Get Real

06.08.14

It’s Time to Think Big or Shut Up on Gun Control

Making the same arguments over and over isn’t changing anything. It’s time to play political hardball.

Anyone else tired of the same old bullshit we see after every gun-shooting spree?  It’s on display again these past two weekends as gunmen bent on killing as many people as possible struck in Seattle, Georgia, and Santa Barbara.

The news breaks of these incidents and the gun forces spring into action. Those seeking to end gun violence demand new laws be enacted. We see press conferences featuring grieving parents making impassioned pleas like, “Not one more.”

This is, of course, met by the pro-gun forces urging people not to politicize a tragedy. Or worse, people like “Joe the Plumber” callously saying, in essence, “I don’t care if your kid dies as long as I have unlimited access to guns.”The NRA and Joe the Plumber view dead Americans as an acceptable loss so that they can have easy access to guns.

And then comes the politicians. They respond by doing nothing.

It’s a lot like Groundhog Day, only, as opposed to a feel good comedy starring Bill Murray, it’s the real world where over 30 people are murdered with guns every day in the United States.

And the winner time and time again is the NRA. Why? They know the public is easily distracted. Sure, for a day or two after a shooting spree we collectively discuss the need to combat gun violence. But then Miley Cyrus twerks or a star on Duck Dynastysays something outrageous and the media moves on and we blindly follow.

The reality is that the NRA will keep winning unless something changes in the approach by those like myself who desperately want to see a reduction in the number of people killed by guns each and every day. It’s either time we try a different approach or shut up. I’m not being rude, just being honest. Simply repeating the same arguments and hoping for a different result is a waste of time.

So what can be done that’s different? Well, here are a few suggestions. Some are activities already happening that need more support, while others are more long-term ideas. 

1. Grassroots activism targeting corporations. A band of courageous mothers lead by Shannon Watts have created “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense” and are engaged in a grassroots campaign in same vein as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They not only protested outside the NRA’s national convention, they have been effective in convincing Chipotle and Starbucks to not allow open carry of weapons in their stores and have now set their sights on Target.  You know they are getting under the skin of the pro-gun forces when you read accounts of them calling the mothers: “Thugs with Jugs” and “cackling wenches.”

There’s also the National Gun Victims Action Council (NGVAC) founded by Elliot Fineman, whose son was killed by a mentally ill gunmen. NGVAC has called for a boycott this Father’s Day of cards made by Hallmark. Why? Because Hallmark will not ban open carry of guns in its card stores or support universal background checks. These groups are leading a charge to put corporations on the spot to take stand on this issue with hopes it builds a broader grass roots alliance.

2. Use the tactics of anti-abortion groups. For example, start holding up photos of people killed by gun violence at political events—the way they hold up photos of fetuses—so that elected officials and the media are compelled to see them. Or use the court system to file lawsuits to raise issues. Perhaps the victims of gun violence could sue the NRA if their loved one was killed by a gun obtained because of the NRA's opposition to universal background checks. A long shot yes, but tort law does evolve and there could be a finding that the NRA has a degree of culpability in spending millions to oppose laws that would have saved a person’s life. 

3.  Repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. This legislation, signed into law in 2005 by George W. Bush, shields gun manufactures from civil liability when the guns they manufacture are used to kill people. The NRA heralded this measure as a way to stop “shameless attempts to bankrupt the American firearms industry through reckless lawsuits.” In reality, it’s a way to prevent the companies that profit off selling guns from being found civilly liable when their guns are used for their intended purpose: to shoot someone. However, the only chance this passes is if Democrats take control of House and retain control of Senate. Even then it’s challenging, since some Democrats supported the law when it originally passed. 

4. Rewrite the Second Amendment. I’m not saying repeal it, but take a page from the pro-gun lobby who for 20-plus years preached, wrote academic papers, held seminars, etc., to support the then-radical notion that the Second Amendment bestowed a personal right to own a gun, thus making it more challenging to enact laws that restrict access to them. Of course, the Second Amendment says no such thing. However, their efforts paid off in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court embraced their view in District of Columbia v. Heller as the five conservative Justices essentially rewrote this Amendment.

In a nation with over 300 million guns, we will never be able to truly eliminate gun violence. But I can tell you this with confidence, unless those of us who want to reduce gun violence start changing their tactics, we will see more of our fellow Americans killed and the NRA will go on winning. It’s time to think different or shut up.