How Liberals Can Win on Guns

Where are all those NRA members who support reasonable gun control? Michael Tomasky says liberals need to find them, and put them on air.

Lindsey Graham, still occasionally fobbed off on us as a “moderate” Republican senator, now thinks that America's little children could learn something useful from seeing brains splayed against their bedroom walls and body parts in the hallway. "Would I be a reasonable American to want my family to have the 15-round magazine in a semi-automatic weapon, to make sure, if there's two intruders, she doesn't run out of bullets?" he asked at yesterday's Senate hearing on guns. "Am I an unreasonable person for saying that in that situation, the 15-round magazine makes sense?

Yeah, yeah, better than the children being dead. Point granted. As long as you acknowledge that into this bargain, it's likely that the occasional mother will accidently blow her child's brains out of her skull. Oh well, there's always a spoilage factor.

The Senate hearing put on full display the alternate reality in which the furious minority lives. The majority of us—about two thirds, according to the polls—think the general approach to violence is fewer guns. But that obstructing third thinks the answer is more guns. And their argument is receiving a disturbing amount of play these days, as outlets like NPR deliver up segments on schoolteachers, who surely represent a small minority of their number, eager to have some heat in their classrooms and the like. Connecticut teachers, at least, opposed having guns in a recent poll to the tune of 85 percent.

But the alternate-reality argument is getting out there. How to counter it? Here's a modest idea.

We hear all the time—I cite it myself in columns and on TV-—about gun owners supporting reasonable gun-control steps. We now have new surveys, like this one from Johns Hopkins, showing the same thing. “Not only are gun owners and non–gun owners very much aligned in their support for proposals to strengthen U.S. gun laws, but the majority of NRA members are also in favor of many of these policies,” Daniel Webster, coauthor of the study and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said in a statement. How are you not going to trust a man named Daniel Webster?

So here's my idea. Where are all these reasonable gun owners and NRA members? As far as the public discourse goes, they exist only in these polls. No one's ever actually seen one.

So how about some liberal group put some money into finding these people and putting them on the air? Seeing Gabby Giffords yesterday was powerful. But it would be powerful in a different way—and probably more persuasive to people on the fence—to see a stereotypically burly white guy with a light drawl standing in front of his gun case with his arms crossed, looking as if he's just about to say, "Fuck you, liberals," when instead what comes out of his mouth is something like, "My buddies and I don't need extended clips to hunt deer. And I look around and see these slaughters, and I think nobody else needs extended clips either."

And so on and so on and so on. A handful of testimonials like this could prove to be an important intervention in this debate. I wish someone would get on it. And by "someone," I mean someone who can approach these people with credibility. The crew shooting these ads needs to be led by someone who knows a lot about guns, who can recognize the person's firearms, and win his or her trust.

Wayne LaPierre, as we saw yesterday, isn't giving an inch here. He is really the Al Pacino character, that guy. It's amazing to behold. As long as it looks to the mainstream media like he has a unified army behind him, he is likely to win.

But if it can be demonstrated that his army is fractured, that changes the game. Giffords and bereaved parents, moving as they are, can't do that work. Only reasonable NRA members can. Someone needs to go out and find them.