is a minority one. It's making legislators realize that that's the trick.